How to Set Up a Music Server for Home Audio

Today you have more choices than ever for getting your music fix. Many open-minded music fans, who aren’t so wedded to the idea of a library of discs, have latched onto the idea of accessing all their music from a central music server, and played through their home audio system. This is quite easy to do, actually. Many commercially available music servers, and wireless access devices are available to make it so.

Many fine and relatively inexpensive music server systems, with high-resolution playback, are available now. You can even build your own server if you’re so inclined.

While much of the information in this article is still valid, I intend to update date it soon, with new information and new devices, especially regarding using dedicated smartphone apps to control various devices.

Sound quality

If you’re concerned about ultimate sound quality, you'd be surprised how close many of these music servers come to replicating the musically natural sound qualities of vinyl records. Even the audiophile press is taking notice.

Lossless audio file formats like FLAC and ALAC (lossless m4a) can sound at least as good as CD's or better, and while the file size is larger than mp3's, it's about half the size of WAV or AIFF files. It no longer needs to sound like the strident, wishy-washy compressed crap you get from mp3 files.

Note: If you're still confused about the alphabet soup of file formats, see File Formats Made Clear, below.

Transferring your vinyl records and CD’s

The tedious part of setting up a music server for your home audio system, is transferring your music collection to a computer or server. However, once you’ve transferred all your CD’s, or digital transfers of your vinyl records and cassettes to a central computer or a dedicated server (basically a large 1-2TB hard drive), you’re halfway there.

Since large hard drives are now relatively inexpensive, it makes sense to transfer your vinyl records at a fairly high resolution (24-bit, 96kHz), to retain as much of that lovely, warm analog sound as possible, as well as using a lossless file format such as FLAC or ALAC (lossless m4a), to save space. The process of transferring your vinyl records to digital is relatively straight-forward, once you’ve made sure your turntable is set up correctly and the record is perfectly clean. Many good LP to CD software programs such as Spin It Again make the process fairly simple.

Also, many good CD ripping software programs are available, that will easily and quickly copy your CD’s to your computer. One of the best of these is dbpoweramp.

The advantages of a wireless music server

With a wireless music server, such as the Logitech Squeezebox Touch, all your music is accessible from an easy-to-use tablet, or similar device, all sorted and categorized, so you can create a playlist of tunes you’re in the mood for at that moment, instead of pulling a CD or an LP from your shelf…placing it on the player…playing one or two songs…taking it off…putting it away…pulling out another… I don’t know about you, but that’s just too much bother these days, nostalgia notwithstanding.

*note: as of late 2012, Logitech has discontinued the Squeezebox Touch. You can likely find used ones on eBay.



You’ll need a Wi-Fi wireless network

Assuming that you want to access your music from the internet as well as your own computer or server, no matter which music server system you choose, you’ll need a wireless Wi-Fi broadband router, especially if you want to access the music files from anywhere in your home.

This is quite easy to set up. First of all, make sure all the devices you want to access the network with, are wireless-enabled. Many desktop computers will need a wireless USB adapter. Most newer laptop computers will have wireless access built-in. Other wireless devices can access the network as well.

What to look for in a wireless router

You should get a wireless router that supports ‘Wireless G’ (802.11g) or ‘Wireless N’ (802.11n). These are the newest wireless network protocols. Most older wireless devices will be backward compatible with this, but you should check with the router’s manufacturer to be sure. Also be sure to look for WPA or WPA2 security. Older wireless routers may only have WEP, which is easily hacked. WPA is much more secure, and (so far) less likely to be hacked so easily. For a home network it should be more than secure enough, provided you set up adequate access passwords.

A disc-less future

While most collectors of vinyl records and CD’s cling to the idea of owning a tangible, physical product, it really comes down to the music, doesn’t it? Sure, the large vinyl LP graphics are great, and even the smell of old cardboard has a certain attraction, just as old books have a certain down-to-earth feel, look, and smell. They create a sort of emotional bond, I suppose. However, it’s really just window-dressing, a sort of nostalgia for another era. You can still totally immerse yourself in the music without having a physical product in your hot little hands. Although vinyl records never really went away, and even though they’re a pretty cool retro thing right now, they’ve become a niche product, and likely to remain so.

I like vinyl playback as well. However, the convenience of listening to many different tracks in any order I want, wherever I want, is something I'd rather not give up. With the costs of digital storage dropping every year, there's also no longer a good reason to use low-quality, lossy music file formats like mp3 either. Downloading and/or streaming high-resolution music tracks is becoming way more common all the time, through websites such as HDTracks, now that high-speed internet is available to most people. It’s likely to be the wave of the future, especially for a niche product.

In the near future, you’re more likely to find those less popular and even obscure recordings being made available as downloads only…at CD quality or higher resolution. After all, it costs the record companies next to nothing to distribute music this way. The costs involved in manufacturing a physical disc/package and shipping don’t make sense unless you’re guaranteed selling thousands of each title.

It’s a piece of cake

It’s no longer a geeky thing to set up a computer to play music. The hardware and software has come a long way in making it easy to set up and enjoy the same high resolution playback from your computer or music server, as you do on your home audio system. You also don’t have to pay audiophile prices to get near-audiophile quality either. Most of these devices are very reasonably priced and easy to use. So just sit back and enjoy your music...anywhere...without having to deal with all those discs any more.

File Formats Made Clear

File Format
File Type (compression)
PC or Apple
Sound Quality
WAVE (.wav)
Linerar PCM (none)
PC
Excellent
AIFF (.aif)
Linerar PCM (none)
Apple
Excellent
MP3 (.mp3)
Lossy (high)
Both
Poor to Good
AAC (.mp4)
Lossy (high)
Apple
Good
ALAC (.mp4 or .m4a)
Lossless (moderate)
Apple
Excellent
FLAC (.flac)
Lossless (moderate)
PC
Excellent

A great deal of confusion exists about the many file formats that are used for digital audio. The best quality is a file that doesn't compress the digital data at all (Linear PCM). The most common file formats of this type are WAVE and AIFF. This gives the best quality.

For more compact storage, (but the same playback quality as Linear PCM), use FLAC (for PC) or .m4a (ALAC) for Apple devices. Compression in this case refers to the method used to reduce the file size, not the compression used to reduce the dynamic range of the audio signal.

mp3 should only be used where sound quality is less important, like an iPod or other mp3 player, while listening through earbuds. Use variable bit rate, LAME encoding, and at least 128k or higher, wherever possible (the file size is the same..the sound quality is noticably better).


This article ©2011 by timorous+

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I'd be pleased to read your comments... 9 comments

Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 5 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Where would we be without the almighty Computer? Nowhwere I tell ya, nowhere. The old fuddy duddy that I am, with an enormous collection of vinyl, and cassettes going back many years I'm just now starting to look into other ways of preserving and using all the music that I have.

Awesome hub Timerous, thank you for sharing.

hope you're well

regards Zsuzsy


timorous profile image

timorous 5 years ago from Me to You Author

Hey Zsuzsy..long time no see. Yeah, it's kind of hard to let go of the old familiar ways. I'm also fairly guilty of finding a degree of comfort in such things from time to time. However, having all your music on a server doesn't necessarily mean getting rid of the original discs. Unfortunately, these digital storage devices aren't quite the perfect archival medium..yet.

Take care Zsuzsy.


juggler 5 years ago

Some really great info timorous! Glad you mention some alternative file types to MP3 but some readers might like to know why you prefer them... without getting too technical of course... There is a whole generation out there who have been brought up on the notion that MP3s are the holy grail of music. It's not really common knowledge (except amongst audiophiles) that MP3s are actually pretty marginal fidelity.

Keep up the good work.


timorous profile image

timorous 5 years ago from Me to You Author

Quite so mr. juggler. I see quite a few non-audiophile companies making a serious effort to create affordable products of this type, that really do have superior sound quality. Even the audiophile press is impressed.

I think mp3's have become ubiquitous because you can fit way more tunes onto your iPod or mp3 player. The resurgance in vinyl LP interest is largely younger people, actually..they really do recognize the superior sound quality. They're far more aware of such things, they just have other priorities. Given the decreasing costs of storage, I think we'll eventually see higher rez files become the norm.

Thanks for your comments.


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 5 years ago from Sweden

With this great information the only thing I need now is time to transfer all that lovely music! It is something I have thought about for a long time. I do not have a record player and I miss the music! But you have succeed in making it look like an easy task. Bookmarked, UP and more! Thanks!


timorous profile image

timorous 5 years ago from Me to You Author

Hi thoughtforce. Thanks for reading up on music servers. Yeah..it's true, the transferring is the time consuming part (depending how large your collection is). But you just do a few at a time...there's no deadline after all. Thanks for the votes. Cheers.


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Now why didn't I know that one day I would be able to easily transfer vinyl and cassette to a digital system? At the time, lack of storage space made us do foolish things :( Still I've bookmarked this one tim, Thanks!


timorous profile image

timorous 5 years ago from Me to You Author

Greetings Green Lotus. Yeah, we slightly older folk, tended to collect these things. While we may have retired the playback equipment in favor of CD's a while back, we can resurrect the turntable and cassette deck, just long enough to transfer the stuff we might conceivably want to listen to again. We of course won't admit to the garbage stuff that continues to gather dust and take up more room than we'd like. Cheers.


Tina 23 months ago

Thanks for shiagnr. What a pleasure to read!

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