From Computer to Stereo
January 10, 2006 5:39 PM   Subscribe

What's the cheapest "good" solution for getting my music from computer to stereo?

I've got my PC in one room, and my stereo in the next room over. I don't have wireless internet at the moment, and I can't run a wire through since I'm not supposed to operate on the apartment and my wife doesn't want cables snaking under the door. (I haven't actually had this conversation, but I can imagine it vividly) On the other hand, a wireless solution would require me to buy a wireless router (I think) on top of everything else. I was looking at this Logitech product, which is about as much as I want to pay total, but it hasn't been around long enough for reviews to accrue. Any suggestions on what I should do?
posted by selfnoise to Technology (18 answers total)
Get an Apple Airport Express. This would solve your router problem as well as give you the ability to stream music to your stereo. Caveat: you have to be running iTunes, but it is usable on the PC.
posted by rossination at 5:44 PM on January 10, 2006

PS: Airport Expresses are about $120-$130, so it would be the same price range as the Logitech deal.
posted by rossination at 5:45 PM on January 10, 2006

The logitech seems ideal, and it's cheaper than my alternative recommendation - the airport express (which doesn't have a remote and requires a wireless card for your PC, but on the other hand does have a print server).
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:46 PM on January 10, 2006

Cables aren't that bad. I have my computer hooked to my stereo with a regular headphone extension cable that is then split into rca jacks. You can buy little clips at RadioShack that you can hammer into the baseboards. You could set it up 'temporarily' just to test it out for $20 worth of cables.
posted by andrewzipp at 5:52 PM on January 10, 2006

I posted an AskMeFi similar to this a while back, and the overwhelming response was that a modded Xbox (no need for 360) with xbox media center would be ideal.

I acquired a modded xbox, installed XBMC, and I couldn't be happier. It rules.

I made a video capture of it to show off what it does to a few friends, but would prefer not to post the URL to it in a public forum since it's somewhat large. If you'd like to see it, let me know.

Note: You can go real cheap on the modded xbox route, you don't need anything special, since the music can be streamed remotely you don't need a big hard drive for it or anything, etc...
posted by twiggy at 6:32 PM on January 10, 2006

I've got a RocketFM and I'm quite pleased with it. Occasionally, there will be some static, but the frequency is adjustable, so no biggie. It looks cool too. Advantage - much lower price, and small.
posted by birdsquared at 6:54 PM on January 10, 2006

Selfnoise: THANKS for asking this! That link to the Logitech product is very welcome. I've been puzzled for years why this wasn't being done well. I use a pair of powered wireless speakers for different places in the house, with this, I can get the surround system in the livingroom playing in sync!
posted by Goofyy at 8:46 PM on January 10, 2006

It'd be more expensive, but one of the best ways of doing this on a normal human's budget is the Slim Devices Squeezebox. It sounds absolutely outstanding and supports most common formats. Has a huge display and a very nice remote control, so you can browse through and play your library from the front room.

They just came out with their model 3, which is exactly identical to the model 2, but prettier. You can save fifty bucks by buying the 2, and they often have $20 off codes floating around. So you'd be looking somewhere around $230 for the SB2, and probably about fifty bucks for a reasonably good wireless access point.

As a bonus, the SB2 can be a wireless bridge, so you can connect other devices in the front room. (It has only one port, so you'd need a hub if you want to connect more than one.)

Yes, this is more expensive than the Logitech, but the sound quality is superb. It does true lossless audio. Most sound routed through PCs is not really lossless, for a variety of reasons. So whatever your source is, from crummy 128K MP3 up to pure CD digital, you'll get exactly that out of your player. If you have a digital input in the front room, it'll deliver a perfect bitstream directly to the DACs in your receiver. If you don't, it has good-quality Burr-Brown DACs of its own.

You can play with the software absolutely for free. You can download and install SlimServer, which is open source, and which comes with a freeware Java emulator of the Squeezebox. It looks exactly like (and controls exactly like) the real thing, so you can play with the system, and see how you like it without spending a dime. If you love it, you can buy the hardware to make it work for real.... if you don't, you're just out a little time.

(The software also has the ability to stream to MP3 software, so you could potentially listen to your library at work, if you have enough upload bandwidth. )
posted by Malor at 9:48 PM on January 10, 2006

Man, I've just read the page on the Apple website about Airport Express - was it written in English? I still have absolutely no idea whatsoever whether I can use it with my current setup. I have a Mac that does not have a wireless card. It is connected by cable to a Belkin wireless router. I also have a USB wireless dongle, so I could connect my Mac to the router wirelessly if I wanted.
posted by salmacis at 3:01 AM on January 11, 2006

I love that product Malor, but...

A wireless router is as cheap as $10 CAD after rebate, a wireless USB adapter is as little as $20 CAD, and a computer suitable for HTPC use is as little as $150 CAD. You could then fit the computer with an envy24 chipset audio card capable of ASIO operation for as little as $30 CAD (Chaintech AV-710, maybe others). I use a similar setup with an Adcom GDA-600 DAC which I picked up for somewhere around $100 USD on ebay (it has some scratches). You can add a cheap refurb logitech wireless keyboard and mouse for control for another $20 CAD, or you could get an up to date Ati All-in-Wonder with RF remote for $130-$160 CAD (depends on model) and you have full DVR functionality too.

That comes to $230 CAD without the DAC or AIW, and you have a lot more flexibility and expandability. A lot bigger too, and you might have to put some effort into silencing the thing, but you can't have everything.

Not the best solution for everyone, obviously, but it is the best solution :P
posted by Chuckles at 4:12 AM on January 11, 2006

I use an Crane FM Transmitter for this. It's half the cost of the airport express, you can play the content at as many locations as you'd like, and you already own a compatible receiver or 3.

I find the results more than acceptable.
posted by Steve3 at 6:56 AM on January 11, 2006

i have been having the same issue. i have tried a lot of things so here is my advice.
it depends what you want to do, first of all. i personally just want to have what is playing on my computer also play on my stereo. i had a 900 mhz transmitter thing from jensen that did this alright although the sound quality left something to be desired. plus the cordless phone interfered with it as well as a set of wireless speakers i got.
so next i tried the Roku Soundbridge which is great for playing anything in iTunes, playlists or whatever, although you need a wireless router or else run a CAT5 cable to a wired router for it. but it does not and cannot just play what is playing on my computer. the sound is great though.

then i tried the rocket FM mentioned above. which i thought would work but you can only have your audio out go to your speakers OR to the Rocket FM and i had to reboot everytime i switched output sources. the sound was between the 2 other products.
i think i will just have to run a cable myself although i really don't want to.
unless there is something better out there.
good luck.
posted by annoyance at 7:33 AM on January 11, 2006

Thanks for asking this question.

What is the effective range on FM transmitters such as the RocketFM and Crane ones mentioned above? The specs claim 30 feet but I wonder if that's really true. Do they work through walls? If I have them at one end of my house can I receive the signal clearly at the other end?
posted by chos at 7:38 AM on January 11, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies thus far. Here's my take:

1. FM transmitters, while a cheap solution, don't have the sound quality I'd like. Some do have great reception, though... I can pick up the FM transmitter on my Sirius car kit when it's parked outside 3 floors downstairs.

2. I lurve the Squeezebox but it's outside my budget, especially when you add a wireless router.

3. Airport Express ties me to Itunes, and I use Winamp these days.

4. XBMC is an interesting concept. I guess I don't really want a huge console box in my living room, though.

I dunno, I may try the Logitech thing. Wish there were some more reviews on it, though. Thanks for trying to help me, everyone!
posted by selfnoise at 8:28 AM on January 11, 2006

They work through walls just like FM radio does- these are just low power FM radio stations.

The crane has a not-so-secret hack: lift up the FCC sticker and crank up the potentiometer there to increase the output power. I've never done it to mine, as I can receive it clearly throughout my house, and in the car while in the driveway.
posted by Steve3 at 8:34 AM on January 11, 2006

On the other other hand, you could run the cables out the window, along the house, and back in a window in the correct room....ugly, and tiresome, but cheap! I used to do it all the time before the "digital age."
posted by nevercalm at 9:58 AM on January 11, 2006

Chuckles, a few downsides to that approach:

1. You forgot to include the cost of the OS, which is another $150 or so (not sure what the exchange rate is now);
2. it's noisier: making a PC quiet is expensive.
3. It's easier to misconfigure, and requires ongoing patching/maintenance;
4. Foobar is great, but it's not exactly easy to learn, and getting ASIO or kernel streaming running in Winamp is a pain;
5. There are moving parts that can break;
6. It has no built-in display.

The Squeezebox is a tiny, absolutely silent box with no moving parts. If it lasts the first three months, there's a good chance it will last twenty years. It requires no maintenance, and not that much setup time. You just tell the server where your MP3s are, give it a few minutes to scan, and hit play. No fussing with ASIO or kernel streaming.

You can buy several of them and run them independently from the same server, or all in sync. If you have enough upstream bandwidth, you can serve your music files anywhere you want... your workplace, for example. And it's all open source, so it's under constant development by people who simply love the product and want it to be better. If you want to update, you can. If you prefer not to bother, you don't have to even think about it.

My big beef with the Squeezebox is that the playlist management isn't very good. I'd like to see that improved a lot. iTunes is the gold standard for playlists. I hope they can come up with something similar, eventually. Slimserver can hook into an iTunes library, which is some help, but a better native implementation would be far superior.
posted by Malor at 9:42 PM on January 11, 2006

3. Airport Express ties me to Itunes, and I use Winamp these days.

If it's the Itunes requirement that's preventing you from checking out the Airport Express, look into JustePort, the creation of Jon Johansen, aka DVD Jon. It'll allow you to encrypt any stream of audio from your computer so that the Airport Express will accept it.
posted by bachelor#3 at 5:18 AM on January 13, 2006

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