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  • The Computer Audiophile

    Should You Rent or Buy Audio Software?

    When CA started in 2007 audiophiles had a handful of choices for playback and library management applications. Some popular apps were iTunes, JRiver Media Center, Foobar2000 and MediaMonkey. Over the years many apps have come and gone, some haven't changed much, and others have continued to get better. The fact that we have options is a great thing. If I was still stuck with iTunes on macOS and the Apple Remote app on iOS, my listening experience wouldn't be nearly as good as it is today. 

     

    Along with application options, buyers also have what I'll call acquisition options. These options include renting, buying, maintaining, free, or software that's included with the purchase of hardware. Again, options are great. 

     

    I want to touch on what I see as differences between the models and more importantly I'd love to read feedback from the CA Community. I know there are many strong opinions on this and I enjoy reading all the perspectives. 

     

     

    Buying

     

    This is what I call the traditional model of acquiring software. You pay X dollars for an application and it works as long as your computer supports it. From a consumer perspective many people like this model because of the fixed cost and they feel like they own something. No matter what happens to the software company in the future, as long as the consumer has a capable computer the application purchased this way will work like the first day it was installed.

     

    The pay once model can be difficult for software companies due to the ongoing cost of keeping the applications updated for security and features in addition to providing user support. In a constant world without changes, it would be simple to release it and forget it. However, the world of software and technology never stops changing. 


    Examples: JRiver, Audirvana+, HQPlayer

     

    j.pngAp.jpgh.png

     

     

     


    Maintaining

     

    This is a subset of the traditional buying model. In this case you can upgrade the software purchased or pay another lump some to continue to receive updates to the original software. This model follows a yearly or dependable cycle. JRiver has used this model for several years. It's perhaps the best compromise between the traditional buying model and a subscription model. A one-time up front purchase of the software entitles the user to updates until the next version is released, usually one year from the previous version's release. The cost to upgrade is usually substantially less when purchased early. 

     

    The Beauty of this model is that users can stay with whatever version they want and it will continue to work as long as their PCs meet the requirements for the software. No maintenance upgrade is required, it's optional. Users who want the newest version can pay for the upgrade and continue to get frequent updates and newer features. 

     

    I like this model because it allows great consumer choice and provides revenue for the software companies to continue updating products and supporting users. 


    Example: JRiver

     

     

    j.png

     

     

     

     

    Rent / Subscription

     

    This isn't new in the grand scheme of things, but it's fairly new to many consumer markets. You pay a monthly / yearly fee for access to software. The subscription model is the one that seems to irk HiFi consumers the most. It's not a money thing. The cost of a subscription to apps isn't even as much as the sales tax paid on some experimental accessories in this hobby. The model just rubs people the wrong way or goes against their belief in owning something. Even though a license to use "purchased" software doesn't equal ownership that's a discussion for a different day.

     

    Subscription apps such as Roon have a large ongoing cost to the company because of licensed content. The metadata, album lookups, images, and hardware certification done in-house can all cost money behind the scenes. This cost is passed on to the user though a subscription. Of course the subscription helps pay for user support and ongoing product updates.

     

    One thing this model doesn't provide consumers is as much choice as a maintenance model. If a user doesn't want to keep updating or keep receiving metadata etc..., there is no option to put the subscription on hold and continue to use the app as intended. Roon requires an internet connection at least once every 30 days, or the user is logged out of the app, crippling functionality. I'm not suggesting this is good or bad, it's just the way ti works.

     

    Roon offers a limited time $500 lifetime subscription that places it almost in the traditional buying model, but if Roon Labs (the company) is purchased or licensing agreements aren't renewed, there's no guarantee the app will continue to work even though it may install on a computer without issues. I believe the company has indicated it can make some of the functionality work if something like this happens. 

     

    This lifetime license is a good compromise for those that prefer the purchase model but want a software package that isn't offered via that model.


    Example: Roon

     

     

    r.png

     

     

     

    Free

     

    Yes free as in beer. If you don't like these apps, you're entitled to a full refund of your purchase price. Only kidding. Some offer support through forums while other such as iTunes offer support online and in person in the Apple Stores. Of course iTunes is heavily subsidized by consumer content purchasing and Apple uses user information in any way it sees fit. Free doesn't equate to bad or even a worse product. Consumers just need to beware they may be the product and their expectations with respect to updates and support should be adjusted accordingly.

     

    Examples: iTunes, MusicBee, foobar2000, MediaMonkey, AIMP, Clementine

     

    i.jpg

     

     


    Included

     

    This software isn't free although it also isn't purchased in a line-item type of way. You can't purchase it on its own. These apps are included with the purchase of hardware. Some hardware requires the use of the company's custom app while other hardware is offered with an optional app for consumers. For example, the Aurender servers only work with the included Aurender Conductor app (sure AirPlay works but that's not even close to full functionality) while dCS products work with the included dCS iOS apps, Roon, or any number of UPnP/DLNA apps and Spotify. 

     

    Most of the meta data functionality in these apps is public knowledge. Thus, I'm unsure if they will continue to function should the company(s) go out of business or have a licensing agreement altered. Some apps don't license anything from third parties. Some apps pull in free content not in need of a licensing agreement.  


    Examples: Aurender's Conductor app, Auralic's Lightning DS, and apps from dCS, Lumin, Naim, and Sumaudio to name a few. 

     

    a.jpgl.jpglu.jpg

     

     

     

     

    Wrap-up

     

    There you have the options as I see them. There are many more nuances to each model and many more pros & cons. I'd love to hear from the Community about its thoughts and any "purchasing" decisions individuals have made based on any of these factors. Has anyone selected hardware because of software or vice versa? Did the model of acquisition sway your decision?

     

     




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    20 minutes ago, tmtomh said:

    Buy. I really hate the software rental model.

    Can you tell a bit more about why you hate it. Just curious to read all the perspectives. No right or wrong. 

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    4 minutes ago, wgscott said:

    Conventionally, "free" has a very different meaning in the context of software.  

     

    https://www.fsf.org/about/what-is-free-software

     

    iTunes is not "free" in this context, as it is closed-source and proprietary.  

     

    Foobar is "freeware" but proprietary.  The SDK is less restrictive (BSD).

     

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foobar2000

     

     

    I use the consumer definition of free. No money needed to use it. 

     

    But i fully understand the other definitions. 

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    Even though I bought Audirvana+, it can still stop working as advertised regarding TIDAL integration, as well as any other streaming services it may integrate at some point or another.

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    I almost bought a Lumin unit just because of my love affair with the Lumin app, which I used for 4 years with Bubbleupnp Server. 

     

    Reason prevailed. I bought an ultraRendu because of their hardware support (I had owned an original Sonore Rendu).

     

    With the ultraRendu, I now have a host of software options available to me - free, rental,  purchased - including Lumin app.

     

    FWIW, I've settled down with A+ / A+Remote. It's not as user friendly as Lumin App, but the combination of the ultraRendu and A+ has a very satisfactory sound quality in my system. I even went so far as to buy a stand alone Mac Mini to run A+ on my LAN.

     

    My preference is to buy the software although I am not opposed to the Roon-like model. I don't see myself "buying" Roon, but I like to know I have that option.

     

    Bottom line for me: buy the most flexible hardware, try a bunch of software, buy when you can, and rent when the market is uncertain.

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    Good post by Dr. Scott -- except ... what happened to JStor?

     

    for areas of public interest, the exclusion of the public is another problem, esp. since they are often paying for the research

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    Consumer software devs today have to–have to–keep up with OS updates (not to mention Ux improvements and bug fixes), and you know how fast those come. And again, you "have to" upgrade, eventually. But the devs have to keep up all the time, period. Surprise: This costs money. Along with support for non-technical users (of which there are many on a spectrum of ability and desire to use that ability). Some things in audio I'll bend over backward for; others not so much. I put software far into the latter category, so I'll pay but I expect support when things don't "just work."

     

    Thus I no longer think I own software, any software. I'm merely renting/licensing it until the day business realities (e.g., competition, developers losing interest or passing away, etc.) force my relationship to change. I will definitely cry the day I'm forced to replace my favorite calendar software for Macs and iOS (BUSYCAL!!!) because it's so clearly the best for me (why others don't get it is unfathomable).

     

    And so, one must/should factor in a company's ability to support their software when purchasing the hardware. Based on threads here, a particularly popular bookshelf speaker system that has a "wireless" option is notable for their apparent disregard for software and their customer's overall product Ux. I've heard the speakers and they easily deserve their sonic accolades, but I won't touch 'em because the mfg does not demonstrate hardware AND software acumen. I prefer to use my audio time listening, not troubleshooting.

     

    This hobby's demographics probably don't map well to that of software subscribers, and it's too bad because this hobby needs to scale true hardware and software talent with commensurate organizational chops.

     

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    Was a JRiver user and went over to Roon - lifetime subscription.

     

    The JRiver model is a good one in terms of the economics. You don't have to upgrade if you don't feel like the newer versions are providing a feature you want. Obviously if there are changes like security upgrades or  large  OS architecture  changes and the like, you probably need to upgrade.

     

    I simply found Roon better fit my needs. I hesitated, but once I saw that it looked like it was catching on, I bought a lifetime (at a discount) subscription. I basically figured it like this: The lifetime subscription is the cost of 4 years (in my case 3) of a yearly subscription. So as long as Roon stays in business a few years, I break even. Every additional year they are in business, my average yearly cost goes down. If they stay in business 10 years or more, the yearly cost of the software is pretty small, and at the level of JRiver + upgrades. If we get to that point I'll really feel like I've gotten more than my money's worth. 
     

    It's a bit difficult to compare the price of a program like Roon to some of the other programs, because it's sort  of comparing apples and oranges. Roon is web based, and they apparently pay quite substantial fees for features like Tidal integration and metadata updates. In the end, either you find it's features compelling and worth their price, or you don't. I'm guessing most people who try Roon and don't buy/rent it don't really find it's web based features that compelling, so it isn''t a good value for them. 

     

    So far I'm pretty happy with my decision. Roon has regular upgrades which improve the user experience and the team there have added LOTS of features over the last few years. I'm sure that at least 2 of the updates are so significant that if Roon was on a model like JRiver I would already have paid at least a couple of times for an upgrade. 

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    The SQ I get from standard resolution Qobuz is excellent. Local streaming is a smidge better, if it is a good CD source; not always the case.

     

    Keeping files locally requires an investment in hardware and time. This may not be worthwhile for some.

     

    Streaming services can drop music that you enjoy, as has happened to me a few times. Also comms issues can make the service unavailable, and also drop the quality on occasion. Another issue may be changes in technology. For instance, I use a NOS DAC. Should MQA become a de-facto standard this may effect what is available via a service I choose to use, my own files will be consistent.

     

    I am happy with the mixture. I want to have the recordings that I choose, not just those that are available via the service provider. However, the service allows me to listen at ease to a mountain of music and expand my knowledge and experience.

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    I've been spending a lot for audio software, and most of it I do not use anymore, like Amarra (that was crazy expensive with all add-ons), Audirvana, Fidelia, and so on. Would it be for rent I would save some part of money.

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    2 hours ago, firedog said:

    Was a JRiver user and went over to Roon - lifetime subscription.

     

    The JRiver model is a good one in terms of the economics. You don't have to upgrade if you don't feel like the newer versions are providing a feature you want. Obviously if there are changes like security upgrades or  large  OS architecture  changes and the like, you probably need to upgrade.

     

    I simply found Roon better fit my needs. I hesitated, but once I saw that it looked like it was catching on, I bought a lifetime (at a discount) subscription. I basically figured it like this: The lifetime subscription is the cost of 4 years (in my case 3) of a yearly subscription. So as long as Roon stays in business a few years, I break even. Every additional year they are in business, my average yearly cost goes down. If they stay in business 10 years or more, the yearly cost of the software is pretty small, and at the level of JRiver + upgrades. If we get to that point I'll really feel like I've gotten more than my money's worth. 
     

    It's a bit difficult to compare the price of a program like Roon to some of the other programs, because it's sort  of comparing apples and oranges. Roon is web based, and they apparently pay quite substantial fees for features like Tidal integration and metadata updates. In the end, either you find it's features compelling and worth their price, or you don't. I'm guessing most people who try Roon and don't buy/rent it don't really find it's web based features that compelling, so it isn''t a good value for them. 

     

    So far I'm pretty happy with my decision. Roon has regular upgrades which improve the user experience and the team there have added LOTS of features over the last few years. I'm sure that at least 2 of the updates are so significant that if Roon was on a model like JRiver I would already have paid at least a couple of times for an upgrade. 

    IIRC, your software would have to last for nearly twenty years to equal JRiver's cost with upgrades being $25 annually. Does it really cost a lot to have Tidal integration? I honestly want to know. Perhaps I am in the minority, but I really do not care for Roon. I only use it because of the Tidal integration for HQPlayer. As good as Roon is for piecing together files cohesively, their search function sucks at any interpretations, and you cannot even copy/paste into or out of their program to get the exact spelling correctly as is required.

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    @The Computer Audiophile My take on your subject matter differs slightly.  Particularly where you angle for us to fill out our own questions after spinning a marketing quiz as casual conversation.  Despite having reservations, I will however take opportunity to fill out my own questions.  :D

     

    1. How fully do you plan to exploit this if given free rein to orchestrate structured plans through your web entities?  As an example I'll reference how cell data is given primary and tertiary prominence.  Tower owner, slightly above secondary importance large competitor, and thirdly all remaining capability is dished out to sub-contractors with promises (tied to reduction of fee schedule if not met) to meet set minimum functionality standards.  Pretty tight regulation of how good service is and how often requests for signal updates get answered.
    2. Do you ever really buy software or just rent it like combustibles and comestibles?  I know some people borrow software, but that probably isn't relevant here.
    3. At what point on the CA road map does acquiring a software occur?  What is the preferred business model of monetizing it?  Are you currently hiring developers to be placed in positions at a future date?
    4. Have you explored this avenue at any point previously through paid studies or applying for outside funding?

     

           5.  Bonus question:  Who do you think would win between the two of us in an international online forms + fees dash to claim                     commercial ownership of "C.A.S.H."????

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    7 minutes ago, rando said:

    @The Computer Audiophile My take on your subject matter differs slightly.  Particularly where you angle for us to fill out our own questions after spinning a marketing quiz as casual conversation.  Despite having reservations, I will however take opportunity to fill out my own questions.  :D

     

    1. How fully do you plan to exploit this if given free rein to orchestrate structured plans through your web entities?  As an example I'll reference how cell data is given primary and tertiary prominence.  Tower owner, slightly above secondary importance large competitor, and thirdly all remaining capability is dished out to sub-contractors with promises (tied to reduction of fee schedule if not met) to meet set minimum functionality standards.  Pretty tight regulation of how good service is and how often requests for signal updates get answered.
    2. Do you ever really buy software or just rent it like combustibles and comestibles?  I know some people borrow software, but that probably isn't relevant here.
    3. At what point on the CA road map does acquiring a software occur?  What is the preferred business model of monetizing it?  Are you currently hiring developers to be placed in positions at a future date?
    4. Have you explored this avenue at any point previously through paid studies or applying for outside funding?

     

           5.  Bonus question:  Who do you think would win between the two of us in an international online forms + fees dash to claim                     commercial ownership of "C.A.S.H."????

     

    I have no idea what you’re talking about but I hope it’s supposed to be funny. 

     

    Can you explain it for those of us who are slow?

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    Anecdotal response to non-site related request for consumer insight? 

     

    Obviously it didn't pique your sense of humor.

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    12 minutes ago, rando said:

    Let me then ask you what your intent was in addressing the issue of how we consume software?

    As I said in the wrap-up.

     

    "There are many more nuances to each model and many more pros & cons. I'd love to hear from the Community about its thoughts and any "purchasing" decisions individuals have made based on any of these factors. Has anyone selected hardware because of software or vice versa? Did the model of acquisition sway your decision?"

     

    This has zero to do with market research or some veiled proxy for companies in the industry. CA is a community and I like to encourage discussion in the community about topics of interest. Software acquisition is very important to many people and I'm encourage by the detailed responses received thus far. 

     

    It's also a topic that comes up frequently. It will be easy to direct people to this article for a little background and a central location for discussion. 

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    11 hours ago, tmtomh said:

    But I find it telling that Roon, for example, has a "lifetime subscription" option that's really just a conventional purchase option.

    True, except that if they go out of business you lose much of the functionality. 

     

    1 hour ago, 4est said:

    IIRC, your software would have to last for nearly twenty years to equal JRiver's cost with upgrades being $25 annually.

    I don't assume the price won't go up over twenty years, or that I won't have to pay for a new full version at least once or twice in 20 years. The risk of those scenarios is probably higher than the risk I'm taking buying a "lifetime" (4-5 years worth of yearly subscriptions) in Roon.

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    4 hours ago, MrUnderhill said:

    Should MQA become a de-facto standard this may effect what is available via a service I choose to use, my own files will be consistent.

    Or you can just use a playback system that does "first unfold" in software/web app. Then it probably won't matter if you have an MQA DAC or not. 

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    Talking about software 20 years from now is like talking about which curtains you want for your house on Mars. Sure we'll get there (Mars and software in 20 years), but the topics of discussion will likely be a bit different :~)

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    2 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Talking about software 20 years from now is like talking about which curtains you want for your house on Mars. Sure we'll get there (Mars and software in 20 years), but the topics of discussion will likely be a bit different :~)

    True. Remember when little we did was web based (especially pre smartphones)? Wasn't that long ago.

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