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I had never heard of J. River Media Center until a contact on one of the French hifi forums reading about the upcoming Weiss review pointed me to their website indicating that it was his favorite and becoming the software of choice on standalone servers like the NuForce or very high-end Audionec Server/DAC/Preamp solution (which uses some Weiss on-board technology - it’s a small world after all).

If gear designers are starting to rely on the J. River interface rather than creating their own, those guys must be doing something right. I can’t go over all the features this Windows-only software has to offer but let me just drop some random names:

• Native support of Asio and Wasapi requires nothing more than picking the DAC of your choice to operate under that mode (assuming the proper drivers are installed but in case of the Minerva, the installation disc takes care of it).
• Over 80 file formats with resolution up to 24-bit/192kHz are supported.
• Full compatibility with your iPod or any digital portable music device.
• Four different views, the most spectacular being the theater view where your computer turns into a very stylish standalone server (but you also have a mini view to continue working if your computer serves multiple duties while listening to music).
• Memory buffering (I run with a 6-second buffer and conservative settings on the Minerva and have yet to hear a single dropout).
• And digital signal processing and equalization if desired.

The most valuable to me is convenience of use when ripping CDs, adding tags to music files or artwork to albums. All of this is usually not more than a menu away if that far (some functions are actually directly accessible through an action window on the side of the screen). All saving actions or modifications are run transparently in the background while you continue operating normally. Speaking of transparency, those semi-transparent menus serve no real purpose but are pretty cool to look at.

The additional value to me is that each feature is typically accessible over more than one path. Whether you think that a library update should be found under File or Tools, you’ll actually end up finding it either way. The Graphic User Interface is superb especially on a 24-inch iMac and as already mentioned, you can look at your albums in theater view like a high-end server or even in 3D floating above a pitch-dark background, whatever rocks your boat.

From what I have heard, one of the minor glitches in previous versions was the introduction of a 2-second blank between tracks. The problem is now solved and like everything else in J. River, this can actually be fully customized depending on whether you like a gentle blending from one track to another, a more aggressive blending or want files to be played as is without any fade-in/fade-out.

I still managed to find two very minor bugs but they really don’t keep me up at night. Yet reviewers must do what reviewers are paid for. The first one is that J. River won’t recognize the extension .jpeg (instead of .jpg) as a picture where some downloads and discs actually tag their artwork with that extension. In such instances, you’ll need to resave the picture file in a photo editor program to tag it with the universal .jpg so J. River recognizes it.

The second one is that J. River at times fails to group tracks in an album although I did tag the files with the same information (same album name and folder on the disc). The interesting thing is that such tracks were correctly grouped as one album in theater but not standard view where they remained separate. This is a minor glitch and only happened when I manually grouped tracks under one common album name after downloading them from various sources. (I could address this with a playlist but I am old school. I like the idea of albums designed by an artist with a purpose).

Of course Media Center will handle your videos, podcasts and internet radio and you can even set up internet stores to download directly into J. River. This is as user-friendly a software as I have ever seen and obviously was designed with a lot of care and input from audiophiles and music nuts like you and me. And that’s key as far as I am concerned. This is the first software I tested that was not designed with either a computer programmer’s mind set or to cater exclusively to the MP3/playlist generation but actually enables full enjoyment of your audiophile collection (while keeping all the convenience of uploading MP3s to your iPod should you wish to do so as well). J. River Media Center only costs 1% of the price of a Minerva but you won’t really know how convenient and enjoyable a music server can be until you try it. The good news is that the first 30 days are free (and all functions fully activated). Give it a try. I think you’ll end up buying the license.