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Streaming And Portable Music In The Home

Oct 16, 2007
Forget DVD-A, SACD and MiniDisc, which have failed to threaten the humble CD. The iPod revolution, computer-based media players and the proliferation of formats such as mp3, ogg and FLAC have provided the catalyst for the explosive popularity of downloading music. It's here to stay, but how do we integrate new digital media into our homes? This guide aims to outline several methods to break free from listening to such media through computer speakers and portable media players.

For owners of iPods and the like, a docking station provides a low-cost solution to play music through existing HiFi equipment. You'll also need a 3.5mm stereo jack to RCA (phono) lead to connect from the dock into the back of your HiFi amplifier. The dock can be omitted and the cable used to plug in the headphone out of your mp3 player, but the sound quality is significantly inferior to the lineout connection utilised by a docking station.

FM transmitters are available for mp3 players. This solution allows for more flexibility as any radio receiver in the home can be tuned into the frequency set by these transmitters. They are also the most ideal solution for in-car audio. Highly recommended is the Belkin Tunecast 3, which works with all mp3 players. Beware that the range of these devices is limited and so should be placed in the same room as the FM tuner.

Personal computers are great for storing vast amounts of digital media. The problem is: how do you get music from the study into your living room? Moreover, how do you control what you're listening to without having to use your computer? Slim Devices' Squeezebox provides a solution to each of these problems by wirelessly streaming music from your computer to your HiFi system. It is a small box with display and remote that doubles up as an Internet radio player. Unlike the mp3 player FM transmitters, this box can be placed anywhere in the home. Sound quality is excellent and it has been well-received by the audiophile community.

One of the main limitations of the Squeezebox is that is it only designed to stream into one HiFi system. What if you want to be able to play different files at the same time across a variety of different home audio systems? Sonos' Multi Zone Digital Music System tagline is "Play any song. In any room. From anywhere." This is a costlier, but ultimate, approach to streaming digital media in the home. As with the Squeezebox, sound quality is surprisingly high fidelity, especially if streaming lossless formats such as FLAC or Apple Lossless.

A Sonos system allows different music to be played in up to 32 rooms! This is enabled by using a "ZonePlayer", of which two versions are available. One version plugs into your HiFi system, the other is amplified and can be used to drive a set of speakers independently. Using a Sonos controller, which is very similar in operation to an iPod, music can be independently played from room to room, or other rooms can be controlled via one controller. As with the ZonePlayers, up to 32 controllers are supported.

Whether your requirements range from plugging in an mp3 player into your HiFi to installing a true multi-room wireless system, it seems that it is only a matter of time before computer-based music overtakes CD as the dominant format of choice.
About the Author
Daniel Johansson is an Internet technologist who writes on a wide variety of subjects. He works closely with Hexel Developments Ltd., who supply IT Support in Warrington and IT Support in Cheshire.
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