How should we listen to music at home?
February 2, 2013 2:18 PM   Subscribe

The last time I bought a stereo, Reagan was president. I don't know if they're even called stereos any more. Please help me figure out what I want and how to set it up.

Right now we have music on a MacBook Air and on CDs. We have an AirPort Extreme (not Express). We have an original iPad and assorted iPods and iPhones of various ages and capabilities.

We don't have any stereo equipment other a crappy portable CD player, a Samsung "sound bar" hooked up to the TV, and a dying iHome dock/radio/speaker thing.

I want to be able to play CDs without copying them to the computer first.

I want an FM radio (broadcast, not over the Internet).

I listen to a lot of podcasts, using iTunes and on my iPhone.

Some of our MP3 are from Apple, some from Amazon, some from who-knows-where. They're all on the MacBook.

I want people to be able to play music without involving the MacBook, so I can read Metafilter uninterrupted.

We want speakers in at least two rooms. It needs to be possible to turn them on and off in each room.

I want it to be simple to use.
posted by The corpse in the library to Technology (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I've seen this previous question, but it's a year old and I presume there have been advances in hi-fi technology.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:18 PM on February 2, 2013

We want speakers in at least two rooms. It needs to be possible to turn them on and off in each room.

All your other issues are pretty easy and can probably be solved by a basic "bookshelf" system that comes in a box with speakers, and possibly a subwoofer, but this one issue is probably going to drive you more towards a "component system" where you have a receiver that handles amplification and radio stuff (as well as acting as a home theater central connection unit if you want), and then add other components as you need them, like a dvd or cd player. Some receivers have outputs for more than one set of speakers, with a switch on the front of the receiver so that you can turn the different sets of speakers on or off. For example, my receiver, that I got during the Bush II administration, has speakers A and B; the switch allows me to play A, B or both, or none if I want to use headphones. Generally, the receiver should be able to take input from any kind of device as long as you have the right kind of connector cable for it, including a computer or iPod, or even your portable cd player. You could get a bookshelf unit with an input jack that could handle an auxiliary component, but it most likely wouldn't be able to handle the separate speaker setup that you want. This is an example of what you'd probably want; I make no claims of quality of this particular thing.

Then, if you want to go really high-end, you'll get some sort of "distributed audio" system.
posted by LionIndex at 3:10 PM on February 2, 2013

I guess the receiver setup can get kind of complicated, but like I said, it's the basic way to get sound into more than one location and be able to control them. It's possible there's simpler ways to do that, but to my (admittedly limited) knowledge, that requirement bumps you up into the receiver class of things.
posted by LionIndex at 3:14 PM on February 2, 2013

Best answer: In my opinion the simplest affordable distributed music system to set up and use is Sonos. Two of these, two pairs of scrounged or purchased bookshelf speakers, a NAS to hold the music, and you've got a very flexible and expandable two-zone system (they've got some cheaper units with built-in speakers, but I haven't listened to those.) You can get away without the NAS if you don't mind leaving the MacBook on and having the music shared from it over the network (it won't interfere with your browsing or anything, you just need to have it on and connected or your mp3 library will be unavailable.)

A short list of the things I like about Sonos:

-They support a huge variety of streaming services and independent internet radio stations (including a great variety of FM stations, organized by location if you want your locals,) and have a userbase big enough that any problems with a particular service get noticed and fixed right away.

-The setup is really easy and requires a bare minimum of connections (you need to hook one of your players up to ethernet, and the remaining players share its connection over a wireless mesh.) Expanding the system is as easy as plugging a new player into an outlet and hitting a couple buttons.

-The UI is easy to figure out, and they have solid apps for every platform that are created and supported by the Sonos company itself.

-They never break. I've installed probably 50-60 units at this point, and have called tech support precisely once, for a unit that was broken out of the box.

-They do a great job of synchronizing sound between multiple zones (this is often an issue with streaming distributed music, where you'll have maybe a 40 millisecond delay between adjacent rooms that sounds like a horrible echo applied to the music if you're in earshot of both sets of speakers.)

Your traditional sources (CD player, FM tuner) can be plugged into the inputs on the Sonos Players (one per player) and piped to any or all sets of speakers (there's no mechanism for controlling these sources through Sonos, so once you've selected them you'd have to control them with their own buttons or remotes.)
posted by contraption at 3:23 PM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Sounds like a NAS is the way to go. I have a Time Capsule already, that I'm using for backup; would that work?
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:45 PM on February 2, 2013

I don't believe the Time Capsule will let you load up arbitrary files and make them available via an SMB share, which is what the Sonos would require (AFAIK the storage on the Time Capsule is strictly for Time Machine backups.) The Synology units are good entry-level NAS devices (that one needs one hard drive added to it, so if you don't have a spare around the house it'd another 50 bucks for a suitable one.)
posted by contraption at 7:59 PM on February 2, 2013

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