Archive for May, 2011

A digital music collection without The Cloud

May 14th, 2011

It may not seem particularly groundbreaking at this point in time to have a complete storage and distribution strategy for your digital music, but I feel it is worthwhile writing a post on the subject since the only solutions being pushed by the big companies involve subscriptions to their services or the purchase/leasing of overpriced lossy audio files. I want to own all of my music in genuine CD quality (16bit/44.1kHz lossless) or better. If my ISP is playing up (as it does frequently) this must not have an impact on listening to what I already own. The diagram below suggests a possible strategy and shows the acquisition, storage and playback.

Acquisition

The audio files are acquired in the usual manner: ripped from CDs, captured and edited from vinyl or downloaded. Note that downloading is the only part if this strategy that requires internet access which is why the link is shown in red. All other network activity requires only your home network. At this stage the files are on your laptop. I have no intention of getting rid of my physical music collection but you may wish to go medialess to save space.

Audio Codec

For true CD quality FLAC is probably the best way to go since it is has no license costs and is quite well supported. There’s no reason why you can’t also use lossy codecs such as MP3 where FLAC is not available.

Storage

A dedicated NAS device allows either the network players or your mobile phone to access the music without needing a laptop or desktop to be running. It should be able to run an FTP server and, if the network audio player requires it, an audio server. The choice of NAS should be determined by your network audio player’s requirements. For Squeezebox consider their supported NAS devices. Sonos should work with most NAS devices.

It is the contents of the NAS that you should have a good backup strategy for, which makes it the sensible place to keep all your valuable data such as photos and documents. You could use two cheap USB hard drives which in rotation are periodically backed up from the NAS and stored off-site.

Network

The wireless router can connect to the NAS in a variety of ways. Usually the NAS will not be completely silent so I like to keep it in a different room from where the network audio players are. Ethernet-over-power is a convenient way to to achieve this if WiFi is not an option, and it can be considerably faster than WiFi.

Network Audio Player

The network player acts as a hifi component to playback your audio files hosted on the NAS. Some of the best examples are Squeezebox, Sonos or Linn DS. Squeezebox is relatively inexpensive, requires server software to be running on the NAS and potentially some technical expertise to get up and running. Sonos is slightly more expensive, much easier to set up and does not require server software. The Linn DS devices are much more expensive and require server software, but they have the potential to sound better given the right audio files and coupled with good hifi components.

Android Phone

The role of portable audio player is provided by an android mobile phone. I’ve had great results from an HTC Desire. Use an FTP client such as FtpCafe to browse your music collection and get your music files from the NAS onto the phone’s storage card. There’s finally good app support for FLAC in the form of PowerAMP music player.