I want my house to be alive with the sound of music
June 26, 2015 6:33 AM   Subscribe

How can I get music from my computer to play all over my house?

My current method of playing and managing my music is through my PC - a Dell Optiplex running Windows 7, and Windows Media Player. When I lived in an apartment it was fine and no matter where I was I could hear the music ok, but now that I own a whole house, I would like a way to play music from my computer to speakers around the whole house. My office (and computer) is situated in a far corner of the house and I'm getting tired of it being REALLY LOUD in my office and I can barely hear it when I'm working in the den.

Ideally, I would like to install speakers in the ceiling of rooms throughout the house. I don't need amazing 5.1 sound - I already have a bluray home theater system in the living room for movies and I don't want to worry about left/right speakers and placing them properly, I guess I just want music playing on my computer to be piped in throughout the house with a speaker in each room.

What do I need to make this happen and how do I configure it? I'm guessing I need something to hook up to the computer to broadcast the signal and then speakers to receive that signal? Do I need special software to make that run?

Relevant info:
-I would like it to be as wireless as possible in terms of getting the music to the speakers.
-I can get power to the speakers, so no battery operated ones.
-I would love to have a remote that I could carry with me and use that to raise/lower volume, next song, etc., from anywhere in the house.
-Probably 4-6 speakers would be needed.
-I don't need the music to be LOUD, just nice enough to play background music when I have people over or a little louder when I'm cleaning the house.

Please explain this to me as simplistically as possible; I need to know what to buy from the speakers to the software. If there is a whole system/package that does what I need that would be awesome too.

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by NoraCharles to Technology (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If you've got the money to drop, Sonos is an all-in-one solution to every one of your requirements.
posted by dobi at 6:38 AM on June 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Here's a prior comment from me about Sonos. Not cheap, but you can slowly add speakers in different rooms as you go. It has its own network and is dead simple to set up. It's "service-agnostic" - you can keep adding music sources like iTunes library, credentials for Pandora/Spotify etc., whatever. My wife's Sirius XM subscription she got for driving is set up on there too, plus it has most radio stations for free. I even have a turntable plugged straight into one of the Play:5 speakers and that goes all over the house as well.

They used to sell a controller device, but there's a free iPad/phone controller app that works great. Different songs in different rooms, same song in all rooms, whatever. I think the Play 5's are like $399 (even one sounds amazing) and the baby Play 1 is $199 and is plenty of sound for a bedroom. Great build quality and simplicity. Look ma no wires! No amp! No stereo cabinet!
posted by freecellwizard at 6:47 AM on June 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you are invested in the Apple ecosystem at all, Air Play is a nice and easy way to do it. Your iPhone/iPad can serve as a full-featured remote. This article explains using your Mac to stream the audio (including purchase recommendations), but it works about the same from a PC.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:47 AM on June 26, 2015

Adding to the chorus of "Sonos." It exists to do exactly what you want to do, and it does it amazingly well.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:48 AM on June 26, 2015

Same as already said, but as skeptical/hesitant as I was prior, I came away extremely impressed with Sonos. We've got 2 speakers now, one in each of our most frequented rooms, and it's kind of life-changing if you want to enjoy music whenever/wherever.

Sounds like exactly what you need/want.
posted by mrhaydel at 6:56 AM on June 26, 2015

Response by poster: Wow, that Sonos looks great, but lets assume I don't have that much money to spend on this. Are there cheaper alternatives?
posted by NoraCharles at 7:07 AM on June 26, 2015

Logitech had a wonderful and reasonably priced solution to this that competed with Sonos: the Squeezebox line of music players. Not only could each play Internet radio or music off of a local machine server running the Squeezebox server software, the synchronization feature allowed for the music to play through one's entire house or selected speakers simultaneously without any weird echo.

In addition to having been cheaper than both Sonos and Airplay, the Logitech Squeezebox line had some niceties that neither Sonos or Airplay have had. The majority of the devices and speakers allowed for the selection and control of music from the device itself via a screen and a dial, rather than relying on a cell phone, laptop or separate remote (although all three of those could be used as well). The devices used standard wired and wireless networking, while Sonos has historically relied on its own proprietary wireless protocol.

It all works quite well, and it was a wonderful and reasonably inexpensive way to outfit your home with networked music.

So what did Logitech do with this tech? They killed it! In 2012! They pulled a Google Reader. The Squeezebox line had gathered a substantial fan base but not mainstream sales, so they just cancelled it.

The good news is this: Logitech continues to run the Internet radio software that the devices connect to if you don't want to run your home server, and the home server software was open sourced and continues to be maintained by the community. The software may not support all of the latest cloud services, but it supports a whole lot, including Spotify, Pandora, Slacker, SiriusXM, lots more Internet services, and of course your local music collection. The systems may be on life support, but everything still works well.

The bad news is that because the Squeezebox still fills a market segment that is untouched by Sonos or Apple - and it sounds like a segment that you're in - the price of new, unused gear has skyrocketed, and used gear often goes for near the original purchase price.

But if you happen find people getting rid of the Squeezebox Boom, the Squeezebox Radio, the UE Smart Radio (which can be loaded with the Squeezebox software) or one of the many other Squeezebox devices that require an add-on amp and speakers at a reasonable price, you might want to consider picking one up and playing with it. It may be a good solution. When people come over, they react to our Squeezeboxes like they're something from the future ("you can select and play Internet radio stations across your home without a phone or a computer in the room??") when they were in fact doomed to early obsolescence.
posted by eschatfische at 7:23 AM on June 26, 2015

Several years ago I invested in a Squeezebox/Slimserver/Logitech Radio/Vortexbox infrastructure to play my music all over my house. It works well but it can be a bit cranky sometimes and require some tweeking. These devices have all been discontinued (Sonos won) but I'm sure they can be found on eBay.

If I were doing this in 2015 I would buy a few < $100 Bluetooth speakers to put around the house and just play my music from a phone or tablet. This would take care of the remote, since the device would be its own remote. I don't see too many reasons for running this off a computer anymore.
posted by bondcliff at 7:27 AM on June 26, 2015

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a simple easy-to-use way to do this wirelessly that's not Sonos (or Squeezebox but, as eschatfische highlights, Squeezebox is sort of in a weird place). Honestly, I'm willing to put up with a lot more technical issues than it looks like you are and even then I haven't found something that will serve all of my needs.

As a by-no-means-ideal-but-still-a-stopgap solution, I've just been using bluetooth speakers and streaming off of my phone. The Soundblock is my new favorite speaker - it's pretty cheap, loud enough to fill up most rooms, sounds good, and looks good. One option would be to just get a bunch of bluetooth speakers like the Soundblock (or others) and install some sort of bluetooth broadcaster that will cover all of your house. I have no idea if it's any good, but a quick Amazon search returns this one.

You still have a couple problems with this setup. One is the remote control problem, but if you have a smartphone, there do exist apps that allow you to control windows media player. I have no idea how well they work, but maybe others will chime in. The, perhaps, bigger problem is how you select which of your many bluetooth speakers the computer sends sound to. This may also be a solved problem, but I'm not aware of a solution.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:35 AM on June 26, 2015

If you have any radios, get one of these and hook it up to your computer: http://www.ccrane.com/!4VKsKyWz9B5Tjfcdn53qpg!/transmitter

I used one in my car for a while and it was great. If you open the unit up, you can boost the signal.
posted by reddot at 4:10 PM on June 26, 2015

There are plenty of "cheaper" alternatives, depending on how much hardware you want to dedicate. Squeezebox may be a cheaper alternative to Sonos, and AVSForum has a good topic on this:

posted by kschang at 12:26 AM on June 27, 2015

If you already have the speakers and don't mind a slight mess then you can recreate the Sonos experience on the cheap with a bunch of raspberry pis each with a USB audio out (for better sound quality).

The nice thing about that is that if you have an external HD (or large USB stick) then you can put all your music on that.

I have such a setup for only one room and, whilst it isn't quite as perfect as a Sonos, it's pretty good for the price.

posted by mr_silver at 3:42 AM on June 27, 2015

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