Help me get my digital music from the bedroom to the living room.
October 13, 2009 9:55 PM   Subscribe

Help me get my digital music collection into the living room, with semi-decent sound quality and without breaking the bank.

Recently I decided that I'd really like to be able to listen to my MP3 collection in the living room. I've pretty well given up on CDs and realized that getting a basic stereo system with CD player is no longer practical for me.

Now, I can wirelessly stream my music from the Vista desktop computer in my bedroom over 802.11g using the existing equipment in my living room, which includes:

Olevia 227V LCD TV (linked for input/output info)
Xbox 360 with wireless G adapter
Original modded Xbox with XBMC and wireless B bridge

I have no audio receiver or external speakers in the living room, only the internal speakers of the TV. Therefore, the sound quality is not great. In addition, browsing my MP3 collection with either the 360 or the Xbox is a lot more trouble than it ought to be. I'd really like an interface like Winamp's media library or iTunes.

So, let's assume I want to spend no more than $250 or so on new equipment. What would be the best use of my money to get my collection into the living room with decent audio quality, recognizing that these are lossy MP3s and I'm not exactly an audiophile? Specific brand/model recommendations would be great.

On top of that, are there any music streaming devices (I know Western Digital and many other companies now make them) that would be better suited for streaming music than the Xbox? Or should I stick with using the Xbox (or 360) for the streaming part and just invest in some kind of receiver/speakers?
posted by iamisaid to Technology (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Something like this?
posted by doctor_negative at 10:17 PM on October 13, 2009

Weird, this
posted by doctor_negative at 10:18 PM on October 13, 2009

Are your mp3s in iTunes now on your computer? The dead simplest way is to get an Airport Express.

They're 99 dollars, have an audio out, and are also a wireless router. You can then use your computer to stream and if you have an iphone / ipod touch, use it as a remote to browse your library and queue tracks etc. Even if you don't, it's only 50 bucks over your budget, and you get an ipod touch to boot!
posted by CharlesV42 at 10:19 PM on October 13, 2009

Sorry, the above post doesn't include speakers. So, if you can use your computer to stream, or you already have an ipod/iphone, you've got 150 bucks to play with for speakers.
posted by CharlesV42 at 10:20 PM on October 13, 2009

One more time
posted by doctor_negative at 10:21 PM on October 13, 2009

You may be able to simulate an Airport Express by using VLC to stream audio to your XBOX.

The setup would be:
1) You play music on your computer
2) You use VLC to capture all sound from your computer.* If you can get this setup, you should be able to trigger this by clicking on a saved VLC file that sets this up and begins streaming automatically.
3) XMBC plays this stream. (You'll need to tell XMBC to play the stream coming from your computer. I assume this can be tied to a remote control key)

*(2) This requires that your computer's sound card supports what's called "Stereo Mix" or "What You Hear". This post talks more about this setting. Your soundcard needs to be able to use the current soundcard output as an input.

Here's a post describing how to get VLC streams to play on XMBC.

If you can get this working it should be functionally equivalent to an Airport Express and shouldn't cost you anything.
posted by null terminated at 11:28 PM on October 13, 2009

My above post assumes you'd be controlling the music with a computer. You say you'd like an interface to be like winamp or iTunes. Do you imagine this as part of a separate device or part of an existing computer?

One option would be to purchase an iPod touch. On the touch you could use Apple's remote software, which would let you wirelessly control iTunes on another computer which would then send music to your stereo. This would let you use iTunes and also having an ipod touch.
posted by null terminated at 11:33 PM on October 13, 2009

Response by poster: I do have an iPhone, and the iTunes Remote app looks really interesting. Combined with an Airport Express, half my problem would be solved. Then I'd need to pick out speakers of some kind and perhaps a receiver, if the latter is even necessary in my case (anyone?).

@null terminated, I'm a little unclear as to why VLC is necessary. I can already stream music from my PC to XBMC via the SMB protocol. Works fine, and lets me control the music from the living room with an Xbox controller, but the UI is poor. Are you suggesting that VLC is a way to be able to use the Remote app without needing to buy an Airport Express?
posted by iamisaid at 11:55 PM on October 13, 2009

SMB works by making the files available to your XMBC. On the XMBC you choose a file to play and the XMBC loads that file into its memory and begins to play it. It's only using your computer as a file storage service.

Streaming to your XMBC from your computer allows you to control your music from your computer and not from your XMBC. Since the XMBC is blindly playing whatever stream is being sent to it, you can send it a stream of the current audio output of your computer.

The Remote App should allow you to currently control the music playing on your computer. Either VLC or the Airport Express should allow you to stream music from your computer to your XMBC. Since VLC is free, I'd recommend trying that first.

VLC should perform the same function as an Airport Express. I actually bought a used Airport Express a week or so ago and have been disappointed by audio dropouts (I'm not sure if that's a typical problem). I've moved back to a long 3.5mm cord since I don't have a device that can play MP3 streams (like your xbox).
posted by null terminated at 12:10 AM on October 14, 2009

I have to wonder exactly why you find XBMC's interface for browsing music to be such a pain...

Is your music well organized / ID3 tagged / put into a nice folder structure? That would all help immensely no matter what solution you go with. If it's not, I highly recommend MediaMonkey to help out with that... it might make your XBMC experience a lot better.

Also, there are at least 1 or 2 XBMC remote iPhone apps you can buy for a couple of bucks.. maybe that'd make your life easier too, since you mentioned having an iPhone...
posted by twiggy at 7:53 AM on October 14, 2009

All these solutions depend on your computer running,a nd are also prone to interruptions at times you least want them, say a dinner party. Although a bit more expensive, Sonos ( is the way to go if you're serious about music, and frees your music from your computer - you can store it on an external hard drive attached to your network (NAS).
posted by cahlers at 9:46 AM on October 14, 2009

sonos also has an iPhone app, although the sonos system also comes with its own remote.
posted by cahlers at 9:47 AM on October 14, 2009

My suggestion is to spend as much as you can on decent speakers and then work from there. The reason why I suggest speakers first is because you already have a working setup to transmit audio - sounds like you'd just like to improve the experience. If you're in a small space you can get by with a powered 2.1 setup, which should be loud enough for casual listening or small parties. Also, your gaming experience will benefit with the speakers connected to the Xbox. There are plenty of reviews for 2.1 setups online, well within your budget.

Is the Xbox experience poor because you have to use a controller and have the tv on? Then, as others have suggested, try the Xbox remote application for your iPhone.

The iPhone Remote suggestion will work if you find a way to transmit the audio signal to your new speakers. An Airport Express(g) will work, less than $50 on ebay.

If you don't want to use your phone as a remote then the next step up is a dumb remote, something like this logitech transmitter. You can control tracks, but no display on the remote means no searching, information, etc. About $100.

Finally, things like Sonos and higher end audio transmitters will be getting up near your full budget. With something like that, expect the remote to have a display and a proprietary receiver (not amplified) that'll connect to your audio system. At that point you're spending enough on the transmitting system that it might be wise to upgrade to a powered receiver with better speakers. A vicious cycle.
posted by sub-culture at 10:21 AM on October 14, 2009

I use a Squeezebox Classic that I control using the iPeng app on my iPhone. It is awesome, except when someone uses the microwave and the music stops, but that's an 802.11 problem and using wired ethernet instead would solve it.

However, you already have the means to stream. Spend your money on the analogue part - speakers and amplifier.
posted by polyglot at 7:21 PM on October 14, 2009

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