Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wiring my house for sound (so to speak)

I made the decision a month ago to take advantage of the over 400 audio CDs I have collected over the years and digitize them. But not into MP3 files. No. I decided to go high quality lossless FLAC format, because they're practically indistinguishable from the original CD audio and can be the basis for creating high quality mp3 files at any time. The plan? I want to be able to listen to my entire collection at the click of a mouse button..... on my home theatre system (for now - more later). The problem - my home theatre components are far away from my computer, so I needed a way to share out my collection in a way that I can listen to them on the professional audio system.

My first trial - the Squeezebox by Logitech. You connect the Squeezebox to your wireless network and use the touch screen remote to play your collection from your computer.... through to your big stereo system. Sounds great on paper. Didn't work in reality. I tried for hours to get the thing to connect and maintain a connection to my wireless network, to no avail. I even tried a direct wired network connection. No dice there either. I don't know if Windows 7's firewall was the issue, but the product looked like it was connected while the software running on the computer said there was nothing out there. The support for this product doesn't make it easy to fix whatever might be wrong - and I'm a technologist! So..... in a word - FAIL.

The store I bought it from suggested I try the Sonos product instead. What makes their system different is that they sell their own network access point (which they call a bridge) that hooks to the home network via regular ethernet cable and creates its own proprietary wireless mesh network that any of their products can instantly connect to. This includes the player box I connect to my stereo receiver. Now, the Sonos doesn't come with a controller (you have to buy that separately), but they offer a free controller app for the iPhone. Score!

It didn't work on first try. I was frustrated, but through an accidental discovery I realized that my home router was the culprit. It limits the number of IP addresses that can exist on the home network to 10 (I have a lot of network devices in the home). I upped that to 20 and everything went smoothly. Through the PC software, I added my drive full of FLAC files to the library and downloaded the iPhone app. Instant digital music jukebox.

What's nice about this setup is that I can use a phone to control the music (or my PC) and I can add more Sonos devices, including more player boxes for other rooms, even boom boxes (with their own speaker and amp) to have instant music anywhere within range of the wi-fi mesh network.

[Update] More good news. The (wireless) player that feeds music to my home theatre receiver also has Ethernet ports on it. I discovered that they are simply extended network ports for nearby devices to access the internet through the Sonos (wireless) mesh network. This means I can now hook my Blu-Ray disc player to the internet. Yay!

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