yes, you can tell the difference between players.
to say you can't tells me you have not spent the time checking that or verifing that...I've done an AB comparison between WinAmp and Windows Media Player and there is a NOTICEABLE difference.
so is there no way to get WMP to play audio CDs without screwing with them? I have been wondering why my audio sucks lately ... it's WMP ?
How bad would you say your sound is. I have been told from the designer of a highend DAC that in order for him to hear the negative things that XP does to the audio he need to have on high quality headphones and the difference is not easily heard. Are you sure its not something else in your audio chain or would you concider yourself to have very sensitive hearing and would pick up on the inferior audio easily.
The difference isn't easily heard and 99% of people out there probably wouldn't notice it. However, if you're serious about it and are trying to get the best sound possible and the most realiztic recreation of the recording, then chances are you'll notice it.
We've done an A/B in our car between WMP and WinAmp (bit-perfect set-up) and there is a very noticeable difference on our set-up...but then again, our set-up is pretty different from what most people would have.
I've always been a car audio geek and had nice stereos, and I can tell when something doesn't sound as it should. If you can't tell the difference between 128k or 320k mp3 compared to a real CD then it's not something most people worry about.
I've got Boston Pros, JL Audio amps, etc. I am using the Audio Roadie which probably isn't the best either, but better than anything else I could find. The optical in to a audiobahn dsp was not that great either.
I tried vista to start out with but since they phased out DirectSound no ones drivers work for 4 channel right. The roadie does not produce anything > 2 channel sound in vista no matter what you do.
audiobahn anything isn't that great.
Look into the USB sound cards thread in the Car Audio FAQ section...you will find better options in there for your sound card. There's also a processor thread in there as well that will list off your options for processors with optical inputs.
Red - out of curiosity, what are you using ?