Total itunes/airtunes setup from scratch, please.
November 19, 2011 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I have 300gb of music, a house, several Mac laptops, a Mac G5, a router, two iphones, an ipad, and several external HDs where the music is stored. I would like to be able to play music anywhere in my house, control it wirelessly without the laptops and update libraries as well as all my devices with whatever I like anywhere in the house, without having to drag out the external USB HD to plug into various laptops like I do now. I'm willing to buy equipment to let this happen. Bonus if it lets me move movies onto a USB stick to plug into my nifty new tv. Details under the fold.

My current setup is to haul out the external HDs, plug them into whatever laptop is synced with whatever device, add new music/movies, then plug in my iphones/ipad, move things around. Then I take my iphone and plug it into a stereo.

My ideal solution would be to have a USB 2 TB drive that hooks into a router directly, which is then accessible from every laptop to which a device is synced. I'm fairly sure I need some Airtunes, but my knowledge of this is extremely nebulous. I would like to be able to add new music to this drive, play music from it, update my various iphones/ipad from it, and to be able to use whatever laptops in the house without having to constantly monitor and update their libraries manually.

I'd prefer to not have to leave a computer running constantly, if I can help it.

Extra credit if I can use this system to backup as well as move movies to a USB stick to watch on a tv.

What are my options? I'd really like to not have to repurpose an old Mac as a server.

Do I need to buy a router that accepts USB drives?
Do I need to somehow make an old laptop a server?
Do I need an Airtunes device for every room I want to use this in?
Is there an easy way to update libraries on two Mac itunes setups automagically, so that files are available to the various synced devices?

Let's say I have a budget, but it isn't that small to prevent me from buying reasonable stuff I'd need.
posted by nevercalm to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that the "several HDs where the music is stored" consists of two 1 tb drives, one of which is the main and the other a backup that I update manually. I would love for this to happen by itself as well.
posted by nevercalm at 8:51 AM on November 19, 2011

I'm almost positive that AirPlay requires a computer running itunes or some other software (like Rogue Amoeba's airfoil) to serve the music out to more than one airplay device. You'll be able to serve media that lives on any of the iphones or ipads to one airplay device. I'm also almost positive that airplay devices will work with media stored on a NAS or airport extreme / time capsule, without a computer running iTunes accessing the media stored on the NAS / extreme / capsule acting as an intermediary.

This article has some additional information. It seems to confirm things.

With iOS5, you can have all of your iPhones / iPads / etc sync over wifi with one computer. That has made things a lot better for me, as I've set up our iPhones to sync over wifi with my server, which is in my basement, and is left on all the time. It's not a Mac, but perhaps one day... The great things about Macs is their relatively low power consumption.

Now, since you don't need to use the libraries on each computer to sync with your devices, you can just use the home sharing features to access the media stored on your central computer from your other computers, which negates the need for keeping multiple copies of your media around, or doing your USB drive dance. :)

If you are keeping a computer running all the time (or at least when you want to listen to music), you can connect your two USB drives to it and set up an automated syncing / backup job to run daily or weekly or whatever.

Alternatively, you could ditch the USB drives and upgrade to a NAS. So, you'd have one copy of your media on your computer and another on the NAS. Some NASes can backup to attached USB drives, so you can use that as a bonus backup. Plus, some NAS units, like Synology, can act as Time Machine hosts, which is nice. The benefit of a NAS over USB drives is that you can just pop new / replace drives in them to get more storage space. If budget is an issue, you don't have to fill the NAS completely with drives and just buy more as your budget and space needs allows. There are NAS drives that can take anywhere from 2 to something ridiculous like 10 or 15 drives. So most likely, you could find one to fit your budget.

Now, whether you need an airplay device for each room will depend on your goals and a few other things:
- are any of your rooms next to each other and do you want to listen to the same music in them without having to blast it in one room?
- do you have any stereos or speakers in any of the rooms already?
- how many rooms do you have, and where are they in relation to each other?
- do you want to be able to listen to different music in different rooms?
- do you want to watch your itunes content on your TV? If so, get an apple TV, which can also act as an airplay device.

They make some battery powered portable airplay speakers. So, if you wanted, you could just get one of those and carry it around your house as you move around. You can see a list (probably not all available) on the apple site.

For any room that already has speakers or a stereo, buy an airport express. They are cheap and awesome, at $100. As a bonus, you can use them to extend your wireless network.

Airplay works over regular wifi, so if you are happy with your wifi router, there's no reason to replace it.
posted by reddot at 9:29 AM on November 19, 2011

This is not my area of expertise, but I am currently setting up a more modest system that does some of this. Take a look at the Synology home servers like the DS211j which takes 2 sata hard disks, plugs into your router with regular network cable (not usb), can be set up as RAID array to keep two identical copies of everything, and runs AirPlay. It also does a lot of other stuff. Doesn't draw much power, and goes to sleep when inactive. Manufacturer has a great reputation, and there's a fairly active forum community to help you figure out how to get set up.
posted by jon1270 at 9:34 AM on November 19, 2011

I'm a big fan of the Squeezebox line of products.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:42 AM on November 19, 2011

Seconding a NAS box from Synology. I have had a single-drive unit since 2007 and recently upgraded to a dual-drive box RAID-1 for drive failure protection. Specifically, the new box is the DS211j as linked by jon1270 above.

Our TV has an Ethernet jack and it streams video, can play photo slideshows and music, directly from the NAS no computers involved. Check out the Synology website for additional features, they have a lot of them including iTunes features and iPhone integration and such.

It's easy and it works and we love it.
posted by cmetom at 9:57 AM on November 19, 2011

The Netgear WNDR3700 router has a built-in DLNA server and accepts a USB drive so it acts like a NAS and like a server. You can use XBMC to play music right off the drive or you can use the DLNA server to do that. However, you can start playing with XBMC to see what it will do for you without changing any of your hardware. It's free, and it's slick.
posted by jet_silver at 10:12 AM on November 19, 2011

Hi Jon1270. I didn't know that Synology supports airplay. How do you enable that? Do you have to hook up speakers directly to it, or can you stream music off it to an airplay device?
posted by reddot at 12:18 PM on November 19, 2011

reddot, I don't actually know that much about AirPlay yet but the current disk station management software includes an application called Audio Station, the description of which says "Enable Audio Station to play music through computers, USB/UPnP devices, iOS/Android mobile devices, or AirPlay devices." There's no way to hook speakers directly to the disk station (except maybe via USB? I don't know if that's supported...), but I would assume it can talk to AirPlay devices using your household wireless router. When I want to play music through my home stereo, I'll probably just use an adapter cable to attach my iPod touch to the stereo's aux input and stream that way, rather than buying a dedicated device.
posted by jon1270 at 3:16 PM on November 19, 2011

I can't answer your question, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but...

If you are starting from scratch, would you please consider switching from iTunes to Jriver Media Center? It is a much much better way to deal with a large number of files/devices. I cannot stress enough how much I love this software. I have been using it for 8 or 9 years, and they have never stopped updating and improving things (and, no, I do not work for them, promise.)

It includes several servers, so you can do things like access your home library from anywhere on the internet or another machine running the same software (anywhere, not just on your home network), and use your iphone as a remote. There is a lot more info on this in there (incredibly useful and constantly updated) support forums, this is the media network specific one, which you might want to have a look at for ideas.

I have just barely gotten started on their media server stuff, which is why I answer your question, but if you're interested those links should get your started. Even without that stuff it is still a far superior system for organizing your music (and videos, and images), so I hope you'll consider it.

Sorry about the fanaticism, my music setup is really important to me.
posted by butterteeth at 4:14 PM on November 19, 2011

*their, not there!
posted by butterteeth at 4:52 PM on November 19, 2011

iTunes home sharing can make that all happen for you. You just turn it on and sign in with the same AppleID to each computer (in Home Sharing - the store can be used with different accounts on each device). All of the devices can play all of the music/tv/movies.

If you sign up for iTunes Match, all of those devices can play all of the music without even having the other computers on. This is essentially the same as your "ideal solution" except that it only costs $25 and lets you not worry which computer has which files on it.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:33 AM on November 20, 2011

I bought a Western Digital MyBook Live for this purpose. It does most of the things you asked - plugs straight into a router, allows you to access/move files around from all the computers on your network, meaning you can access the music from any computer/laptop/handheld that's connected to your laptop.

It works awesome, except that after the last iTunes update, the streaming of the iTunes server on the MyBook Live to iTunes doesn't work anymore. However, I have read on the forums that Western Digital is aware of this, and will (hopefully) release an update soon that will address this problem. (Also, that problem is not unique to Western Digital - it's been reported with many different companies that were using the old iTunes protocol once iTunes was upgraded.) And, the MyBook Live can still stream to other services - for example, I can put movies on it and stream them to my PS3. I've put full series of TV shows on there, for example.

If you do decide to get one, go ahead and message me for help arranging things on there, if you want. It's not completely intuitive, but once you understand it, it comes pretty easily. (Basically, you can access the server settings page through a web browser to make certain changes to the drive - password protection, etc.)
posted by Ephilation at 3:15 AM on November 20, 2011

(not hijacking, I swear...)

Hi jon1270. cool. I'll check that out.

butterteath, I'm not sure that jriver will work for this person. I used it previously and it was pretty good, although once you get into the itunes mindset, it works fine. There are a lot of advantages to being within the apple ecosystem, such as airplay, airprint, and sycning iPhones, or example. However, from checking out that forum, it looks like jriver now supports AirPlay (as well as UPNP & DLNA devices). Cool!

threeway, I had forgotten about itunes match. Does it support airplay devices directly, or do you have to pull the audio down through your phone / ipad / ipod? I've been using Audio Galaxy for my "cloud listening". I run a small server program on my computer that I can log into from any web browser or iOS device (or Android or whatever) and can listen to any and all of my music. I'll be excited if iTunes Match supports uploading playlist settings. I'll check that out.

ephilation, from reading Amazon's page on the WD device, it seems like a replacement for a Time Capsule... that's pretty interesting. It has 1 HD, like the Time Capsule and supports a lot of the other functions, plus a number of NAS-like features. Seems to get poor reviews though. Bummer. When Apple updated to Lion, Synology's Time Machine support was broken for a few weeks, so that was annoying. Hope WD pulls through for you!

Hope nevercalm comes back... :)
posted by reddot at 6:36 AM on November 20, 2011

I'm not a Mac/iTunes person, so this may not fit as nicely with your setup, but I use Subsonic to stream my music from one machine (off an external disk) to all my other machines, even to my workplace. It's free software, so it's easy enough for you to try it out (it does require a small donation after 30 days for mobile phone streaming/removing ads).

I'd set it up on an old laptop with the external drive as a server, and plug the laptop in to your stereo system. When you are controlling the software remotely, you can choose to either stream to your remote client, or play out the server's audio device (what they can "jukebox mode").
posted by fings at 9:11 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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