As an analog devotee, I admit to taking considerably longer than most of my colleagues before making the concerted move to deploying and using a computer based audio system. Who could blame me given the horrific genesis of "computer audio!" The ubiquitous MP3 audio format sounds like utter crap on a truly world-class two-channel system! There is the compressed and foreshortened soundstage, the less than crystalline treble (cymbals don't have that clear metallic ring), strings (especially en masse) sound undifferentiated, and bass is flabby and undefined.
With today's availability of high resolution audio files including 24-bit/192kHz and DSD, I'm only too happy to use a computer based Music Server. Once invested however, as an IT guy, certified on both Microsoft and Apple platforms, who just took early retirement from the University of Notre Dame where I retired as the Senior IT Engineer/Analyst for the Department of Athletics, I'm well aware of the advantages that may be leveraged by managing and prioritizing your computers core functionality, services, and processes.
To be clear, this tool is only for Windows based computers, and will work with any version of Windows, client or server, since Windows XP! Dear readers, when it comes to audio playback, I don't see how anyone who has bothered to take the time to compare an Apple to a Microsoft platform, head to head, could even consider still using an Apple machine. The empirical evidence is overwhelming. This is not an open argument, nor is it merely a personal preference. As I mentioned, I'm an IT Engineer whose experience dates back to 1971, who is certified on both platforms. Please see "New Methods for Quantifying Sonic Performance," a three-part series in The Absolute Sound by Charles Zellig, Ph.D. and Jay Clawson, in issues 246, 247 and 249, October and November 2014, concluding in January 2015.
By default, Windows manages all these things based on a "best practices" set of instructions, written to assure that the OS stays stable and that all tasks presented to the processor are dealt with in a timely and resource efficient manner. While realigning or optimizing core, service, and routine processes of a Windows computer is not hard for someone with my skill set, it can be a daunting task for the average user. Even for a salty old dog like me, deciding which ones to leverage would be an additional challenge. And the entire process is very time consuming! Not to mention that when they are done manually, these settings would need to be restored every time you restart your computer. So when I first stumbled across the free version of Fidelizer (v3 at the time I came across this tool), I found its relatively comprehensive scope and time savings to be most appealing; and it was so easy to use.
Fidelizer Pro is the creation of one Keetakawee Punpeng, who uses the alias Windows X. When I first wrote to him about this utility, he was very open to a review. Honestly, I have been putting it off for a very long time (I lost my father and we bought a new home since I started this project!), but I really want people to know about this very affordable and extremely effective tool!
Fidelizer uses a native, three-pronged approach; unleashing core audio performance, controlling processes, and managing services. By optimizing prioritization, and both process and service management, Fidelizer leverages all of your computer's parameters to play music rather than to do things like email, web browsing, database searching, and other tasks that you would typically expect your computer to be performing.
Stage one gives audio tasks more priority within the dedicated core processing procedures, thereby lowering (improving) latency in audio performance, and increasing the accuracy of clock resolution. By managing and optimizing the system Multimedia Class Scheduler Service (or MMCSS), the kernel timer resolution, and audio thread priority, Fidelizer Pro addresses core processing issues, some that you won't find addressed by any other "competing" optimization tools and likely wouldn't know how to improve manually.
Working with core affinity, Fidelizer isolates non-audio processes to a single core, and deemphasizes their priority so they won't hinder the audio related ones. It also launches the media player software with higher priority from an Administrator account, by-passing numerous permission filters for more solid performance. It also stops or disables most system services offering no value for audio applications, elevating those used only for running audio related services, and by limiting services for some audio applications that require network, remote control, or even security services.
Keetakawee offers Fidelizer in three versions, Fidelizer (free), Fidelizer Plus ($39.95), and Fidelizer Pro ($69.95). For those who are a bit tentative about jumping into anything, the free version will afford users enough of the sonic benefits, letting you "test the waters,' so to speak, to comfortably make the jump to the full Pro version. While Fidelizer Plus does sound better than Fidelizer (free), both of the lesser versions require a manual start every restart of your computer. And, aside from offering significantly better sonic performance and greater versatility of optimization, Fidelizer Pro auto-launches at each restart, using your last saved configuration. Unless you want or need to make changes, you never have to fuss with it once configured.
Once installed and enabled, Fidelizer Pro allows for various levels optimization, and for fully automated launching and reapplication each time you restart your computer, saving you tons of time and effort.
Configuring Fidelizer Pro the first time is a snap; there is both a "Wizard" and an "Advanced" mode. In "Wizard" mode, we see two categories, User Level and Audio Profile, both which are set via a selectable drop down pick list. In "Advanced" mode, we also see a third category, the Fidelizer features menu. Breaking down the three groups, starting with the User Level, we find a dropdown pick list including Consumer, Audiophile, and Purist.
Next is the Audio Profile category, again choices are available from a dropdown pick list. Here they include Audio Player, Audio Player (without network connection), Audio Render, Streamer, Network player, Network Renderer JPLAY Audio PC), and Media Center choices.
Finally, in the individual Fidelizer features check box list,
we have the following:
Essentially, you can either select a User Level and an Audio Profile (Wizard mode), which will prepopulate the final group, Fidelizer features, or you can just drop right down to the Advanced mode, and just check off the Fidelizer features you wish to enable by manually checking them.
Either way, once you've made your selections, you click the Fidelize Optimize Audio button. Fidelizer will ask, "Do you want to run the media player application with Fidelizer enhancements after finishing optimization.", to which you will say "yes." Next, you will be asked to navigate to the executable for the media player application you are using. In my case, using JRiver Media Center 21, I navigate to Local Disk (C:), Program Files (x86) [since JRiver Media Center is a 32-bit Application], J River, Media Center 21, and find and click on to select Media Center 21.exe, and click open. Optimization begins, and in a few seconds, you are asked to restart your computer to complete the installation. That's it.
Beside the "under the covers" improvements and changes from v6, Fidelizer Pro v7 has changed the naming of some the categories, making them more easily understood and less technical sounding. For instance, Optimization Levels became User Levels, Machine Configuration became Audio Profile, and one of the Features (Launch Audiophile player with Fidelizer optimizations) was entirely eliminated, as its redundancy was incorporated into other selections. But, with each incremental version updated I've experienced, there have been steady improvements in performance. And there are other strategies you can leverage, depending on what Music Server software you are using. The manual for Fidelizer Pro v7 offers some ideas for further optimizing Foobar, a very popular free software.
Fidelizer's three User Levels are best explained as follows. Consumer is a default safe level. Fidelizer will enhance sound quality without affecting system performance, but to a lesser degree. Your system won't slow down and everything will work as usual. This would be your preferred choice if the computer you will be using for serving music files will be used for other daily computing, i.e., a multi-purpose, non-dedicated computer. While it does have a positive sonic impact, it falls far short of what the application can deliver.
Audiophile affords a highly dedicated level of audio optimization and will sacrifice other system performance for better sound quality. Overall, non-music based system performance will be slower, and some applications may not work properly. This level is best used on a dedicated music server, a computer asked to do nothing other than present and manage a music library, as it will have performance impacts on any other general usage.
Finally, Purist can be a decidedly unsafe level of optimization, as it stops or disables any system services that aren't related directly to audio playback. Services like Windows Update, Print Spooler, or even networking may stop completely depending on configuration, so you'd lose any remote access or control functionality. This mode is strictly for someone who knows their way around their computer. Changes are reversible, but will create challenges and frustrations in people without fairly advanced computing skills. Honestly, I've only engaged this level once for testing, and I can't say with any certainty how much improvement it affords over the Audiophile setting. However, because I manage my server via several mobile devices (Android tablets, phones, and iOS tables), I don't have much experience with it.
I have found that selecting the Audiophile User Level and the Audio Player Audio Profile is the fastest and most effective way to get what I want and need from the Feature selection. That combination checks off all the Features in the set except for number 5, Disable unnecessary services leaving only audio related ones. This is the setup that works best for me, allowing me full remote control from all my wireless devices. So, just how well does it work? In a word, stupendously!
First, spatial attributes are elevated to near analog quality. The more compressed, flattened, cardboard cut-out, two-dimensionality that I find to be one of the biggest detriments to most computer based music playback systems is elevated to dramatically new levels, bordering, as I have mentioned, on what one is treated to from good LP playback. Stage width, height, and particularly depth, are increased dramatically, in realistic, not cartoonish, manner.
Resolution, transparency, and fine detail, including microdynamic shadings, are similarly heightened, to a degree greater than I've seen by the implementation of good after-market power cords and the best USB cables (both of which, you should be using, by the way). Hearing into and through full scale orchestral works is near revelatory using Fidelizer Pro. I believe that much of this is accomplished by its ability to significantly reduce electronic noise, a "glare" and "grunge," that is also common with many computer playback systems.
Something that came as an unexpected and extremely welcomed improvement, were attributes often characterized by the acronym, PRaT (Pace, Rhythm, and Timing). Driving bass lines or propulsive drum work is conveyed with more urgency and authority, demanding your attention and propelling the composition more forcefully and convincingly.
Finally, and as welcomed to this listener as the spatial improvements, come pronounced enhancements in tone color, texture, and timbre. Fundamental pitch and tonal color are more faithful, imbued with wholesale clarification and refinement, both sounding more vibrant and reconstructed with richer, fuller tone. Texture is more clearly rendered, as is instrumental bloom, which is more apparent and believable. Instrumental voices are presented in more authentic size, texture, and especially pitch. Musical tapestries seemed to be not only more natural and convincing sounding, but pitch was also noticeably more stable.
All of this enhancement can be easily verified by simply disabling Fidelizer Pro at restart. I guarantee you, once you hear what it can do, you will only disable it to show your audio pals just how good it really is. I know of absolutely no other way to reap such a significant degree of sonic improvement from a computer based music system for anywhere near it $70 asking price! It is a no-brainer, and a welcomed enhancement to this music lover, as I'm SURE it will be to you. Most ENTHUSIASTICALLY recommended.