It goes – Ethernet > Airtunes > SPDIF > DAC

Got the two Airport Express Base Stations working on the network with Airtunes & iTunes.  I bought an older 802.11b/g one for wired usage and an 802.11n one for wireless audio in the kitchen.  I had to do hard resets on both of them before they’d show up on the Airport Utility.  I turned off wireless on the b/g one and told it to use Airtunes via ethernet.  The newer 802.11n Express joins our existing Time Capsule 802.11n network. Optical SPDIF out from the wired b/g Express goes into the E-MU 0404 DAC, unbalanced RCA analog line into the old Denon amplifier.  Works well.  Pretty light, open and clear DAC on the high end.  These old Bose speakers were never much for bass anyhow, and we don’t like to annoy the building.

Apparently Hulu’s content providers (which I believe includes FOX & NBC) decided to pull their support for Boxee.  Now if you haven’t been following Boxee, they are one of the few companies actually making inroads into “set-top conversion” software, allowing people with computers to get the TV shows they want legally from their computers onto actual television screens.  It’s sad really, that this should be an issue.  Almost every show we watch online (legally, usually via the networks’ streaming sites) usually only has one commercial.  So if you’re watching an hour of television at NBC.com and you’re hoping for a variety of commercials you’ll be disappointed, you’ll simply get the same commercial over and over again.  How is it they can’t figure this out?  I distinctly remember watching a Verizon LG Chocolate phone commercial approximately 30 times (with the Feist song as soundtrack) as multiple episodes of a show simply had the same commercial.

Anyhow, at some point I’m going to try and put together a small low power HTPC that can record and playback at least a 720p stream.  Most of the Intel Atom motherboards simply have abysmal video performance and NVIDIA is supposed going to release something soon (and possibly a new Mac Mini). XMBC or Boxee, or even XP Media Center would work as far as a front end.  My requirements are pretty minimal, I’d like to have a Firefly MT-DAAPD server running for music (transcoding .flac to .wav for iTunes/Airtunes) and possibly a second instance of it running for the rest of the mp3/aac/m4a’s.  I’d probably record shows via the SiliconDust HDHomeRun, which would give two tuners for playback/recording.  Mostly the challenge has been finding something that is close to silent and fanless (especially as the Atom could be fanless) but it really hasn’t been optimized for HTPC applications yet.  OSX86 (search “Hackintosh”) with Boxee and Elgato EyeTV could potentially be an option as well.  MythTV could work too.  Who knows?  Right now I’m pretty happy with the Airtunes and Firefly setup.

Firefly Transcodes FLAC > .WAV for iTunes & Airtunes

So I bit the bullet and ordered a couple of Airport Express base stations so that I can finally listen to music over both ethernet and 802.11n.  A small miracle, the old Dell P3 is able to transcode the FLAC on a USB hard disk drive attached to the Time Capsule (a Samba share via Bonjour in Windows XP mind you) and serve it via Firefly to the iTunes (as uncompressed .WAV with track info) on our Mac laptops.  So now, when I get the Airport Express base stations it should be a matter of selecting both “kitchen” and “living room” in the Airtunes settings and bingo bango, I’m done. Music everywhere.  If I’m ever flush I could use an iPod touch or iPhone to remote control via the mobile interface, however, I’m holding out until they offer 802.11n 5 GHz as a feature.  I don’t understand how Apple could push so hard for 802.11n and then not have it on the products that are supposed to integrate into the “home media system”.  So I think this is it.  It’s the end of the odyssey.  If Z’s in the kitchen with her laptop she can select music from the MP3 library via her iTunes, or if I want to listen to FLAC I select the Firefly Share.  Simple as that, really.

Revisiting the Squeezebox and other nerd audio stuff

I’m trying to price this thing out…. on the one hand an iPod touch and a used 802.11g Airport Express base station with SPDIF optical out is about $250.  This requires a laptop running iTunes to be on and feeding it the music which is in turn controlled by the iPod Touch “Apple Remote” app.  So this is one relatively cheap option, really.  

Another option is the Squeezebox Classic which also can be found for about $200 plus $200 for the Touch running iPeng Squeezebox Remote Control app ($10), so for ~$410 you have perhaps a slightly more robust playback system that is open source and can play FLAC or any other file format for that matter and doesn’t require iTunes, but still requires a server/laptop running SlimServer.  Sonos sells a similar setup and they also have a free iTunes app.  The one cool thing about the Sonos is that no laptop is required, it seems it can pull directly from the TC as a NAS but that would be $350 + $200 iTouch.  

Maybe the cheapest, and I think I might try this route first since I already bought the damn Time Capsule which functions as a pretty good NAS / Backup server… For $25 Rogue Amoeba sells AirFoil which allows you to send your iTunes stream to either an Airport Express unit or any other computer on network (AirFoil Speakers is a free download) which means I could simply stream directly from one of our newer Mac laptops to the old thing in the closet which is plugged into the Edirol UA-5.  It’s a free download with 10 minute tests.  All the data would be on TC or a USB drive.  This might be the solution I was looking for.

Okay.  I tested it.  It works.  So that’s an option.  The final option is just the $50 Airport Express, no iPod Touch remote, and simply stream from the laptop to the base station SPDIF > DAC > Analog Out and control on the laptop as a remote.  The fan on the old laptop is really loud.  If can figure out a way to quiet it down.

Okay. Weirdly the stream from 89.9 WKCR doesn’t work in Winamp under Win2k on the old laptop.  So I’m back to the iTunes Foobar2000 plugin scenario and that seems to work fine, it’ll play any internet stream I give it.  Oh well.

Firefly Media Server (not for television) FKA “mt-daapd” (but for iTunes)

I had looked at this product before, it’s a free GNU sourced media server project, as it’s used mostly for the RokuSoundBridge .  Recently I was pondering servers and looking into AirTunes via Airport Express wireless audio.  Airport Express (in its base configuration) require iTunes running to control where the audio is sent.  The slick thing since the advent of iPhone 2.0 and iPod Touch is the “Remote Software by Apple” which does what it says.  Your Apple TV, your Mac Mini server in the basement, anything connected to your 802.11/b/g network can be under its control via touch screen.  But back to Firefly Media Server.

Okay, say you have 3 rooms and in each room someone wants to listen to different music.  How?  Well, lets pretend again that on your home network you have a server where all the music is centrally located.  Firefly taps this by adding iTunes server compatibility through Bonjour networking.  On the old Dell XP machine it was a matter of installing Bonjour for Windows 1.04 and then the latest build of Firefly.  Right now over 802.11g I have two laptops listening to two different songs, where the Firefly shows up as a shared iTunes Library and amazingly the Dell still has enough resources to playback a separate FLAC audio stream over USB.  That makes 3 concurrent streams of audio, not bad for an old 900 MHz Pentium III.

I am not excited about taking the GREs.  That’s about all I can think of.  I ran 7 miles last Monday and climbed 3 other days last week.  The 7 mile run was too much.  Josh mentioned something about climbing trips in September.  It’s too much for me to think of right now and Ryan has been fing-jured.   On a completely unrelated mechanical note, I did do a little research into bit driver types for professional applications, as in putting two pieces of wood together with a screw.  The Phillips head was never  supposed to make it as far as it has.  From my reading, Canadian carpenters love the old square-Robertson drive. Hex and Torx also work better in high torque situations.  There is a better version of Phillips called the Pozidriv (I didn’t make that up) though it seems to be something of a hybrid Phillips with less public awareness.  The square bit will probably make its way into my tool box, though clearly we all can’t be Canadian woodsmen.

Multiple iTunes libraries under one roof

I’m not sure why I hadn’t found this program before but it’s listed on Apple’s site as a legitimate plugin for iTunes, it’s called “MultiTunes 1.3” it is only OS X 10.3+ compatible.  It exploits the “feature” of iTunes which requires you to choose your library on startup (in OS X hold down “option” in Windows hold down “shift”) MultiTunes allows you to switch libraries from within iTunes on the fly without having to restart the application.

Why would you want to do this?  Well I had another post a while ago about lossless audio and I’m still on the warpath to a better mousetrap.  On the drive up to Vermont in the Mazda 3 (which had an 1/8″ stereo auxiliary input jack we plugged our 2GB Nano into) I realized that iTunes and AAC/Apple Lossless .m4a files are all I want.  LAME encoded .MP3s albeit highly cross compatible, simply didn’t sound as good as the iTunes AAC encoder even at 320kbps.  And I understand we were in an economy car, with an economy car stereo, with a cheap 1/8″ mini cable, but with headphones the difference was clear too, the AAC stuff sounded better.  Shocker, maybe the hardware MP3 decoding on the iPod isn’t optimized.

So Apple has tweaked iPods and we have to live with it.  I just want to give the iPod and iTunes what it wants (AAC and Apple Lossless files.) Thankfully FLAC to Apple Lossless conversion is pretty straightforward using SBooth MAX or X-LD.  The only hiccup with having multiple libraries as I understand it is that the ratings and play-count numbers don’t cross over to the lossy library, obviously.  I’m not too worried about this.  This is it, I tell myself.  This is all there is.

[Edit: It seems MultiTunes 1.3 is shareware and isn’t really easier than simply holding down the key combination I’ve outlined when starting iTunes, so there.  Oh well, it was a good thought.]