It is widely known that kernel streaming is the way to go in order to obtain the best sound. All the more interesting then, that there is no officially supported plugin for Winamp 5. But lucky for all of us, there is a plugin, made by an enthusiast who wanted good sound for himself.
This was tested under Windows 7 but it will most likely also work on XP
Kernel streaming allows the playback application to talk to the soundcard directly, bypassing all kinds of internal Windows mixing and resampling. I used to get really good sound from Winamp 5 using Wave Out and selecting the HiFace EVO directly. Whether that was true kernel streaming or not I am now unsure, but I do know that this placed Windows mixing out of the equation, plus, it sounded best to my ears. Now that I have upgraded to Windows 7, this method no longer works as it should. Sure, sound comes out, but only at 44.1kHz. Even if I play 96kHz material, it still comes out as 44.1, despite all the settings I made in the Windows Sound Playback Devices control panel. For example, I made sure that the HiFace is set to accept all sample rates.
It may have to do with the HiFace driver or with Windows 7, I don't know, but this is what triggered a search for a true Kernel Streaming driver for Winamp 5. The search brought forward this driver: out_ks363.dll
Installation is entirely straightforward but I couldn't get any sound to be output. There's quite a bit of documentation in a read me file, but nothing explaining my particular problem. So I dug a little deeper, and came up with the following post, which I will repost in its entirety:
Winamp Kernel Streaming is a free plugin for Winamp that will let you bypass the Windows mixer and stream the output audio of Winamp directly to your sound-card or DAC. You can use this plugin instead of ASIO Ė and you donít have to install anything else except the plugin, while in ASIO you need both aWinamp ASIO plugin and an ASIO driver (such asASIO4All). Besides this, the Winamp Kernel Streaming plugin will play even on Windows 7, where ASIO may face some problems.
The project began as an attempt of the author to improve the stability of the existing Kernel Streaming plugin developed by Chun Yu Shien. After several revisions of that code, many people were asking for the addition of various features, particularly buffering. For these features, the existing codebase was no longer considered suitable, so that he rewrote the plugin from scratch.
The plugin is tested and is stable. Note that it wonít function if you enable 24 bit support in Winamp (you must leave it to 16 bit). Volume control through Winamp can be enabled or disabled without problems. Of course, you wonít have control of the volume through the Windows mixer.
First thing I tried was the 24 bit setting, but that didn't fix it. But then at last, I found the solution. After dragging the plugin into the generic plugin folder (typically C:\\Winamp\Plugins) right click on the Winamp title bar and go to Options - Preferences - Plugins - Output, and select Kernel Streaming Output v3.63 [out_ks363.dll).
So far so good, but once you go into Configure (by double clicking or clicking the Configure button) you end up with an empty screen. Or, at least I did, and so did a friend with his W7 system and HiFace EVO USB/spdif interface.
The above screen is what I ended up with, minus the settings for buffer size, which is what I changed later, to minimise latency. There is no device to be selected where I'd expect the HiFace EVO to be. Then, for some reason, I started clicking in the empty space under Output Device.
Whaddayaknow? There are two devices to choose from, only, they have no text associated with them! So, I selected the second one and presto: beautiful sound coming from the EVO!
Incidentally, the 16/24 bit setting doesn't seem to matter for the functioning of the plugin. Either outputs sound to the EVO. 24 bits sounds softer (which is why I recommend disabling it for 16 bit replay) and 16 bits sounds faster and more dynamic but naturally prevents full throughput of hires files. In my setup, the plugin doesn't seem to be entirely stable, with an occasional Winamp freeze, but that could also be due to the HiFace and its driver.