An introduction to streaming audio


I have been involved in file based audio,
streaming as you might call it, over the last 15 years or so. It all started when I saw my son play mp3’s
from his computer, and the phenomenon has fascinated me ever since. In this video I will tell you what I have
learned about playing music from your hard disk at better than MP3 quality. I didn’t like the mp3’s my son used, so
I gave him a proper stereo, including a Marantz cd-player with improved clock oscillator. He enjoyed the set but kept using the computer
as source in stead of the cd-player. So I gave him a stack of recordable cd’s
for I thought that money was the problem. But it wasn’t. It was ease of use that drove him. It made me think about the future of audio
and started investigating the possibilities. A noisy computer in the living room was no
option and silent computers were scarce and expensive then. When Philips had a device out that could play
photos, video and music from a computer over the network, the Streamium SL400i, I ordered
one. It was then that I learned that playing audio
from a video enabled device might not lead to very good results. To cut a long story short, I traveled through
File Based Audio country, passing Squeezebox, Sonos, iTunes – combined with Audirvana, Amarra
and Pure Music – Simple Audio, Bluesound, Pro-ject, Raspberry Pi, Sonore, SOtM and many
others. In this video I will attempt to give you an
overview of the most popular ways of playing audio files from a storage medium. It’s not an in-depth story and it doesn’t
pretend to cover all. But for those relatively new to file based
audio I hope it will give more insight in the matter. People that want more in-depth information
might consider buying my book File Based Audio aka Streaming Audio. You will find the link below this video in
YouTube. Let’s start with some general remarks. There are some remarks to be made on the search-ability
within streaming systems. The number of metadata fields that can be
searched is often limited to artists, albums, genres and perhaps also the release date. The support of extended metadata was – and
sometimes still is – limited. For instance, with classical music, the composer
field, a standard field in all file formats, might no be supported by the streamer or streaming
server. This led to very poor metadata-sets where
in stead of the performing artist the composer was entered. So in stead of Arthur Rubinstein playing a
Chopin nocturne the metadata sometimes only named Frédérick Chopin as artist while in
other files Chopin and Rubinstein were both named as artist. The correct way is to enter Chopin in the
composer field and Rubinstein in the artist field. Often the composer field can be searched using
the general search field. This will usually be slower, but it’s better
than nothing. But if you are a fan of classical music, be
sure to check whether searching on composers is facilitated. On the other end of the scale not only the
composer can be searched on, but for instance also the composition, like Sheherezade by
Rimsky-Korsakov. Then there are systems that don’t support
gapless playback. So if you play music that is continuous but
is marked in track numbers for convenience, there will be a short silence between the
tracks. For instance with live music the applause
is muted shortly. Even more irritating is when a continuous
piece of music is concerned, for instance Canto Ostinato by Simeon ten Holt, played
by Kees Wieringa and Polo de Haas, a minimal music-like composition for two pianos of almost
75 minutes that – on cd – is divided into 106 tracks. Played on equipment that doesn’t support
gapless playback gives you a short break in the music about every few minutes. The better streamers nowadays solve this in
the hardware, but there still are those that don’t. The first system I came across after the Philips
Streamium was the Slim Devices SliMP3. It sounded disastrous. This was corrected in the successor: the Squeezebox. Several products followed and in 2006 Slim
Devices was bought by Logitech. They introduced the Squeezebox Touch that
supports 96 kHz. Many tweaks came available over time: better
power supplies and later on even unofficial firmware tweaks for the Touch that would activate
the USB socket as output to a USB DAC and later on an update to 192 kHz over USB. The system is managed from server software
– Logitech Media Server, LMS for short. It was initially operated from the Squeezebox
display using an infrared remote. The player sent the infrared instructions
to the LMS that sends back album or track information to the display. You then select music to play and again this
request is sent to the LMS that responds by sending music files to the player. The Squeezebox itself is a dumb terminal,
passing on information and rendering music. Later on iOS and Android apps became available
as remote. There also was a Duet that had no display
on the player but a display on its remote control. Logitech stopped making Squeezeboxes in 2010
but promised to maintain the support for the LMS. Today other parties use the LMS for their
product. There are emulators for the Raspberry Pi and
for instance Sonore and SOtM offer a Squeezebox emulation in their streamers. There are also many plug-ins for LMS to expand
its possibilities, including for streaming services like Tidal. Be wise though and install only those plugins
that you really need to prevent instability of LMS. Many players use the DLNA protocol. It needs DLNA server software running on a
computer or NAS. DLNA was initiated in June 2003 by the large
consumer electronics companies. It was designed to facilitate streaming video,
audio and photos from your computer but it was obvious that the audio part had little
or no priority. The system worked fine when indexing a few
hundred files but became notoriously slow when thousands of files had to be indexed
and searched. Most people won’t have more than a few dozen
videos but for audio – and photos nowadays – things are different. If you own 100 cd’s, that will be around
1300 tracks. Clever hardware solutions and better server
software have mostly solved this problem, at least in the better products. Furthermore DLNA does not support gapless
playback. The better manufacturers have also solved
this in their playback devices while modern DLNA servers do support most or all metadata
fields. But there are still products out there that
don’t. Even within the same brand one model might
while the other won’t, so be sure to check. There are also manufacturers that used DLNA
as a base and built their own extensions on it, like Denon Heos, Linn and Yamaha MusicCast. DLNA is based on the universal plug and play
standard and companies that didn’t want or weren’t allowed to join the DLNA consortium,
developed a comparable system and named it UPnP AV. In practice you will find no difference between
UPnP AV and DNLA and you can mix both systems without any problem. There are many DLNA controller apps for smartphones
and tablets as there is a lot of DLNA server software, sometimes as pure DLNA server but
there is also player software that doubles as DLNA server. Even hardware players like those by Sonos
offer their music to other players through the DLNA protocol. Systems like Sonos and Bluesound and software
like Volumio for the Raspberry Pi use their own local indexing system, Just point it to
the shared volume on your home network and it will be indexed after which you can pick
and play your music. Bluesound and Volumio-like programs can even
work without a shared volume: as soon as you have you music on a hard disk, connect it
to the player and you’re done. Some players even have the hard disk built
in and also hold an optical drive to rip the cd’s to the hard disk. Self indexing systems are rather responsive
since they contain the index locally and when more devices are added, the indexes will be
automatically copied to those too. There is a limitation too caused by the amount
of memory in the player and the efficiency of the database engine. This limitation only gets in the way if you
have a real big music collection. The BluOS used in Bluesound also is used in
NAD products. They are not the only self indexing systems,
upmarket products like Sooloos do their own indexing and have no need for a computer. Self indexing players are the easiest to install
and maintain and are highly recommended for the computer illiterate. There is a broad offer: from the relatively
low sound quality of the Sonos to the true high-end Sooloos. On the other side of the spectrum we have
the computer literate that use the computer for playback. They were there even before the Squeezebox
but it took some time before decent audio quality was possible. The simplest way is to use the analogue output
of the computer but as often with simple solutions it results in poor audio quality since the
sound card inside the computer suffers from poor clocking, polluted power supply and interference
from other clock signals. Using an outboard sound card – a digital to
analogue converter, abbreviated to DAC – does offer better sound for it suffers less form
the aforementioned problems. But they are not entirely gone. Some use an audiophile power supply to further
improve the sound quality while others use interface boxes that clean up the power lines
and re-clocks the USB or SPDIF signal. Depending on the quality of that box the result
can be somewhere between hardly better to shockingly good but shockingly good easily
will set you back a grand. And than there is the operating system that
– by default – will change the audio signal. For quality sound you don’t want that. This can easily be solved but it depends on
the OS what is needed. Windows computers will need a special driver,
a special mode to be enabled and bit perfect software. On a Mac and Linux computer just the bit perfect
software will do. Some software will allow you to use network
audio adaptors – which I will discuss in the following chapter – like JRiver Media Centre
that can play music to DLNA renderers. The
network audio adapter – NAA or short is essentially a digital output that is connected to the
computer over the network. When you use a tablet or smartphone to control
a Raspberry Pi that emulates a Squeezebox, the Raspberry Pi is essentially an NAI. The same goes for a DLNA renderer or Roon
Endpoint – on which later more. The essence is that the noisy computer can
remain elsewhere while the NAA will be placed in the living room. Since the NAA is a very simple computer, purposely
built for audio, it will be more optimal and thus provide the DAC with a cleaner signal
than a regular computer. Also here price and performance vary greatly
and the most expensive will not automatically be the better one. But the better one will be more expensive
for it takes a lot of design time and expensive components to achieve this. Many audio specific streaming systems are
brand specific too. Sonos only supports Sonos hardware, BluOS
only supports Bluesound/NAD and so on. This doesn’t apply to DLNA ad also Roon
is brand agnostic. The latter is a development by the people
that started Sooloos and left some years after Meridian had taken over the company. The difference between DLNA and Roon is immense,
in speed, presentation, metadata and price. The Roon server is run on a computer running
Windows, Mac OS or Linux and has at least an Intel i3 processor and a SSD system disk. A special version is available for the Intel
NUC if you are willing to dedicate that computer fully to Roon. I have several videos on Roon if you want
more details. See the link in the comments in YouTube. You control Roon with a smartphone, tablet
or computer and you can output to the computer output, a DAC connected to the computer, DAC’s
that are Roon Ready, streamers that are Roon Ready, NAA’s running Roon Ready software
and Raspberry Pi’s running Roon Ready software. You can also send music to other computers,
smartphones and tablets running Roon software, Squeezeboxes, Sonos equipment and Airport
stations. So, like with many other systems, you can
store your music centrally and play it on many places in the house. Like DLNA you can use it for ultra high end
audio in the listening room, top quality hifi in the living, use a Bluesound player in the
study, a Sonos speaker in the kitchen and a Raspberry Pi with sound board, connected
to that old ghetto blaster in the garage. Your son and daughter can play from the same
pool of music over their computer or smartphone and each an everyone can have their own profile,
playlists and so on. It is hard to say what system suits you best. I have reviewed a large number of solutions,
see the playlists on Streaming audio players, networked audio adaptors and networked audio
players. See the links below this video in YouTube
or Patreon or at the end of this video. And subscribe to this channel or follow me
on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. See the comments below this video in Youtube
for the links. If you have a question, post it below this
video but please don’t ask me for buying advise. See my About Questions video to find out why. If you liked this video, please consider supporting
the channel through Patreon and see super exclusive videos too. Just one dollar a month will do. The link is in the show notes. And don’t forget to tell your friends on
the web about this channel. I am Hans Beekhuyzen, thank you for watching
and see you in the next show or on theHBproject.com. And whatever you do, enjoy the music.

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