Recommendations for "internet radio" plus MP3?
February 6, 2020 8:30 PM   Subscribe

I am "sort of" old school, in that I don't want to stream my MP3 files from my desktop machine. What I would like to find is something that streams internet radio, _and_ which has a decent media player interface to play music from a USB drive connected to the device.

Ideally it would not need the internet connection in order to play from the drive (some devices seem to have some of their config or control information stored in "the cloud"). Two options I have been looking at:

1. Finding a decent 'player' for my Roku TV with USB port. Pros: user interface on the large screen TV is easy to see, is controlled via the TV remote, speaker options coming out of the TV. Cons: decent speakers need to be purchased (currently have no soundbar or other speakers)

2. Something like the Grace Digital Encore+. Pros: self contained unit with speakers. Cons: price, small 3.5" screen means using from across the room is not so easy.

Podcast handling optional - haven't really gotten into those much.
Nice-to-have: playing from an SD card, which would not protrude as much from the device and maybe make things a little cleaner on the shelf
posted by TimHare to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have an older version of the Grace. I just dug it out recently because for various reasons I'd been using something else. Still functions even though it's eight years old--that's pretty sturdy for a consumer electronic device these days!
posted by praemunire at 8:51 PM on February 6, 2020

posted by rmmcclay at 9:45 PM on February 6, 2020

Response by poster: Winamp isn't available as a Roku app/channel; to use Winamp in the living room I'd have get a small form factor PC (I may have a 'nettop' around here somewhere, actually). The software would function well but how to get it into the living room is the issue with Winamp.
posted by TimHare at 10:16 PM on February 6, 2020

Look at the various Logitech Squeezebox varieties on Amazon. (sadly, discontinued by Logitech) The original squeezebox touch is great for plugging into existing stereo gear. The others are more boombox style, with built in speakers. They come with tiny screens, but these never get used, since it's easier to use the browser interface on a laptop or tablet. (they work with a music server that can run on any machine on your home network)
posted by cfraenkel at 10:42 PM on February 6, 2020

An important consideration with internet radio devices is the server they depend on to connect to streams. Some brands of devices have their own server and some use a third-party one. In some cases, the server just keeps track of the URLs and connects you directly to the source. I believe in some others the streams all go through the centralized server. I have had both Logitech Squeezebox and Grace internet radios, and with both I have had intermittent problems. Sometimes the server would be down completely, and other times it would have the wrong URL for a station I wanted to listen to, meaning that I was unable to listen to it. Also, the manufacturer can brick your device by shutting down the server. I am still using one of the Logitech radios and haven't had problems recently, but as I recall one of my older ones was bricked when they made a change. I have started moving to Sonos devices and have had no problems with their server at all. However, I believe they just announced that they are bricking a bunch of older devices.
posted by jkent at 2:21 AM on February 7, 2020

JRiver Media Center may fill this bill, for something that plays through a computer or tablet.
posted by yclipse at 4:21 AM on February 7, 2020

I’ve been considering one of these amplifiers to use with some decent bookshelf speakers I already have. It doesn’t have built-in streaming capability, but it can connect to a tablet or smartphone via either bluetooth or an aux cable, so you can use interfaces that you’re already familiar with, and not be tied to a proprietary server or software that might not be supported for long. It can also play from a USB flash drive or a memory card. Seems like a nice updating of old-school receiver functionality.
posted by jon1270 at 4:54 AM on February 7, 2020

My current solution is an iPad (but I previously used an iPod Touch) which allows connection to internet streaming services or radio (either with a dedicated app or, more commonly, using VLC) and plays media files stored on the device. Newer iPads can ‘mount’ certain USB storage devices through the Files app but I usually just copy the files over from the computer. I connect my iPad to a stereo receiver or play directly using powered speakers or headphones.
posted by sudogeek at 5:49 AM on February 7, 2020

I have this and it's never let me down...
posted by Wrick at 6:34 AM on February 7, 2020

I bought a $40 Amazon Fire tablet off of Can play using the Amazon app, probably has a number of streaming clients, but also plays just fine off of music I've put on the SD card in the tablet. Built a little stand for it to set it on top of the stereo, works great.

Did have to find a third party app to play music off of the SD card, because although Amazon's player will do it, it's really built around upselling you to their streaming service. But if your streaming service has an Amazon Fire app, it's a decent cheap way to go.
posted by straw at 9:26 AM on February 7, 2020

How big a deal is connecting a USB to the device? I just do this with my old android phone using the mobile version of VLC. All my local files are on a media server on my home network, so I'm usually either streaming from that or internet radio, but the phone is also full of mp3s and it's painless to add or remove them.

You can connect a USB drive to the phone's charging port with an adapter, but I just stream from a SAMBA share over wifi and it works fine.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:50 AM on February 7, 2020

Best answer: Suggestion 1: a media storing-and-playing device, paired with a bluetooth speaker or soundbar. If you have a planless smartphone or tablet available for repurposing that will accept (micro)SD cards, copy all of your music to a card, put it into the device, and play it via Bluetooth to the speaker. No remote control needed, since the player interface is in your hand. No internet required either, just Bluetooth. Also handy because you can turn off the Bluetooth and grab the device to take it with you, either for a walk outside with headphones or just to brush your teeth and use the built-in speaker. If you want to listen to something other than your own collection, turn the WiFi back on and install/use whatever streaming apps you like. (once you're off WiFi, you're limited again to whatever's stored on the device itself.)
I did this for a while with one of those Nokia Microsoft phones (because what else was I going to do with it?) and it worked quite well. I'm sure those can be had for next to nothing; or you could buy anything from a cheapo tablet to the highest-end Android smartphone - just don't put anything on it except for audio apps and a microSD card full of your own music.

Suggestion 2: since you mentioned having a nettop around, would you be interested in turning it into your own streaming music server? So you attach a drive with your music library to the nettop, and install something like Plex Media Server on it (not very complicated, depending on the OS of the nettop). You'd put it on your home network named as 'jukebox' or something. Then you go to your Roku TV and install the Plex Media Client app: it will find 'jukebox' on your local network, and you'll control the interface via the Plex app on your Roku TV. That won't get you internet radio. But it does mean that there's a nettop in a closet somewhere serving up your music library, to any device on your home network that can run a Plex app (which is everything, pretty much). You could also roll your own Netflix this way, by digitizing any DVDs you own and storing them on your Plex server to make a personal movie library alongside your personal music library - NOTE that while the nettop should probably be fine for just audio, you'd definitely want to upgrade to something like a Mac Mini specifications-wise if you want to stream video to all the Rokus in the house.
posted by bartleby at 2:08 PM on February 7, 2020

Response by poster: The phone options won't quite "get it" for me because I'm more-or-less looking for something that sits on a shelf near the TV/BluRay/cable box. I suppose I could repurpose and old phone or tablet and make a case for it to sit in - but then I won't have a remote control for it.

The Plex option might work if I have a Plex server somewhere on the entertainment network (remember I keep my computer/work network separate, except where both networks go upstream via the cable company's gateway), although I'd rather just have a "stereo" with the media stored on it, rather than the client/server setup.
posted by TimHare at 2:34 PM on February 7, 2020

Fair enough! I mentioned Plex because it would play well with an existing TV and its remote (and lives happily on entertainment sub-networks btw), rather than being yet another plastic box with its own remote control and more cables behind the TV. But I get the idea behind a 'stereo'.
Do you happen to own a video game console, or have any interest in one? Those have USB multimedia player capability, have streaming apps available, and would work through the TV. If you've already got another black slab on the shelf...
posted by bartleby at 3:07 PM on February 7, 2020

That's how I use my Sonos system. Only instead of a USB stick, my personal collection lives on a hard drive on a server running NAS (via Samba). There are many solutions for that server; many routers can take a USB and serve it as a NAS, for instance.

It's a little hard to recommend Sonos right now since they just screwed the pooch announcing an aggressive obsolescence campaign. But they've backed off of that and they've been a great product for ten years, so I'm hoping the future will still be OK.
posted by Nelson at 7:33 AM on February 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all who replied, and I apologize for being remiss about marking things here. I marked one as 'best answer' because it seemed to have the best of two options for me, but I've yet to try anything (I've got other priorities right now) and because I am looking into writing a media player in BrightScript for the Roku.
posted by TimHare at 7:11 PM on June 25, 2020

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