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Music Hardware

Simple, Cost-Effective, Multiroom Audio? 438

jimicus writes "I'd like a multiroom audio system but I'm thoroughly confused by the options available — and the difference in prices is huge. For instance, Philips have a wireless system which starts at around £280 — and Russound have a product which comes in around £1,000. I've already got all my music as MP3s and it lives on a NAS box — I don't really want to repeat that process. I also have a perfectly capable amp and speakers in my living room, so I don't really need anything else there. Whatever I go for has to pass the wife test — so something which requires a separate amp, speakers and PC in each room and requires a keyboard to control is right out. I don't mind spending a little money but I don't really want to find that every little extra thing adds up to £thousands. Has anyone else dealt with a similar problem? How did you solve it?"
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Simple, Cost-Effective, Multiroom Audio?

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  • Sonos (Score:5, Informative)

    by eggman9713 ( 714915 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:06PM (#30017474)
    I haven't tried it myself, but this looks like a very interesting product. []
  • squeezebox family (Score:5, Informative)

    by rolfpal ( 28193 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:08PM (#30017478) Homepage

    The squeezebox family from Logitec (used to be slim devices) rocks. It will read all of your music + internet radio stations plus more, available as inexpensive component audio, boom boxes and even high end audio components

  • Logitech Squeezebox (Score:3, Informative)

    by TuballoyThunder ( 534063 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:10PM (#30017492)
    I have the Boom and it works great. It also comes up with server software that runs on Linux or Windows so you can serve your music. You can read more details on the Logitech [] website.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:11PM (#30017494)

    If you want good class-a amps, you'll have to pay for them. If you want good electrostatic speakers, you need pay for them and sample your CDs at 400kb otherwise what's the point?

    'Good' relative to a high end system is about 'good enough.' Nothing is simpler to configure and operate than physical cable connecting your consumer-grade speakers to your class b or class d amp.

    After that, it really doesn't matter what your source is 128 vbr is effectively indistinguishable from higher on consumer grade sound gear.

  • by bmfs ( 467488 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:12PM (#30017502)
    I like the combination of iTunes and Airport Express - [] - devices. Each Airport Express can join a wireless or wired network and has an optical digital and analogue audio output which you can connect to a hifi / radio with aux input etc. Each Airport Express appears as a remote speaker in iTunes and you can tell iTunes to play to any / all remote speakers. And you can control everything with Apple's free Remote app - [] - on an iPod Touch / iPhone. It all works rather well.
  • Re:squeezebox family (Score:4, Informative)

    by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:16PM (#30017534)
    Correct. Here [] is a link. You don't get much simpler than this. One nice feature that a presume has not been removed in newer models is that they can be synced with each other. So, not only can you have separate music in each room, but you can also have the same music in each room.
  • Re:squeezebox family (Score:5, Informative)

    by dschuetz ( 10924 ) <> on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:18PM (#30017552)

    I second this. I'm using squeeze server on a linux box with all my mp3s on it, slaved to a bunch of old Dell Rio Receivers that aren't fantastic, but work good enough for squeeze. They're all in the basement (I've actually got in-ceiling speakers throughout the house wired to the server room) and controlled through browsers and an iPhone app.

    In most cases, though, just stick those in different rooms (find 'em on eBay, maybe) or a bunch of Squeezebox players (slimp3, etc.), hook them up with ethernet, and you're good. Use the browser, or an iPhone or iPod touch for controlling them, or you can even buy a fairly cool gui controller from Logitech that works with the whole thing. (though I'd probably recommend the iPod Touch route, 'cause you can do a lot more with it and it costs about the same as the controller does).

    Anyway, it's cool, and reasonably open too (their hardware information is even available on a wiki, with block diagrams and software source code).

  • C.C.Crane (Score:4, Informative)

    by doctechniqal ( 516085 ) * on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:22PM (#30017590)

    My S.O. and I are freaks. We also have FM radios throughout the house, along with the living room stereo system - where my S.O.'s PC also lives. I split the audio line from her PC: one line goes to the living room stereo, the other goes to a cheap C.C.Crane FM transmitter. This is the absolute cheapest way to get a single source of audio (CDs, MP3 library, streaming audio) into every room of the house. Note: the FM signal strength from the Crane transmitter sucked at first - then I found a web page that showed how you can open up the Crane transmitter and tweak the signal strength to maximum. Works great now.

  • Low Power FM radio (Score:4, Informative)

    by shking ( 125052 ) <> on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:28PM (#30017622) Homepage
    About five years ago I, spent about $75 on a low power FM transmitter from CanaKit []. I can get music anywhere in my house (or at close neighbors' houses) with a simple radio. CanaKit's transmitters cost from $20 up to $300 and have about a 150 meter range (about 500 feet).

    Recently I added the "Remote" app to my iPhone. Now I can chose songs and playlists without needing to walk over to the computer. Obviously this will not work if you can't, or won't, use iTunes.
  • Re:Sonos (Score:5, Informative)

    by parishboy ( 1673678 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:34PM (#30017660)
    I have installed many of these systems, and I second Sonos - could not be easier to set up and use. No need for separate amp/speakers/PC in every room, as they now have a product that is an all-in-one player/speaker. Many of the solutions mentioned here are great ways to go, but I can't think of one that's got a better/easier interface for your wife or similarly tech-challenged household members. Only real caveat is that it won't play DRM-protected audio files - but all the unprotected file formats and internet radio that you can shake a stick at. This beats most of the other solutions because there really is no need for separate audio equipment, including amplifiers.
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:55PM (#30017796)

    It's even more impressive when everyone comes over and they can request songs from their own iPhones (or yours, if you pass it around).

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @08:04PM (#30017864)

    Yes, DVD Jon has broken it for you: []

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @08:09PM (#30017898)

    No, do NOT do that.

    The result is going to be a bunch of speakers wired in parallel, reducing the load across the amp down to less than an ohm, just go ahead and short your amp output now and save yourself the time of getting it all hooked up before you burn it up.

    The reason the sound quality won't be good is because you're amp will be overdriven, carrying far more current than it expects to carry for a given output voltage. The result will be an amp that overheats and fails. You'll have to turn the volume up to 15 to hear it, really over driving the amp. If you're lucky and the amp is smart, it'll clamp itself down to an acceptable current level, resulting in it turning a nice audio signal into a clipped, distorted mess. You're more likely to just end up with a burnt out amp since obviously neither of you are aware of how this stuff works.

    This is modded interesting, but ignorant is more appropriate, dangerous would be better yet.

    Amps are designed for a specific load, generally 8 or 4 ohms per channel although you can find others, and some allow bridging of channels for different loads and output levels but you obviously have no clue.

    Please don't ever give anyone advice on wiring ever again, it is clear you don't understand the basics of electricity. While unlikely in this case, this sort of ignorance results in houses getting burned down and people dying on a regular basis.

  • Re:squeezebox family (Score:3, Informative)

    by markus_baertschi ( 259069 ) <markus&markus,org> on Saturday November 07, 2009 @08:22PM (#30017978)

    Yup, the Squeezebox family of products is your best bet. It integrates fine with your existing setup (you just need a free aux input on your amp) and can be standalone (Standalone boom box). All of them support WiFi or Ethernet. You can operate each station completely independently or you can synchronize them (same music everywhere). If you have your musick already ripped to mp3 and your tags are clean then most of the work is done. The product family is about a decade old, so it has some history and the bugs are gone.

    In addition the server software is open source and quite portable (Windows, Linux, even some NAS boxes are supported). There are plenty of plugins and extensions. Internet Radio is well integrated too.

    It is not cheap, but none of the alternatives are cheaper or better either.


  • by bmfs ( 467488 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @08:35PM (#30018066)
    it can be done, just a bit more complicated: []
  • by bmfs ( 467488 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @08:46PM (#30018132)
    Also, there seems to be a pulseaudio module for Airport Express: []
  • by inu_maru ( 843192 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @08:49PM (#30018148) Homepage

    In the upcomming months plenty of companies will start offering DLNA DMR devices (
    You can stream the music from your NAS directly to this devices, as long as you have the software (ushare, twonkymedia, windows 7 has it as 'Play To').
    There are not many devices available as of now, but they will be in the next few months.
    DMR software: foobar2000 (need a plugin), rythmbox (needs a plugin)

    Just an idea, you can google the rest.

  • by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <> on Saturday November 07, 2009 @09:13PM (#30018288)

    All joking aside, MP3's are going to sound horrible on any decent system.

    At what bitrate? As far as I know, a double-blind study has never shown that anyone can hear the difference between 256kbit MP3s and the uncompressed original.

    FLAC is useful for a different reason: it allows you to re-encode the original into a different format without experiencing quality degradation. It's useful to keep FLAC files archived somewhere, but for listening, using lossy compression at a decent bitrate is fine.

  • Re:Sonos (Score:5, Informative)

    by cbreaker ( 561297 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @09:36PM (#30018418) Journal
    I'm sure the Sonos system is nice, and from the enthusiasm here it sounds like it works. However, it's also very expensive. The starter bundle with speakers (one controller, one zone) is $1200.

    The original poster was looking for something low cost.
  • by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @09:45PM (#30018470) Journal

    Assuming that each of the rooms is a proper room with proper walls and a proper door, stereo bleed shouldn't be a problem. But perhaps the submitter should have clarified whether "ambience throughout the house", or "easy access to music from several scattered locations" was the goal.

  • by slarrg ( 931336 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @10:11PM (#30018584)

    I can't answer what issues you created by using the Airport Express outside in you Halloween scenario maybe you had a weak signal or other obstacles. It's not really an outdoor device. However, your other assertions are completely wrong. You can stream to as many AirTunes devices (Airport Express or Apple TV) as you like with no problem. In addition, you can stream to them while also playing the same source on the computer's local speakers.

    In my household, we have multiple Airport Expresses and Apple TVs and we have a central server with several terabytes of music, movies and TV shows and we love being able to stream our content to wherever we like. It's very simple and allows you to reconfigure how you use everything with ease. For example, you can have internet radio streaming to my desktop computer and two other rooms while my wife is listening to her playlists in two other rooms and someone else is watching a ripped DVD in yet another room. In addition, we can select music from our laptops and a shared library or from our iPhones and iPod Touch devices.

    As for the Halloween party you were speaking about, I also enjoy throwing Halloween parties and have found this setup ideal for my needs. I usually have creepy music playlists playing in the front yard graveyard while I have other music streaming throughout the house and a theme specific playlist playing in the backyard, too. (I tend to keep the devices inside the house and run cables to the external speakers, though.) As the night progresses, I usually clear out a dance floor area and begin playing dance music in that area while the other streams continue. Now that Apple has added video playlists, I can also keep sufficiently spooky video going on the TVs all night. Also, with the Apple Remote App, I can turn on the DJ services and allow users to vote from their own iPhones on what songs will play on the dance floor. It's really fun and everyone really enjoys it.

    I've been using this setup for years and each year Apple keeps adding new, well-considered features that keep making the system better. To me, that's one of the coolest features; I sit back and do nothing new while Apple keeps creating new features that enhance my entire system and make my friends think I keep adding new stuff. What could be better?

  • by earlymon ( 1116185 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @10:50PM (#30018730) Homepage Journal

    At what bitrate? As far as I know, a double-blind study has never shown that anyone can hear the difference between 256kbit MP3s and the uncompressed original.

    Citation requested.

    The only such "studies" I've read of were not in the neighborhood of rigorous, detailing neither the program content, range of listeners, nor sample sizes.

  • by earlymon ( 1116185 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @11:12PM (#30018812) Homepage Journal

    Enjoy your 44.1 KHz on your CONSUMER GRADE gear you PEASANT.

    So much is bandied about regarding time and frequency domains, but so little of it is valid.

    An impulse is not band-limited - it contains an infinite number of frequency components.

    Any digital sampling of even a simple sine wave - absolutely regardless of sampling rate - is going to present to the electronics as nothing less than a series of impulses. Regardless of the optical illusion that the sampled points look like the sine wave sampled (dots on an x-y graph) - that's not how it's going to work out.

    An impulse is not band-limited; a series of them certainly won't be. The resulting frequency components in error (aliased frequencies - not solved by any amount of oversampling) can - and do - have measurable deleterious effects.

    This is the basis for some people preferring higher sampled digital signals and for some people to prefer analog to digital.

    It's not there are expected to be frequencies above 16 kHz - the second harmonic of a struck triangle - in most music sources. And it's not that any harmonic distortion of signals above 10 kHz even matter - because those second and higher harmonics are above 20 kHz, the accepted upper limit for the norm of hearing.

    The point is therefore not frequencies at 44.1 kHz, it's to acquire the signal at 44,100 samples / second. For an 11 kHz signal - not at all unreasonable for violins, harpsichords, or synthesizers - you're getting only 4 sample points per wavelength. Chances of getting reduced sampling error - to even hit the peaks and zero crossings in time of that frequency or higher is absolutely laughable. That's 8 points at 5 to 6 kHz, and 16 sampled data points in the critical voice range.

    Given the reality of the math, it's a wonder that CDs - uncompressed from their 44.1 kHz standard - manage to sound as good as they do.

    (Wikipedia laughably multiplies this by 16 bits / sample in an insane misunderstanding of digital signal processing and pulse-code modulation, so I'm foregoing that as a reference.)

    The tighter spaced in time the sampling, the less chance of a high delta V per sample, and therefore, the less chance for overshoot on the drive electronics being given a piecewise continuous function to deal with.

    But sampling error is like the infinite energy requirement when trying to get to the speed of light - it's just a fact.

    By the way - I'm one of those peasants that owns electrostatics and a class A amp. Missed the hand-made valves, though.

    Hope this helps.

  • by notanatheist ( 581086 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @11:23PM (#30018864) Homepage
    Sonos = cheese when you factor in cost, flexibility, freedom. Squeezecenter runs on Windows, Mac, Linux. Web interface. Internet radio. Quite affordable. Very flexible. They're so damn good that most people don't own just one. I have four at home and two at work. One is the BoomBox which is perfect for the kitchen or other small rooms. The newest models have touchscreens which I'd love to get my hands on (literally too!!). You can keep a setup small and the sound big when you pair a Squeezebox with a T-amp and a nice set of bookshelf speakers. You could buy a unit with a speaker built in. You can even get a unit without a display and a pretty remote.

    And flexibility in Squeezecenter is unmatched! You can stream FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, AAC, or darn near anything else and choose what to transcode and where to do it, server or client side!

    Seriously, Sonos can even come close?
  • Re:Sonos (Score:2, Informative)

    by koick ( 770435 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @12:29AM (#30019180)
    Agreed. I have a Sonos system, it is nice and works, but really is really overpriced for what you get. It was revealed to me how stingy they were when I bought one of their controller units for $300 (which they now have upgraded) and it didn't even come with a docking station, no that was another $40. Just greedy bastards. I would instead look at a squeezebox or look into these [].
  • by enselsharon ( 968932 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @02:44AM (#30019664)

    Sonos is the answer. The problem with all of the lower priced squeezebox-style systems is that they save money on components by not having the decoding hardware inside of them. That is the reason that even with a stock-standard samba share, you STILL need to install their "server software" on the system you store your music on.

    In reality the "server software" is actually doing some or all of the transcoding of the music format because the units themselves don't have the horsepower to do it.

    The sonos systems, OTOH, have the necessary horsepower, so you can just point them at your A/UX based fileserver (or whatever else you want to point them at) and say "just work".

    I've had a 5-zone sonos system for 4+ years now and could not be happier.

  • Re:Sonos (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 08, 2009 @03:26AM (#30019776)

    Modded to cancel off topic, the apple airport is not a bad idea for something like this on the surface. It has wireless/ethernet, it is small and compact, not too pricey, and an audio out. I've never tried it, so there very well might be something I'm missing, but certainly not "off topic". []

  • by okmijnuhb ( 575581 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @04:33AM (#30019954)
    Might be a little noisy, since the phone lines are not shielded.
  • by earlymon ( 1116185 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @05:27AM (#30020106) Homepage Journal

    It's not 45 million, it's 41,100 for CD audio. And ALL samples are instantaneous...

    No, the sampling is not instantaneous - by definition.

    Anyway, I only suggested it as a way to visualize how straightforward PCM audio is on CDs. earlymon just wants to sound like he's smarter than the average Wikipedia editor.

    Close, but no cigar. In this case, I may be better at attempting to explain what's going on than was done for that particular article.

    Smart does not equal an ability to explain. But given that I've lectured on digital signal processing at the post-graduate level, I'm not without some qualification in the area.

    As I said earlier, if you find me wrong or harsh, that's your right.

    But my bottom line stands - it's a wonder that CDs work.

    From an earlier post - perhaps yours, it's impossible to tell with an AC -

    mean, you get a piece of graph paper with 65,535 blocks vertically and 41,100 blocks horizontally, and plot the samples, and you literally have a picture of the waveform. It doesn't get much simpler than that, so where's the misunderstanding?

    The expanded form for the Fourier transform of a single impulse is a circle scaled to voltage in the S plane. Phase response - the angular progression from point to point is constant - so we describe that as having minimum phase. Plotted as phase vs. frequency, it's a straight line with a nonzero slope. Magnitude however, is that constant distance from the origin. Plotted as magnitude vs. frequency, it's a straight line with a slope of 0 - it's literally a flat line from DC to infinity.

    That particular point is called the Dirac delta function - after the physicist of whom you may have heard.

    And if one point cannot be band-limited, then no number of additional points can be band-limited.

    A sine wave - ok, I'm being specific and sine waves are, in fact, imaginary - so a cosine wave, then, analytically, has but one frequency. The very fact of sampling that one wave - and then calculating it's frequency components - leads to an unlimited number of frequency components out to infinity - not just one. And only by the most ideal case possible will one particular frequency ever be sampled such that it appears as a single frequency point within the Nyquist criteria - 1/2 of the delta-time sampling rate. Under that condition, it will appear at (K*Nyquist_criteria) + actual_frequency - and in our case, the next occurrence won't happen until past 22.05 kHz.

    Under ideal circumstances - controlled by fate, totally uncontrollable by electronics or design. And for any given sampling - it's incredibly rare. In the real world what really happens is that any given frequency component - any single frequency, in other words - is smeared to a peak at or only near that frequency, with additional frequencies at plus or minus a (hopefully small) margin about that frequency.

    Engineers have poorly chosen the word aliasing for this - the frequency aliases as other frequencies. And they window it, they anti-alias filter it - but there ain't no such thing as a free lunch, so it's a battle that cannot be won.

    Again - what could be simpler than that picture of a waveform on your graph paper?

    Well - steps are much simpler than curves.

    So for each quantization value of the signal, the voltage is held constant for 1/44100 second, then changed to the next step level for the next 1/44100 second and so on. However - amplifier circuits have something called a slew rate - the rated ability to change voltage over time. If a circuit can slew quickly, it may have a tendency for overshoot - partial solutions for that exist, but again - TANSTAAFL.

    Both of those critical points, I covered in my original post - but evidently, I didn't explain them there any better than laughably, because you were left with the impression that you can get a picture of a waveform by sampling it - and you simply cannot.

    It's entirely possible that the only reason that CDs can work in first place is all of the slop in transitioning voltages in the amplifiers in the first place.

    Again - hope this helps.

  • by earlymon ( 1116185 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @05:53AM (#30020164) Homepage Journal

    That's a triangle wave.

    You wish. :-)

    That's the first point at 0 volts for 1/44100 sec, the peak held for 1/44100 sec, 0 volts for 1/44100 of a second, and then the negative peak at 1/44100 second - it looks like a triangle if you connect the dots like in school - but that's a control function for electronics, so it ends up as 4 steps representing that particular frequency.

    So, you see - it only gets worse, the better you understand what's going on.

    As for 16 bits vertical, I've asked whether any electronics can accurately measure line voltage divided by 65535. That's like, serious millivolts. Lot of bits are being thrown away in both directions. Don't believe me? Stand back, and turn up the volume.

    16 analog-to-digital converters are well within our tech. If we model amplitude vertically and time horizontally, it's cool that they've attempted to mitigate vertical error with such high sampling - and then counterpointing that with amplifier response time for each quantization level - pretty cool, actually. But the time sampling, well - as I keep repeating, it's a wonder than CDs work as well as they do.

    I think you'll be interested in my parallel response, so in case you've missed it - []

    Now, while I've railed a bit against the Red Book wikipedia entry - perhaps too harshly - I find this one particularly delicious: []

    The authors make no bones about it - the entire MP3 approach is to exploit psychoacoustics. The algorithms for this, and other codes, are quite fascinating - and all in all, they do a pretty good job.

    But the bottom line for MP3 audio - 1) psychoacoustics, 2) not all MP3 encoder algorithms are equal, irrespective of bit rates, 3) the algorithms are adaptive to the input waveform because they know that it's lossy and they try to limit that.

    Why do I call that delicious? Because that's what Vincent Price would call this insanely scary reality:

    All you have to do in any of these articles to be modded as 5, funny, or 5, insightful, is to bray like a jackass that MP3 after a certain point is just so good that humans simply can't hear any better - and anyone who thinks differently is some kind of audiophile - you know - a psycho .

    The irony can't get much thicker than that.

    But psychoacoutics may be a perfect science - ask Bose. Those products are perfect too, aren't they?

    Oh - and not any mods are paying attention - but just in case - Bose radios wired with Airport Express using AirTunes is one way to go for the guy that started this thread with his question. Now I can laugh some more if I'm modded off-topic - which I am. :-P

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 08, 2009 @09:28AM (#30020986)

    I can also vouch for the CCrane FM "Whole House" transmitter. Works great for us since we already have a decent radio in every room anyway. As it costs only ~$80US its really on the cheap side, requires no extra wiring and can be set up to use ANY FM band frequency (Not just 2-5 different preset frequency like most whole-house transmitter).

    Their website also tracks signal strength for most US & Europe stations so it's easy to find a frequency "Hole" to transmit to.

  • by microcars ( 708223 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @02:38PM (#30023890) Homepage
    did you know that if you have AppleCare on any of the computers you own that those Airport Expresses are covered []under the main computer's Applecare plan?
    does not matter if the AE is out of warranty or not.
    (note: above link is a PDF)
  • by vivian ( 156520 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @11:37PM (#30028400)

    Sorry got the above link slightly wrong - I accidentally added a trailing slash.
    here it is again: []