Let the music play

Posted: April 30th, 2006 | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

In my previous apartment in London I didn’t have the space to unbox & use my Hi-Fi, so for 2 years I’ve been listening to music pretty much exclusively through my laptop. While I unquestionably missed the audio quality of my Roksan CD player & Amp, I’ve gotten accustomed to the convenience of not having to physically switch CDs every 60 minutes. A quick move across the pond later, I once again have the space to use my Hi-Fi (yay for cheap Cambridge rents – well compared to London at least!), but it has reminded me just how tedious CD changing is.

And then I remembered the fine folk at Slim Devices who make a nifty little device to connect the music library on your computer, to your Hi-Fi. The latest generation 3 SqueezeBox looks even smarter than their previous models, and with their explicit support for Linux was just the thing I needed. I ordered one of the wifi-enabled versions, which arrived just in time for the weekend, and even after only 2 days of use I can highly recommend this to anyone looking for a similar device.

Installation was a breeze. The server side software comes in an RPM which installs & starts with the only configuration option being to tell it the directory containing your music. Configuration of the device itself amounted to no more than selecting the correct wifi network, entering the WEP key (WPA is supported too), and telling it IP address of the host running the server software. So from unpacking to playing music was no more than 5 minutes of work (well, plus another 5 minutes trying to convince NetworkManager to connect to my wireless network after I had enabled WEP). Along with the defacto standard MP3 support, it also supports OGG, WAV, FLAC and Apple LossLess – with the latter formats, audio quality is supreme. The best thing about it though in comparison to similar devices, is the UI provided by the LCD display and remote control. As well as the initial network configuration, this lets one browse & search your local music archive by artist, album, etc, select from countless Internet radio stations, and interact with other non-music items such as RSS news feeds, weather reports, and other plugins… Oh yeah, plugins – the server software is completely open source, well documented and easily extendable – 3rd party plugins for the device are actively encouraged, and there are some seriously useful add-ons available.

The only downside of all this is that its highlighted the shortcomings in the audio quality of my mp3 collection. Even with a high quality, VBR encoding there is still noticable loss of definition at both ends of the spectrum. So I’ve decided to re-rip all my CD’s into the lossless FLAC format – averaging out at about 400 MB / CD a 200 GB hard drive will comfortably store 500 CDs and if I ever need to switch formats again I can encode straight from the FLACs, skipping over the ripping part.

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