I've long thought the "Bentley" of music server remote controls is a separate laptop to use from your listening chair. Most people will rule out this option simply because of the cost. Surely a new laptop is a little spendy to use solely as a remote, but you can pick up a used MacBook fairly cheap on eBay these days. Or, you can buy a Mac Mini to use as your music server and transition your MacBook from music server to remote control for even less money. Having a MacBook as a remote control makes the Mac Mini a very user friendly choice for a music server. Windows users are also in luck as I've included a very simple PC based solution this time. With laptop remotes you have the option of checking a little email and surfing the Internet while listening. Maybe you'll even download a new high resolution album from HDtracks and copy it over to your music server without leaving your listening position. This beats getting up to flip the vinyl to side B any day.
Using an iPod Touch as a remote is certainly a solid option I've recommended several times before. However, when you can afford a Bentley there is no reason to settle for a Cadillac. A 13" MacBook is easier than an iPod Touch to use and for those of you with a little more "life experience" the larger screen is much easier to see. In addition running the full version of OS X on a MacBook opens the door to a ton of great capabilities that audiophiles can use.
Don't confuse this system with a wireless DAC or transport type of solution similar to a Squeezebox or Airport Express. This MacBook remote control setup has nothing to do with those options. I recommend the MacBook remote for those people using music servers connected to their a DAC via USB or SPDIF etc... You won't be sending any music to your audio system from this MacBook, rather you'll be controlling your music server from this MacBook remote. Now that we are all on the same page let me explain how easy and cheap one solution is.
An often overlooked application built right into OS X is called Screen Sharing. This one is included with the operating system and you can try it out right now if you have time.
Make this change on your music server to be controlled.
1. Open System Preferences
2. Select Sharing
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3. Check the box next to Screen Sharing
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4. Note the address of the music server. My music server says vnc://10.0.1.25
5. Close out of System Preferences and you're done with the configuration
From your MacBook remote control
1. Open Safari
2. Enter the address of your music server in address bar and hit enter
3. Enter the correct user name and password for the music server when the box pops up
4. The remote desktop should pop up and will allow you complete remote control of your music server
Another Mac application that is used often is called Chicken of the VNC. This is a free app and should do the trick as well. If you want the ultimate solution you can purchase Apple Remote Desktop 3 for $300. It allows you to control up to 10 Macs and to do some incredible management tasks. This is a pretty techie application and is way overkill for an audiophile. Apple has some very neat demo videos on its website Here.
If you are still using OS X Tiger you can use an application called Nettunes. It allows you to use the iTunes interface to control the iTunes application on your music server from your MacBook remote. Very cool application and used by many still on OS X 10.4.x. The reason it does not work on Leopard yet is because a change Apple made that doesn't allow the application to function. I talked to the developer and unfortunately he is still awaiting a fix from Apple.
I know we can be a bit Mac-centric around here, but I do realize a lot of you want Windows solutions as well. An easy remote control solution for PCs is also built into Windows. It is called Remote Desktop Connection on Windows XP and Vista.
To run it, click Start, click All Programs, click Accessories, click Communications, and then click Remote Desktop Connection
Open Remote Desktop Connection by clicking the Start button , clicking All Programs, clicking Accessories, and then clicking Remote Desktop Connection.
NOTE: For Windows Vista (CA Readers - Get Vista Ultimate if you're using Windows!)
You cannot use Remote Desktop Connection to connect to remote (host) computers running the following editions of Windows*Vista:
• Windows*Vista Starter
• Windows*Vista Home Basic
• Windows*Vista Home Basic N
• Windows*Vista Home Premium
However, any edition of Windows*Vista can be running on your computer (the one you want to connect from).
More information straight from Microsoft.
The full blown laptop remote control options are pretty nice indeed. In addition to running your music server you have all the functionality of a computer whether you chose to use it or not. Like it or not this can come in very handy. I was recently listening to some tunes and checked my email from my listening chair. I had an email from Fedex saying they delivered a package I was waiting for. I went outside and there it was waiting for me. FedEx didn't ring the doorbell or anything. Without the email I would have kept the volume at a reasonable level until the package arrived just so I could hear the bell ring. In addition there is nothing more annoying than hearing phantom doorbells within the music you're listening to. For those of you thinking about using a mac Mini as your music server, but hesitating because of the no monitor issue, this option was made for you. A headless Mini and full remote control is just the solution. The coolest thing about all of this has to be the availability of more music without getting off your @$&. I've often thought about picking up more albums by a certain artist shortly after a great listening session. Now, it is possible to download the albums to your network drive and add them to you library with a few mouse clicks. This will be terrible for many people's bank accounts, but the coolness and the enjoyment factors are out of this world.