People who make stereo and home theater fidelity their hobby are rare. I’m talking about the person who subscribes to the equipment review publications and who has, at any given moment, equipment upgrade plans. This person is what’s known as an audiophile. (You may be surprised to know that custom installation a/v companies rarely see these people. As a matter of fact, a cliche in the business is the prospect who tells the system designer that he or she isn’t an “audiophile” or “stereophile.” Almost all prospects say that.) Rarer still is the computer audiophile. This person pursues the best sound by processing the audio through a computer. Computeraudiophile.com caters to this person. Media Center 17, published by J River, is software that caters to this person. And, let me tell you, when that computer audiophile gets the urge to tweak, Media Center 17 is paradise! I just spent two solid days with it. I can’t wait to get back to it.

Media Center 17 is software that manages audio, video, and image files. The audio portion is the only one I’ve explored. With Media Center 17, audiophiles get to use 192/24 resolution (i.e. studio quality) music files, higher resolutions should those ever come, and all the usual lower resolutions (e.g. MP3 resolutions). There’s upsampling, of course. There’s equalization; users can choose any frequency range (e.g. 40hz, 40hz to 60hz, 10khz, etc.) and make it as loud or soft as they like. Both stereo and multichannel playback are accomodated. My Radio Shack sound level meter in hand, I’ve been playing different frequency tones (http://www.amazon.com/Audio-Test-Tones/dp/B007H9H6JA) and measuring their loudness at my listening position. Then, I’ve been adjusting the Media Center 17 equalizer so that all frequencies are of equal loudness (i.e. so that the frequency response is “flat”). I’ve also been using adjusting the equalizer just to hear the effect. It’s fascinating to hear how bringing 125hz up or down affects the sound of this or that instrument. Of course, as with any audiophile. I’m mainly after this to see if I can achieve better overall sound.

Computers are a headache. So, of course, using software to play, to manage, and to adjust one’s music files is not for the typical listener. A computer-based media management tool this versatile is for enthusiasts who can handle pain. An A/V system that is manually controlled via a keyboard and mouse is the antithesis of an a/v system that has been automated via a programmed remote. With the former, you may not be able to listen to music tonight. With the latter, you press the button that says “Music” and you’re all set. Like some kind of audiophile masochist, I’ve suffered with Media Center 17. For starters, there’s an open laptop on my equipment cabinet and I’m sitting on an ottoman next to it to play my music. I’m not sitting in the “sweet spot” in my ergonomically excellent Ekornes chair. The cables connecting both my external hard-drive–where music files live–and the stereo, to my computer, won’t permit it. Control via an iPhone app, so I can sit in my comfy chair, hasn’t cut it. Some iPhone apps I couldn’t get to work, others don’t offer complete control. Media Center 17 freezes often. There is no one to call, just email support and user groups. Finding out how to do something is painstaking. Mistakes come easy. I accidentally removed a key element of the software and could get it back only by downloading the software again.

Did I mention that I can’t wait to get back to playing with it some more? J River kindly offers a one-month free trial with full system features. At $50, if this is your thing, it’s a bargain. http://www.jriver.com/