What's the easiest way to listen to classical music all the time?
June 30, 2023 3:17 PM   Subscribe

A relative has moved into assisted living; we'd like to be able to play classical music in the background in her room all the time. What's the easiest way to do this? We'd rather pay for something up front than have to pay for a monthly subscription for ever, just for simplicity's sake, but is that an option? I'm not against paying for a subscription, if necessary, as long as it is easy. We need something we can set for her no more frequently than once a week.

Our cities, shamefully, no longer have any classical music radio stations, so the easy answer of leaving a radio tuned to a classical station all the time doesn't work. (That's what we really want!) Playing CDs or mp3s is too hard, though; somebody needs to be there to start them up every day, and the caregivers already have enough to do. We don't want there to be anything more complicated to do, after we set it up, than just turning it on or off.

In my own home, we keep an old iPad connected to our stereo, playing one or another classical radio station from their app or website. This setup would be far too complicated for our elderly relative, who has memory issues and problems with technology.

It seems like the answer might be to get a Amazon Echo or whatever and leave it on to Amazon Music all the time, except that in my experience with the iPad, the free Amazon music, and the music I have purchased from Amazon, stops after a few hours and asks whether you're still listening, so you have to click "yes" to keep it going. That's not going to work for our relative. Do they let you skip this, for a fee?

Or we could get a Sirius radio and leave it playing all the time. That would require not only getting the proprietary device, but also, I think, paying a subscription. Maybe that's the best way.

Or then again there's the Apple HomePod, or maybe some other Apple device (something much simpler to use than an ipad, once it's set up). Do you need a subscription to play music on it? I guess I prefer a subscription to advertisements.

What would be truly ideal would be something we could program to start playing at a certain time in the morning, and stop playing at a certain time at night, every day, but I don't know if that's possible. A simple plug-in timer could do that, if the system started playing automatically when powered up.

Is there some other system we should be considering? Which solution sounds simplest?
posted by metonym to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Grace Digital Mondo Elite, an Internet radio so as long as someone somewhere is broadcasting classical music, you can hear it. While you can access subscription services with it, there's no need to have one. You can set an alarm to start it at whatever time you want each day of the week. It has a sleep timer that will shut it off after a fixed amount of time, and it also has a remote (if the relative is comfortable pushing an off button).
posted by praemunire at 3:23 PM on June 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

I might look at a google home (regular or mini) and set it up with a free Spotify account. Then you could setup the Google Home App so that every time you say "Hey Google, play me classical music" it would just start playing classical music from Spotify. (If you wanted to get rid of ads, you could pay for the premium Spotify subscription. But the ads aren't that bad, relatively speaking. No worse than a regular AM/FM radio station would be.) This assumes relative has reliable wifi, of course. To stop play, just say "Hey google, stop playing".

Edit: you also might be able to setup google home via the app to automatically start/stop at a certain time of day, I just haven't done it myself.
posted by cgg at 3:26 PM on June 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

An internet radio like this might work, though it doesn't have a timer, it can be turned down or off by turning a dial or pressing it. There's also a remote.

It's still a lot more complicated than an FM radio and it's possible to get it into a state where you have to fiddle a bit to get it playing again- pressing the wrong button can open a menu and put it into an alternate mode where it's eg trying to be a Bluetooth speaker, and then you need to press some more buttons to reset it. It also needs fairly reliable wifi. On the plus side, it's fairly cheap so it's not a huge loss if it doesn't work well for you.

You can program it with four presets, which correspond to buttons on the front, which is fairly convenient. It has a directory of online radio stations so you would have your pick of classical stations anywhere on the planet. Programming in a new station is straightforward but fiddly, but once it's there it's moderately foolproof.
posted by BungaDunga at 3:27 PM on June 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of free Internet radio out there (many broadcast stations also stream over the Internet; my town's classical station does) , so praemunire's suggestion is a good one. Obviously you'll need to be able to connect the player to the facility's wifi.

If you need something that's completely self-contained, there are boomboxes and clock radios that will play MP3s from a thumb drive, and they're pretty cheap. If you loaded up a thumb drive with a week's worth of music (admittedly that's a lot, but even a small thumb drive would have plenty of capacity for this), you'd be set. You wouldn't necessarily need to start/stop the player every day, just turn the volume up/down as desired, if that's something your relative can manage.
posted by adamrice at 3:37 PM on June 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

How about an old iPod Nano or Shuffle, loaded with 256GB of ripped classical music, set to infinite play in a loop.

Attach the iPod line out to a clock radio with a aux port. Put everything on a power strip with a lamp timer. The clock radio will turn off at night with the timer, but the iPod will keep (silently) playing off its battery and charge back up in the morning.
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:37 PM on June 30, 2023 [17 favorites]

How to Listen to Classical KUSC - Classical KUSC has a bunch of options to listen. You can probably get some ideas from that. I suspect that other major classical radio stations stream and work the same way.
Listen to KUSC on your Smart Speaker

If you own a smart speaker, then you’ve got a quick and easy way to listen to KUSC. Whether you own an Amazon Echo or Google Home, all it takes is a simple voice command to fill your home with music. With the Echo, just say “Alexa, play KUSC” and with Google Home, it’s “Hey Google, play KUSC”. It’s that simple. Listening to your favorite classical music on KUSC has never been easier.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:42 PM on June 30, 2023 [4 favorites]

As someone who works in a facility, you should definitely check the wifi situation before you put any money toward something internet-dependent.
posted by DebetEsse at 4:04 PM on June 30, 2023 [9 favorites]

Similar to zengargoyle's suggestion Classical KDFC streams music, so use a smart speaker or any device that can play a stream (I'm listening on my laptop at present). No subscription or ongoing fees, though it's listener-supported so you do hear occasional funding requests.
posted by anadem at 4:14 PM on June 30, 2023

Venice Classic Radio. Zero commercials, commentary, etc.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 4:20 PM on June 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

The liftPlayer can play mp3s. No direct experience, but it is available at a lending library so it doesn't seem to be vaporware at least.
posted by oceano at 4:23 PM on June 30, 2023

I'd be careful using a smart speaker. When we did something similar for my mother in law they claimed it was a privacy violation to have a device with a mic in the facility (whether or not that makes sense, it may cause unneeded trouble).
posted by wellifyouinsist at 4:52 PM on June 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

You might consider a GrandPad. It’s probably overkill/too expensive if you’re really only going to use it for music, but it does have other uses and can be more manageable than a regular tablet for folks who are still functioning at a certain level. It definitely can be left on a classical music stream indefinitely.

(wellifyouinsist—yikes, that sort of screams “we don’t want anyone to overhear how we treat the residents” to me, but hopefully I’m being paranoid.)
posted by staggernation at 5:12 PM on June 30, 2023

Classic KING FM
posted by y2karl at 5:58 PM on June 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I do this for my mother. I have an Amazon Echo (we have a first or second generation tube, I recommend one without a screen). I have a 7am alarm set to play WQXR. It generally plays without interruption, but I have the same alarm set to go off in the afternoon in case bad internet weather has interrupted play. All of this is manageable in the Alexa iOS app; you can see what's playing on which device, change the volume and start or stop it remotely.

It's mostly non-stop music with very little problems, other than 90 seconds of news a couple times in the morning, and fund drives twice a year. It's never asked "if you're listening".

I find this much more straightforward than HomePods (harder to manage remotely) and more reliable than the Grace radio (which we used previously).
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:59 PM on June 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I understand all of the problems with Amazon smart speakers, but when I worked in a nursing home they were surprisingly easy to teach old folks how to use, enabling them to e.g. call family members even well into dementia. So while I think you're right on with your concerns, if you DO go with a smart speaker, also consider its other affordances!
posted by branca at 7:55 PM on June 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

Seconding Classic KING FM. It's independent user-funded radio, by donations and grants (you can donate as much or as little as you want, as many times as you want). There are no ads, only occasional station/local arts promotions, and a few station- or public radio-produced shows a week. Available for streaming world-wide, with a world-wide audience.
posted by lhauser at 8:28 PM on June 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

Seattle's Classical station, KING-FM, has stand alone apps available, for both Android, iOS, and Windows. Link to download here: https://www.king.org/phone/.

I have the Android version on my phone, and to get classical music playing, it is two clicks - one to open the app, and one to hit the huge, green 'Play' button on the screen, in the app. You'd need an internet connection for it, but you could put the app on an old phone connected to wifi, and have the app be one of the only ones on the phone.

(I've been a sustaining member of KING-FM for about a year now; they are an excellent classical music station. I also use the app all the time.)
posted by spinifex23 at 10:32 PM on June 30, 2023 [1 favorite]

How about an old iPod Nano or Shuffle, loaded with 256GB of ripped classical music, set to infinite play in a loop.

this is pretty much what I did for my mom over her last Christmas. It wasn't 256GB of music. It was a pretty hefty (six hours plus) mix of various low key (not muzak), mostly instrumental Christmas options. She loved it.
posted by philip-random at 11:25 PM on June 30, 2023 [4 favorites]

I have yet to find a direct 'https://...' sort of link for KING or WXQR. They seem to be web/app only sort of things. Or they make it very hard to find a streaming link that you could plop into any sort of music player.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:34 AM on July 1, 2023

Ok this is not as simple as what you’re wanting, and I didn’t come up with this system (sib did), so I don’t know how difficult it is to set up. Also depends on wifi. But Broadlink is a universal IR remote controller, with an app that you or any member of your family can operate from a distance.


My brother set it up so this controls the TV and cable box. It could control a sound bar as well, the sound bar would need to have IR capability. It does have a timer function that I haven’t used.

We also have a camera (Wyze, comes with a subscription) which means we can check if it’s working (and monitor my dad!). Broadlink seems to be smoother with Android than iOS devices - on my iPhone, sometimes I have to press buttons a few times to get a press to “stick”, but I’m navigating TV menus to find shows etc, just turning on a sound bar would be nothing to do, especially with the timer function. (No issues whatsoever with Androids.) But the camera does come in handy.

It sounds more complicated than it really is once it’s set up. Basically I open the Broadlink app, press a few buttons, check the camera and it’s good to go.

(Wyze does have a speaker and mic so you can check sound. Side note I am appalled that any place would prohibit a camera with a mic, as wellifyiuinsist reports, that’s like critical security.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:40 AM on July 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

From the UK, BBC Radio 3 is all classical music and chat about classical music. It’s available for streaming and in the UK at least is on digital radio as well. For my mother in a care home we got an Alexa and a yearly Amazon Prime subscription, which enables us to set up playlists of her favourites. We’ve then printed out the names of the playlists, laminated it and stuck it in her room, so it’s easy for the carers to start a playlist for her.
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 4:49 AM on July 1, 2023

Your Classical MPR (M as in Minnesota) I listen on Google Home speakers but you will need wifi.
posted by tmdonahue at 4:53 AM on July 1, 2023

I have yet to find a direct 'https://...' sort of link for KING or WXQR.

Huh? I do not understand your comment.

Below is the link address for my Classic King FM comment above

I have linked all -- my comment above, the italicized quote of it here and the link address itself below with the link address.

posted by y2karl at 5:31 AM on July 1, 2023

(On BBC Radio 3: it is very good, but does have spoken word programmes and regular news.)
posted by lokta at 5:39 AM on July 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

I mean, if you click on the link and then cover and copy the king.org that pops up on your phone's address window when you get there, the https://www. etc is all there and gets copied.
posted by y2karl at 6:51 AM on July 1, 2023

Re: this Grace Digital Mondo Elite mentioned above.…
It LOOKS exactly like the Logitech Squeezebox I used to use for this purpose - waking up to Classical KUSC.
I had to stop using it because it prioritized firing the alarm over whether or not it had actually connected to the music stream, resulting in an awful honking alarm noise. I tried troubleshooting within my skill set (monkeying with router settings etc) but never solved it.
This is all to say that if you go that route, try it out in your own setting for a week or two first.
posted by TangoCharlie at 10:06 AM on July 1, 2023 [1 favorite]

y2karl, you misunderstand. I'm looking for the direct link to the stream itself, not the website.

Like KUSC is of course kusc.org for the website, but the playable stream is: https://96.mp3.pls.kusc.live which I can throw at VLC or mpv and have it just start playing on my laptop. Most radio sites that stream make this easy to find. I don't want their embedded web player or an app. I wrap these stream source urls into little shell scripts that just call my music player with the streaming url.
$ cat KDFC 
mpv https://96.aac.pls.kdfc.live

posted by zengargoyle at 8:51 PM on July 1, 2023

Well d'oh! You are right, zengargoyle, I so misunderstood. Your level of expertise is way beyond mine. I must say though, I am relieved. The thought that a person could know less than me on such matters was staggeringly disconcerting. Now, at least, I am reassured that I am still # -1. My apologies for having the hubris of ever thinking otherwise.
posted by y2karl at 11:29 AM on July 2, 2023

Just to echo DebetEsse, do investigate the internet situation at your relative's facility. When my dad was in independent living at one place, his internet was provided by Spectrum, and it was pretty consistent, although speeds would vary a lot during high use times, occasionally being unusable. When he moved to assisted living at another facility, they used a Privatel package that was extremely patchy with frequent outages. I think these places assume most residents won't be using the internet much, and in both cases, we were on our own to trouble-shoot because they didn't have anyone one staff dedicated to tech management.
posted by amusebuche at 2:56 PM on July 2, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all great. Thank you all so much!

I decided to go with an Amazon Echo. I really like the idea of setting the alarm to start the music as These Premises Are Alarmed suggests, and I like the possibilities for remote control, from my own house. Possible voice control by our relative is a potentially big bonus. More reliability than the Grace radio could be important. And the price can't be beat! ($23 on their Prime day sale today for a 5th generation Echo without a screen).

Thanks for the warnings about internet access; it's been good so far. I'll just hope not to have the issues with facility management that wellifyouinsist experienced.

I'm happy to have the specific radio station recommendations not only for this project but also for adding to my own use at home. I usually listen to All Classical Portland or or the classical feed from Houston Public Media, which are good and which (crucially) lack news, traffic, and weather reports.
posted by metonym at 12:37 PM on July 11, 2023

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