Home music servers deliver this and more – the kids can play their CDs on their computers at the same time as a different selection is playing in the living room. Alternatively, all players can be synchronised, laying the same track everywhere.
There are several competing systems on the market, most follow the principle of having one machine which holds all the music, and one or more music players networked to it which plug into a home audio system.Sonos – Two rooms from $999
Sonos make a system which will play music stored on PC/Mac folders or a standalone network drive and play out to any number of zones, connected either via WiFi or wired Ethernet. Although a computer is needed to configure the system, it is not needed while playing the music as long as the music storage and Sonos system is switched on.
The entry level system is a two-room base system. This includes an amplified “Zone Player 120” which can drive loudspeakers directly and an unamplified “Zone Player 90” which is designed to work with an existing hifi system in a different room. A remote control is provided which has a screen to allow flexible selection of tracks – this connects to Sonos via the WiFi network. Sonos can be extended with more players and more remote controls, and can synchronize players for seamless audio between rooms.Logitech Squeezebox (was Slim Devices) from $240
Squeezebox uses a PC running its (free) software as a server, so it needs the PC to be running when playing music, though the player is of course networked, either via WiFi or wired ethernet. The Squeezebox Classic is the cheapest entry level player, and one server can run a number of players, which can be synchronised or play independently in a similar way to the Sonos.
Installing the server and configuring it is a little bit more tricky than the other systems, since the server has to be loaded onto the user’s computer. Unlike NaimNet and Sonos, this is therefore not under Logitech’s control and therefore interfacing problems can arise in some cases. The product works well when set up right. Logitech make a range of players, from the Duet where the display is in the remote control and the player is a display-free black box, to the $2000 Transporter high-end player.NaimNet £3200 (UK price)
From established high end British hifi manufacturer Naim Audio, NaimNet is a standalone server which can stream to other parts of the system. The entry level product is the NS01 server which holds music on an internal hard disk (about 600CDs capacity) and can rip CDs using the local CD drive as well as playing music from other networked sources. The player can display the interface on a TV, PC or attached PC screen.Ripping the CD Collection
All require the user to copy the music from their CDs to the system hard disk, or place an existing MP3 collection on the server. Customers of music bought from Apple Itunes are generally out of luck. The digital rights management and proprietary nature of Itunes prevents use of purchased songs on other systems.
The best sound quality is had from ripping CDs, either using Itunes or preferably something like Exact Audio Copy, and keeping the audio as uncompressed WAVs or losslessly compressed FLAC files. Lossless compression only reduces file size about 40% but does not throw away any information.
Ripping CDs is a tedious job, and ripping to an uncompressed format futureproofs is work. It is possible to fetch album, artist and track names automatically from Internet databases which reduces the tedium and makes the music database searchable by album, artist, song title and sometimes genre or album year.Music Servers – Home Audio for the Ipod Generation
The Ipod showed the way and gave listeners the convenience of their entire music collection at their fingertips. Networked music servers do this for the home stereo, with a great improvement in sound quality. The market is still fluid, and to some extent the ease of setting up is inversely proportional to price in the systems
reviewed. Logitech makes the system cheaper but the cost is having to install the software on the customer’s PC. Sonos and NaimNet take this variable under their own control, easing installation.
Any networked music system is only as good as the network – the author’s experience is in a residential area where more than 5 other wifi networks can be seen then the audio can stutter on playback. Wired Ethernet removes this uncertainty, though it is still best to avoid the very cheapest wired network switches for reliability.