Thursday, September 13, 2007

Daddy's got a Squeezebox!

My old Harmon Kardon died, and our birds ate through the wires of my old OmniFi music player[1], so I decided it was time to upgrade.

I don't watch TV and rarely watch movies, and I don't use, or want to use iTunes or an iPod. I mostly want to play Rhapsody music and my own collection from my stereo. Simple needs for a simple man.

Internet Audio Player

I had been dreaming for years about getting a Squeezebox.

It sounded simple, great quality, and people rave about it. The fact that their server, SlimServer, is open source, is important to me too. I know that a popular open source product is almost always better than proprietary solutions that rely on the quality of engineers from a single company.

Then when I learned that Squeezebox is now officially supporting Rhapsody (straight from the box, no need to even have a computer on), I was sold. So, I took the bonus money from last quarter (thanks, Sun!) and splurged.

Man, this thing is sweet. It is so small, cool looking, great screen, and so easy to use. The response time when I do searches and start a song are excellent. And the sound quality is very very good.

Not only does Squeezebox support Rhapsody, it also supports Pandora, and a huge selection of Internet radio stations. All from one little box.

But wait, that's not all! The SlimServer is web-based with UPnP support, so I can administer it from any browser and play it from any UPnP enabled player, like WinAmp, or from the SoftSqueeze player.

Receiver and Wireless Router

I was unhappy with my Harmon Kardon even though CNet recommended it -- too complicated and heavy and hard to use. I have decided to not read "official" reviews of hi-fi equipment because the folks doing reviews are enthusiasts and what they like is not actually what us "normal" people like. So instead I went to Amazon and read reviews from "real" people, and got a Pioneer VSX-516-K. Easy to set up, great sound, perfect. This choice had an unexpected bonus - my DVD player is a Pioneer, and the remote that came with the receiver works out of the box with my DVD player.

I also upgraded my wifi router to a Buffalo WHR-HP-G54 Wireless-G router with greater signal strength (also based on the Amazon reviews, I had never heard of this brand before), and am quite happy with that too.

NAS on the Cheap

My final issue was with how to make my music readily available to the Squeezebox. I really didn't like having to walk into the study, turn on my computer, wait for it to boot up, and log in (I have tried many times to get auto-login to work on this machine, but have failed).

So I considered upgrading, and thought seriously about a ReadyNAS system, that has SlimServer pre-installed. A lot of people really like the ReadyNAS.

But these things are pricey (around $1,100 according to Google Products), and I already had this machine and RAID set up with two 500GB disks. Why couldn't I make my machine like a NAS?

Then I read in my manual that the Squeezebox supports Wake-on-LAN. I checked my machine, and sure enough, it supported it. I configured the network card to wake the computer on a network hit, and bingo, I have, for all intents and purposes, a Squeezebox-enabled NAS system without having to fork over $1,100.

Last night I had fun just randomly picking songs from Rhapsody or my collection, basking in the experience of a well-done system and some serious sound coming from my Bose speakers. It's those little joys in life that make it worth living :)

[1] After using the OmniFi for a few years, it just didn't "have it", and I suspected that OmniFi would die, and sure enough, they've discontinued their products.

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