Simplest possible means of listening to music files stored in an external hard drive?
June 27, 2010 9:00 PM   Subscribe

What I want to do is this: play music stored on an external hard. What is the easiest way to do that?

I have a tremendous amount of music stored on a 500 GB usb external hard drive. Forgive me for being a sort of Luddite. Questions:

1) Is there any way to play music from this drive without having to go through a computer interface (at any stage)? e.g. is it possible to somehow have itunes on the thing and play a random shuffle selection?

2) Because I think the answer to 1) is probably no(?), what is the simplest (edit: most portable, most affordable, using the least sophisticated technology along the way) way to play music off the drive? Do I just have to get an ipod and load random selections manually onto it through itunes on the laptop? And switch the selection around every now and again? I don't want to store it all on my computer, is the thing.
posted by The Pantless Wonder to Technology (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming you are running Windows:

Go into the start menu
Find "Computer" or "My Computer"
Right click on your drive
In the menu that comes up, click "play"
This should bring up Windows Media Player or another music player which should give you an option to hit shuffle
posted by Night_owl at 9:30 PM on June 27, 2010

He wants to play the music without using a computer, just the drive.

I don't know of any way to do this without a computer or some other device. I feel like I have seen hard drives with rudimentary controls for music playing, but an Amazon search convinces me I might have imagined that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:44 PM on June 27, 2010

Well, there are devices like this. You can connect the hard drive to this thing, and this thing to your tv.

But, you kind of might as well connect it to the computer and just use iTunes or WinAmp or whatever to just play directly from the external. (no need to copy the files to the computer hard drive.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:52 PM on June 27, 2010

There are in fact ways to do this: boxes called "Media Players" (Western Digital makes one but this isn't a recommendation) that act as a player interface between your drive or USB stick and your stereo/video system can be found with a little googling. It's not the easiest widget to search for, but the "Media Player" tag should get you close.
posted by Aquaman at 10:44 PM on June 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you everyone.

But, you kind of might as well connect it to the computer and just use iTunes or WinAmp or whatever to just play directly from the external. (no need to copy the files to the computer hard drive.)

This would be fine - but I don't know how to do it! I have a macbook and I use itunes - when I want to play songs on the hard drive, I have to copy them into itunes, right?
posted by The Pantless Wonder at 10:51 PM on June 27, 2010

Nope, you can just open the attached external drive and click on a song. iTunes will play it, but you don't have to import the songs into iTunes.
posted by goblinbox at 11:32 PM on June 27, 2010

Some car stereos include a USB port into which you can plug such things as a flash drive with music on it, an ipod or an external hard drive with music on it. You would need to find one which can handle a music collection of the size you have. Also one which can power the HD via the USB interface.
posted by rongorongo at 2:13 AM on June 28, 2010

The only device I have heard of so far that bypasses a computer/laptop/TV is the Squeezebox Touch (USD 299.99). I don't have one and have never even seen one so I can't personally offer my opinion.
Engadget review, lots of videos of the thing in action here. Keep in mind you'll still need a set of speakers/headphones to connect the Squeezebox to. Since you've stated that you'd have no problem with simply connecting your macbook to the external HDD it seems that would be the best and cheapest solution for you, as per drjimmy11's instructions.
posted by Bangaioh at 2:59 AM on June 28, 2010

Working from memory here, but what you need to do can be done through iTunes. First, create a folder on your hard drive, call it "My Music" or something and move all the music into there. In Preferences, go to "Advanced" and uncheck "copy songs when adding to library." Then go back into iTunes, select "Add to Library" and you should be able to import that whole 500 MB folder. It will take a while.
posted by oddovid at 4:13 AM on June 28, 2010

The Patriot Gear Box will create a standalone file/iTunes server on an external HD.
posted by scruss at 4:43 AM on June 28, 2010

I think the confusion re: iTunes might stem from the default behavior of iTunes copying the music files themselves to your local "Library".

You can turn this behavior off by unchecking the "Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library." option. You probably also want to uncheck "Keep iTunes Music folder organized".

Then you can add all of the music from your external drive to iTunes simply by going to File -> Add To Library (or hitting cmd-o) and pointing it at your external drive.

It will parse over and catalog all of the music without then copying it to your internal drive.
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:05 AM on June 28, 2010

If you're always using this same drive with this same MacBook, you can also use iTunes settings to change the music library location to the music folder on the external drive [Preferences -> Advanced]. Then, when you add new music or podcasts through iTunes, the new stuff will end up on the external drive.

This will create the other iTunes support folders in that music folder, so if this bothers you, never mind.

If you do this, you probably want to leave the "Copy music to iTunes Library" checked.
posted by chazlarson at 6:29 AM on June 28, 2010

I usually just play music on my external drive using vlc rather than itunes. This is because I usually don't have the drive connected and your itunes library gets messy if there is a lot of stuff that is only on a seldom-connected external drive in addition to music on the laptop.
posted by advil at 11:23 AM on June 28, 2010

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