Music all over the house
December 17, 2011 8:06 PM   Subscribe

What devices/components do we need to store our music library centrally and access it throughout the house? Also, what's a good wireless speaker solution?

Thanks to the answers to this question, we now have an Onkyo TXSR308 receiver, which is providing lovely sound via three sets of speakers on the main floor of our house.

Now we need a better solution for centralized access to our digital music library.

Until now, the music library has been on an external hard drive, which gets plugged into the laptop when we want to access it using the AirPort Express that's connected to the stereo. But it's a pain in the neck to run upstairs to plug and unplug the HD, plus iTunes doesn't behave very well when its music library isn't always available.

So the first question is, what kind of device do we need to make the music library (currently about 100GB) always available to the stereo and other networked devices in the house?

Second question: we'd like to access our music library and streaming services upstairs via wireless speakers. Is Sonos a good (simple to set up, easy to use, cost-effective) solution? If so, what bits would we need to buy? Assuming we want music in two smallish locations upstairs, would we want two Play:3s plus a bridge?

Suggestions about other better wireless music solutions are welcome. As you can tell, my level of technical understanding is pretty meager. Thanks for cluing me in.
posted by ottereroticist to Technology (12 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
For low-data-speed data distribution within a house, power-line networking is very convenient. It works by injecting a high frequency carrier signal into the power plug in your wall, and the signal can be received by another unit on any other power plug, anywhere else in your home. Communication is bidirectional and you can have multiple units simultaneously.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:16 PM on December 17, 2011

Media Center:
Western Digital NAS drive like World book in RAID mirror mode* provides a pretty simple way of putting heaps of your media on your local network easily/quickly. It's a DLNA 1.5/UPnP so many devices and any computer with appropriate software (ie: Itunes) can see it. Price varies by HD size - the smallest one (two 1TB drives) should be fine for your needs ~$220. Plus you can also use it to back up or share pictures or movies or whatever. *Two hard drives in mirror= better redundancy, so one HD failing doesn't kill your music library, but at the cost of 1/2 of the unit's available storage, (so 2 1 tb drive gets you 1TB of available storage).

First you need to get an audio signal from the network: If you are running mac/iphone/ituens gear and get a decent wireless signal I would suggest just using an AppleTV ~$99 (controlled by iphone/itouch or on a tv) or airport express (controlled by something running itunes like a laptop or iphone) also ~$99. Then you need to amplify that sound: so find some decent self powered speakers - like M-Audio or Audioengine. Spend as much money here as you can afford: from M-Audio AV40- 100$ to BX5a $150 or Audioengine's A-2 for 200$ which look pretty sharp.

Non mac:
You might also consider Squeezebox, the expensive Sonos you mentioned or some similar "wifi radios" which have the benefit putting everything together - wifi, a small screen and speakers. The built in speakers are often lousy this might reduce the cost but you'll need to check it's a DLNA 1.5/UPnP device to work with the Western Digital NAS. If there is a tv available you might consider an inexpensive Roku box (w/ remote!) and one of the above mentioned self powered speakers. There is a comparison here that covers a fair bit of ground on this subject as well.
posted by zenon at 9:48 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

My ideal solution that I've implemented is AppleTV + iCloud. You can go without the AppleTV if you want to run your setup off of any iDevice or the computer with iCloud. No more external HD either way.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:34 AM on December 18, 2011

I've been lurking the Sonos forum for a few years and finally decided to pull the trigger. I encourage you to go to and ask some questions there.

So, some questions about your setup. You are driving three pairs of speakers from you Onkyo. Are they set up as separate zones? Does the Onkyo have any built in networking? What's the layout of your home? Is it more open floor plan, or discrete rooms? Will you want to listen to the same music in all the rooms, different, or a mix? How highly do you value ease of setup?

Logitech used to be an option, but they've recently reduced things and backed away from providing whole home audio. So, I feel that they aren't worth considering any more.

Sonos provides a few different kinds of units. They have 2 different sizes of powered speakers, a unit that connects to an amplifier (like your Onkyo), and one that has an amp built in. While they run wifi, Sonos sets up its own network automatically, which makes it super easy. Since it doesn't piggyback onto your wifi network, one of the Sonos units will need to be plugged into your router or other part of your network. If you don't have any network ports near your audio setup, Sonos sells a bridge unit that does no audio duties, but does connect the Sonos wifi network into your existing network. Sonos has a ton of streaming audio partnerships, like Spotify, Pandora, and tons of regular radio stations. For your personal music, it just reads it from a network share, whether it's on a computer or a network drive.

You could also look at the Apple AirPlay solution. For powered speakers, the pricing is about the same. For units you'd connect to your stereo, Apple's cheaper. Plus, with the Apple TV, you get video. I do miss smart playlists from iTunes. But wih iTunes; you're a bit more limited in terms of how and where you can send audio.

If you're interested in Sonos, they have a great return policy, so you can try it out for a month or so.
posted by reddot at 7:42 AM on December 18, 2011

I am a Squeezebox devotee and think it would be the best option for you guys. Not sure what reddot is talking about, but Logitech have introduced 2 new Squeezeboxes in the last year for home audio, including the Squeezebox Touch, which I don't have but is supposed to be amazing, and the Squeezebox Radio, which is a great all-in-one solution which I do have. So if anything it seems that Logitech is pushing these things harder and devoting more resources to the line than they have in the past.

I'd say the learning curve is a bit steeper than the Sonos but the results are great - Sonos is the plug and play solution for less technical folks and have heard great thing about it, but you'll pay more.

I have the music stored on a separate server (a Network Attached Storage device) that's always on (low energy usage) but you can also just run the server software off your computer if you'd like. The whole thing runs over WiFi or Ethernet so should be able to reach the whole house depending on your setup.

Good luck!
posted by iamscott at 7:48 AM on December 18, 2011

All the reasonably priced Squeezebox units have displays / screens, which make them not suitable to me. And the squeezebox radios, while a bit cheaper, look to have relatively small speakers in them. They se more akin to radios than speaker components. The Touch is $300 which in the same price range as Sonos.

I've also lurked the Squeezebox forum for a long time (as I was considering them as well). There are tons of plugins and hacks.

I didn't know that the Apple TV worked directly with iCloud. That's cool. When I upgrade to HDTV, I'll probably consider getting an Apple TV. Although I already have a Roku.
posted by reddot at 8:01 AM on December 18, 2011

I came in to dump on the AudioEngines. The built-in amp in my (lightly used) A5s keeps cutting out (forums claim that it's a widespread overheating issue).
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:56 AM on December 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, keep 'em coming. I could use some additional explanation to help me understand the different pieces of the solution you are recommending. If you could point me to a schematic that would be ideal.

For example, with the AppleTV solution, I would need a NAS hard drive to hold all the music, an AppleTV to stream it, and a set of wireless AirPlay speakers for each room upstairs? What are the implications/problems with using AppleTV without a TV? Do I have to have a computer running iTunes in order to play the music?

So, some questions about your setup. You are driving three pairs of speakers from you Onkyo. Are they set up as separate zones?

We can switch between the three sets of speakers using this switch box.

Does the Onkyo have any built in networking?

No. We use an Apple AirPort Express connected to the stereo via Aux In when we want to access the iTunes library.

What's the layout of your home? Is it more open floor plan, or discrete rooms? Will you want to listen to the same music in all the rooms, different, or a mix?

The main floor is more open, but that's covered with the switch box. What we need now is a way to bring the music upstairs, to a bedroom and an office.

We may want to listen to different music upstairs and downstairs, but I would call this a nice-to-have rather than a requirement.

Basic requirements are to play the same music from different locations in the house, to be able to control the music from anywhere using an iPhone, iTouch, or laptop, and to be able to play music without leaving a computer running all the time.

How highly do you value ease of setup?

I configured our wireless router, so I can handle a bit of setup as long as I have a clear idea of what I need to do.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:05 AM on December 18, 2011

Good to know about the A5's bonobothegreat, although it sucks that you hard to learn about it the hard way. A friend has the smaller A2's in her kitchen, which has seen a bunch of abuse and use.

For one of the apple scenarios goes: Source (NAS/media server) which would live on the wired network - mine is next to the router and such. Then for the player/streaming device upstair, that could be another apple airport express device. You've allready got one Airport Express - you can just add more to your current system and it will allow you to play the same song in multiple rooms, or just one of the rooms or just two, etc. Attached to the airport express would some sort of amplified speakers - I suggested larger self powered ones to save room so you don't have another amp plus speakers setup. In fact you likely all ready have smaller self powered speakers attached to your computer. The downside of this is that it requires a computer with Itunes to run the show.

Alternatively using an apple tv instead of a airport express moves the control of music played to the room the apple tv is in - the apple tv would play a different track from the NAS server, while user controlling the itunes/airport express/onkyo system would be able to play something else.
The apple tv would rely on either the iphone/touch remote or a tv for controllling it directly, no need for the laptop or another computer to be on. These apple options would cost about 200$ a room.

Or an airplay speaker would also work in place of both the airport express & self powered speakers, but I am not familiar with which ones to recommend. At the minimum an Airplay device should work just like another airport express, and so controlled by the same system as you currently have for the Onkyo.

I didn't mention Airfoil, which lets you turn a computer into acting as if it where an airport express - so you can us it as a client and stream music to it. (I know you said you didn't want computers on though)
posted by zenon at 11:01 AM on December 18, 2011

Response by poster: We definitely don't want to have a dedicated computer running iTunes in order to access the music on the NAS server. We're also not planning to use the Apple TV with a TV set. Instead, we want to be able to control the music from anywhere in the house using an iPod/iPhone, or optionally a laptop.

It sounds like Apple TV2 natively requires a computer running iTunes in order to stream from the NAS, but that there are software solutions (like this and this) that purport to solve this problem.

Any thoughts on this welcome, or perhaps this is a topic for next week's question.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2011

I have a Synoloy NAD that supports apple features like Time Machine and iTunes libraries, but I'm not sure if you can play directly from a NAS with AirPlay. A quick google seach indicates that it does: . I think you could load the Squeexebox server on it though.

I have 2 pair of the audio engine P4s and 1 A2, and they're great.

So it looks like you could go with an Apple solution using a NAS. If you're happy with the airport express, get some AirPlay speakers. Apple AirPlay plays one stream from one source. That source could be an iOS device, iTunes on a computer, a NAS, or another piece of software like airfoil. One source can send audio to either one destination or all, but not just a few. I think that from an iOS device, you can send directly to only one destination.
posted by reddot at 4:45 AM on December 19, 2011

You do not need a NAS if you get iTunes Match for $25 per year. Your music goes onto the internets.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 5:46 AM on December 19, 2011

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