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Well Wishes for Matt Ashland of JRiver

03-23-2014 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 72

I upgraded to JRiver Media Center 19 about four months ago (thanks Jim), and while I haven't had the opportunity to check out its performance with Mac equipment, I still firmly believe that JRiver sets the gold standard for PC-based music playback. Media Center 19's performance is miles beyond their iterations from just a couple of years ago in terms of ease of use and especially sound quality, and the array of customization options is almost mind boggling. The two principals at JRiver, CEO Jim Hillegass and Chief Technology Officer Matt Ashland are both not only brilliant product developers, but also are very accessible and genuinely very nice guys, to boot! Early on in my journey through the seeming maze of computer-based audio, both Jim and Matt were always quick to respond to any questions I might have regarding their software and its interaction with my particular equipment—often times late at night or even on weekends. And they've always been very willing to accommodate me or offer suggestions to help improve my listening experience.

I have the preferences set in MC 19 to automatically update to the latest Beta version—which often happens several times weekly—and I generally always head over to Interact, their user forum to check out what features the newest update offers and what issues have been addressed. The first week of January this year, I was doing just that when I noticed a thread titled "Get Well, Matt," and upon opening to read its contents, discovered that Matt had been involved in a life-threatening accident. He'd had this flu-like thing that had been dragging on throughout the holidays, and finally caved in on the evening of the first Thursday in January and went to an urgent care facility to get some medical help. Because of the high fever accompanying his other symptoms, they advised him to go to the emergency room immediately. Upon exiting the building, he apparently fainted and fell backwards, hitting his head pretty forcefully and fracturing his skull; fortunately, the facility staff were pretty vigilant and quickly called an ambulance. He was transported to a nearby hospital, and within an hour, he had been given a CT scan and was undergoing emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain.

The first week or so in the hospital, he was in the intensive care unit, essentially in a coma and on a respirator and feeding tube, and was fighting pneumonia and infection. He showed very few signs of any kind of response to any outside stimulus. I checked the forum daily for updates from Jim Hillegass, and while Jim always tried to put a really positive spin on everything, the overall outlook seemed very bleak. Fortunately, though Matt started moving fingers and toes and eventually moved his eyes in response to questions or contact from his wife and members of his family who were ever at his side. It seemed very touch-and-go early on, and he underwent some additional surgeries to help combat complications from the massive brain injury. However, within about a month, he started showing some very positive signs—he could move his head or perhaps an arm or even his hands in response to his family and physicians, and on February 8th, he spoke for the first time since the accident. 

Since then he's been moved a couple of times to recovery facilities, where his improvement has accelerated, and he's now undergoing serious physical therapy to help him rehab his body. He's still in a wheel chair, but its equipped with a bicycle-like apparatus that he's been pedaling to help regain full function of his legs. He doesn't appear to like the therapy very much, but he seems to work very hard at it. And he's been talking in complete sentences, and has shown improved motor skills and is even able to use hand-held devices like his cell phone. His family and his co-workers have been there to assist him throughout the ordeal, and Jim's regular postings have kept us all updated on his progress. Jim seems particularly impressed with Matt's ability to correctly answer technical questions regarding proprietary Media Center processes. Despite all his impressive progress, it appears Matt still has a very tough road ahead. 

Caption: The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012 seminar panel on DSD: from left to right, Michal Jurewicz, Mytek Digital; Matt Ashland, JRiver; Thom Moore, Five/Four Productions; Dr. Rob Robinson, Channel D; Cookie Marenco, Blue Coast Records; Chad Kassem, Analog Productions/Acoustic Sounds; Bruce Brown, Puget Sound Mastering; Jonathan Tinn, Playback Designs; Andreas Koch, Playback Designs (photograph by David W. Robinson). 

The Positive Feedback family or writers and our readers represent such a diverse group of cultures and traditions, I just can't help but feel that it's totally appropriate for each of us in our own way to try and focus some positive energy in Matt's direction. And whether that's in the form of prayer or meditation or just simple well-wishes, Matt is such a talented and deserving person who is in need of our thoughts and prayers at this time. I really would like to thank Jim Hillegass for so diligently keeping us updated over at the forum, where there's been a truly impressive outpouring of support for Matt and JRiver. I've read a number of entries from users who were happy with whatever previous version of Media Center they were currently using, and upon hearing of Matt's situation, immediately upgraded to the latest version of MC in a show of support for both Matt and the company. Matt, we miss you, we miss your insightful comments on the JRiver forum and the brilliance that you bring to JRiver that keeps them on the cutting edge. Get well soon!