• Wireless Music Distribution Part Three

    In the second part of this series I discussed pushing music from a music server to another location in a residence using Apple Airport Express units. These work wonderful for playing the same music in every location as the Airport Express only follows the lead of the main music server. Playing different music in each location of a residence is a little different story, but it can be accomplished in much the same fashion. Substituting AppleTVs for the Airport Express units allows a listener to either push music from the main music server, the exact same way as an Airport Express, or pull music from the main music server independently of what's playing on the server. Plus, using an iPod Touch or iPhone this can all be controlled from a single location.

     

     

    The concept of pushing music from a music server to an Airport Express is pretty straight forward. Select the Express from within iTunes and music is sent via wired or wireless networks to the device. The express connects to an audio system via its digital or analog interface and that's it. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph this only allows one music selection to play throughout the network because the music server outputs its audio signal to the Express without any configuration possible. Using an AppleTV takes the basic push method of music streaming and adds the option to pull music using the AppleTV graphical user interface.

    Using the AppleTV should be done with the unit connected to a television. I've done it blindly in the past and it's more trouble than it's worth. Once connected to a TV the visual display is almost identical to Apple's Front Row application. As detailed in the following video, the user can browse an entire collection of music, movies, photos, and even YouTube. This process may seem very basic for some readers, but the whole thing can be hard to grasp if one hasn't seen or used Front Row or an AppleTV before this time. When a user selects a song to play via the AppleTV the song is pulled from the main music server's library* to the AppleTV and output via HDMI or an Optical TosLink connection. At the same time an AppleTV in another location can be used in the same fashion to select a completely different song. In addition the main music server can go about its business unaffected by the two AppleTVs pulling music from its library. Thus three different music selections can be played fro the same source library using iTunes and AppleTVs. This can be expanded and Airport Express units can be interwoven with the network simultaneously. The whole solution is quite flexible.

    *Synchronizing is also possible, but that's a topic for another article. For simplicity synchronizing will not be covered at this time. Synchronizing allows the main music server to be powered off. The configuration discussed in this article requires the main music server to be powered on for any music playback.


    The last piece of the puzzle is remote control of the music playback for each location. This is equally as flexible. An iPod Touch or iPhone can be used to control each AppleTV from anywhere on the wireless network and to control the main music server. The free Apple Remote application works like a charm in this situation. The standard white Apple remote can also be used when within infrared sight of each AppleTV. The white remote navigates through the menu displayed on a television while the iPod Touch does not require any display.

    A quick summary that may help newbies implement a wireless music distribution system.
    1. Airport Express is one way. Music is pushed to the Airport Express from the main music server. All Airport Express units are either playing the same music as the main music server or they are "off."

    2. AppleTV includes all the playback functions of the Airport Express plus, allows the user to pull music from the main music server independent of what the main music server is playing. AppleTV also has a great user interface navigable via television display.

    The following diagram shows AppleTVs in a configuration with three independent zones / locations. Each of the three locations can play music and be controlled separately as long as the main music server is powered on. The video below is a simple demonstration of two zones selecting separate music simultaneously. It's fairly basic but provides a clear picture of the process.

       
    Music Distribution via AppleTV
    Music Distribution via AppleTV
    click to enlarge
       


       
    Configuring AirTunes
        High Resolution 1280 x 800 version 12.04 MB    
    Comments 32 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi bottlerocket - Thanks very much for the comments. Ask and you shall receive. Do you have anything specific in mind? Some wireless distribution products don't thrill me and are very limited. Thus, I tend to steer clear of them. My focus for this series is easy and inexpensive. But, one great thing about writing online is the flexibility to help readers instantly and publish new articles within hours/days instead of weeks/months. Plus, I don't have any bureaucracy to work with around here. Did you mention free time? That isn't in my lexicon any more.<br />
      <br />
      I'm totally on board with the synching feature of the AppleTV. A topic for part 3.5 maybe :~)<br />
      <br />
      P.S. Did you see the * in the main article?<br />
      <i>*Synchronizing is also possible, but that's a topic for another article. For simplicity synchronizing will not be covered at this time. Synchronizing allows the main music server to be powered off. The configuration discussed in this article requires the main music server to be powered on for any music playback.</i>
    1. Wavelength's Avatar
      Wavelength -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Also there is Airfoil that let's and gives you more control over AirTunes.<br />
      <br />
      But what we really want to see work is Jack. There is Jackosx and Jack for linux right now which should allow streaming of any device to 32bits per channel in any direction over TCP/IP.<br />
      <br />
      http://www.jackosx.com/<br />
      http://jackaudio.org/<br />
      <br />
      What I am trying to do is get one of these cheap linux boxes to work with the linux version of jack and then use the OSX to stream to it creating a kind of a wireless USB link.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks<br />
      Gordon
    1. cmason16's Avatar
      cmason16 -
      Gordon,<br />
      <br />
      I have Jack on my G5 and am having issues with getting the sample rate past 24/33. I have not played with it a lot, but it seems to be somewhat buggy.<br />
      <br />
      Chuck
    1. yzurdiaga's Avatar
      yzurdiaga -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      This has been a really good series, and many thanks. The whole site is unique, and it's been a big help getting my digital system off the ground. I have 2 topics, so I'll split them into 2 posts.<br />
      <br />
      Topic 1 - PULL SETUP<br />
      Would it be helpful to understand the steps to getting ATV pull going? There are several major steps that a 1st-timer might want to know, and I'm pretty sure they're different than those covered in the Push setup. If my memory is correct they might be, on an Apple system:<br />
      - Set iTunes Prefs for Sharing<br />
      - Set iTunes Prefs to look for ATVs (can uncheck syncing, and I'd recommend it per until you come out with your piece on syncing)<br />
      - Connect to Shared music from ATV: choose between Shared Library and Connect to iTunes. The iTunes option will include the syncing option. Connect to iTunes has been really unstable for me, even with the syncing option turned off in iTunes prefs. (I have a large, networked library, which may be an issue. See below)<br />
      - Cut to Chris' sweet-looking vid on navigating music in Front Row<br />
      <br />
      It may also be good to understand some of the +/-s of pulling. Some of these observations may be specific to my setup, but others are for all. And, please understand that overall, I'm a fan of what Apple's doing to simplify high quality digital music. The products are much better these days; as little as a year ago I wouldn't have considered iTunes as a platform in my plan, and I'm pretty technical. <br />
      <br />
      Pros and Cons:<br />
      + Simple navigation<br />
      + Album art available on the connected display (good recommendation, btw)<br />
      - A downgrade from the features of the iTunes interface. This is mostly the availability of the 3-pane selectability of factors like genre, artist, album, etc. I love to multi-select some genres and launch shuffle play for playing to the mood of the moment.<br />
      - Availability of other streaming sources to the ATV, other than iTunes the app. I have a ReadyNAS with iTunes streaming service, but the ATV's coded pairing defeats the use of the Firefly iTunes streaming service, at least I haven't found a workaround.<br />
      <br />
      Downsides I've experienced. Maybe it's my network, but...<br />
      - Network drop-off. I have to reconnect the ATV to the network, reentering the network password, pretty much every time I return to this room's system, the living room. I turn off the display, DAC, pre-amp, and amp when I leave the room. <br />
      - Stability. So far, stability has not been good, and iTunes has hung several times with a large collection and a Belkin Pre-N router that has been rock-solid in an Apple household compared to all other brands, including AEBS. Using the Simply pushing music to the ATV has been good. Using the Shared Library option instead has been better, much better - took a while to read the whole list.
    1. yzurdiaga's Avatar
      yzurdiaga -
      So my Music Distribution design involves a ReadyNAS network storage device that's been a very good product. The bundled features are valuable, like backup and 6 streaming services, and the management interface is good.<br />
      <br />
      SITUATION<br />
      I've bumped into a couple of complications, and I'm wondering if anyone has better options than what I'm considering. Overall, I'd like the ReadyNAS to be standalone, available to everyone in the house. That way, I can shut my laptop or take it on a trip (and avoid buying another desktop ;-) ).<br />
      <br />
      1) AAIF files are not really supported by the iTunes streaming service, Firefly, which is otherwise very good - fast and easy to use. Firefly can see the files, but .aif files do not have tags as part of their architecture. So, just the song name: no Artist, Album, Genre, etc. Per Chris' recommendation, I've ripped an extensive library to .aif, and performance otherwise is excellent.<br />
      <br />
      2) Apple TV cannot make use of the Firefly streaming service because it does not SEEM to support the coded paring that ATV uses as a method.<br />
      <br />
      OPTIONS<br />
      1) Re-rip the library Apple Lossless. Still can't directly connect the ATV that I know of, and I'd have to keep the laptop available.<br />
      <br />
      2) Install a different streaming service on the ReadyNAS. I'm not sure that's even permiss-able with it's proprietary OS, and then upgrades could turn into an incompatible mess.<br />
      <br />
      3) Set up an additional identity on my daughter's desktop, and make sure that it's always logged in and running iTunes.<br />
      <br />
      4) Buy a Mac mini and set it up to be of service. It has the advantage of lower power consumption than the NAS, but OUCH!, I thought I was avoiding having yet another device to pay for and manage. (I could have just started with a Mini and expanded storage, foresaking the NAS features and avoiding the expense of an ATV, but it's a bit late for that.)<br />
      <br />
      Ideas welcome.<br />
      <br />
      Best,<br />
      ken
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Ken - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. Thank you very much for the detailed posts. It sounds like you know what you're doing and you've run into the common problems with your chosen technologies. Unfortunately there is no silver bullet at the moment and I'm sure your research lead you to that conclusion as well. <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <i>"I'd like the ReadyNAS to be standalone, available to everyone in the house. That way, I can shut my laptop or take it on a trip (and avoid buying another desktop ;-) )."</i><br />
      <br />
      My suggestion for this is to do what I do. The NAS drive holds all the music and each computer in the house points to the NAS drive as the source of all its music. That way only the NAS drive remains powered up. The one issue with this is when files are ripped to the NAS from one computer the other computers don't see the new files unless they rescan the music folder. To get around this you can store the iTunes library file on the NAS as well and everyone would have the same music. The issue with this one is you won't want more than one computer to have the library open at a time.<br />
      <br />
      I've use Firefly streaming service but I'm not sold on it. I don't know of a way to allow an AppleTV to use the NAS as a source via Firefly or something entirely different. I'm sure it can be done, but I'm not going down that path.<br />
      <br />
      The Mac Mini path you mentioned would be really simple but of course mean you have to spend an extra $700 :~(<br />
      <br />
      Let me know what path you think you'll take. I'll help any way I can.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. silverarrows's Avatar
      silverarrows -
      Recently purchased an ATV. Pretty happy with it so far, although it is quirky at times. One thing I'm very pleased with is the sound quality. Using a cheap toslink it sounds on the same level as my CD transport with an AES/EBU cable that cost quite a bit more.<br />
      <br />
      Initially I had it set up as a push from iTunes. Worked fine but my preference is for a pull as I can see the coverflow on the ATV plus it frees up iTunes for other things. The process of making the ATV a push was kind of a fluke for me. I had to start by removing my ATV from iTunes first. I then added the shared library from my iTunes which is on a PC with the music coming from a NAS. The shared library showed up as "Shared Music" and while it did work, I was not able to use it with my iPod Touch under the ATV library. I then connected the ATV to iTunes separately to sync my radio stations and podcasts. After that process, I could then see my library through ATV and the Touch, but no longer as Shared Music but now part of the ATV's library. When I add songs to the library on iTunes, I have to just hit sync and the ATV's library will pick it up. Somehow through the Touch only, it is picking up a playlist that I did not sync at all. So, as confusing as it is, I do have it working now. I just hope I can replicate it in the future when I need to do it again.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi silverarrows - Great to hear you're enjoying the AppleTV. It really is a handy device.
    1. bluesky's Avatar
      bluesky -
      very good information, I like it. thank you for your share.<br />
      here I have another good share: Tradestead, there are many kinds of lovely things I like it very much!
    1. reedermw's Avatar
      reedermw -
      I'm glad to see there is a site dedicated to digital streaming info. I have heard that Squeezebox is better quality than Apple TV from a number of different sources. I contacted Bolder Cable to check into their mods for the SB and he mentioned that SB was clearly superior. However, in my own tests, I have not found this to be true. The Toslink output of the Apple TV in my setup is much higher quality than either coax or optical out of the SB. <br />
      <br />
      I have tried 2 different DAC's and confirmed the findings in both cases. I'm using some highly resolving Magnepan speakers so maybe I can hear the differences more, I'm not sure. Ironically, I think the difference may be jitter on the stock SB because I'm losing high frequency detail and those mis-aligned samples are dropping into the audible bass region making it muddy. <br />
      <br />
      I think the only way to get the SB to sound as good as the ATV would be to pair it with a re-clocking DAC or upgrade the power supply in the SB. I'm not inclined to invest another $1k into upgrading the SB. So in spite of all the info to the contrary, the ATV is the better network transport than the stock SB Classic. <br />
      <br />
      Have any of you run into this? Perhaps a better DAC would compensate for the differences and allow either to perform equally well? Given that I like the sound of DAC, I'll likely sell the SB Classic and just use the ATV.<br />
      <br />
      Here's some more detail of my AB tests:<br />
      <br />
      I'm using Apple Lossless encoded files for the AB tests. One difference is that the ATV decodes the ALAC files natively while the SB decodes them on a SqueezeCenter server and streams down WAV or FLAC (I've tried both). Perhaps the data is being compromised before it reaches the SB? So I re-ripped my test CD's in FLAC for the SB and AB'd ALAC/ATV vs FLAC/SB and the ATV still beat it.<br />
      <br />
      I have tested both SPDIF outputs on the SB. The Coax is much better than the Toslink but still not equal to the Toslink of the ATV. I'm using the same cables in both cases wherever possible.<br />
      <br />
      I have tested with 2 different DAC's and while the sound was different, the ATV still bested the SB.<br />
      <br />
      So here's my question--have any of you found the quality lacking in the Squeezebox Classic or am I missing something? Do you think my DAC's are the issue? I'm sure I'll get flamed for suggesting that the ATV is better sounding than the SB but that is my finding.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi reedermw - Welcome to Computer Audiophile and thanks very much for the detailed post.<br />
      <br />
      I agree with much of what you said. I reviewed the Bolder SB a while ago http://www.computeraudiophile.com/bolder-cable-company-squeezebox-duet-review<br />
      <br />
      I much prefer the AppleTV to the SB for many reasons.
    1. dsbourque's Avatar
      dsbourque -
      I just purchased the Bryston DAC, based in part to your great review. While I am very pleased with the purchase, it has surfaced the fact that the Apple TV seems to dumb down audio sources to 44.1 khz. I am running the ATV to the DAC via TOSLINK. Am I doing something wrong? If not, is the Airport Express an option that won't insist on downgrading the sample rate? Thanks.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Unfortunately the Apple wireless music products only output 44.1 audio streams. There's nothing you're doing wrong.
    1. dsbourque's Avatar
      dsbourque -
      Thanks...what are the options for getting full data rate to the Bryston?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      It depends on what you mean by full data rate 24/88.2, 24/96, 24/176.4, 24/192 ...<br />
      <br />
      If you want wireless and 24/96 the Logitech Transporter will work. Otherwise a directly connected optical cable from a Mac to the DAC will work up to 24/96. I use a Lynx AES16e card from my Mac to my DAC via AES/EBU and it supports up to 24/192.
    1. silverarrows's Avatar
      silverarrows -
      I recently switched over from the SB Classic to the ATV. Initially I had my music in FLAC, played through the SB. I then tried AIFF and it sounded significantly better. When I tried to get some opinions on this I was resoundingly attacked on other boards for even asking if it was possible that FLAC might not sound "right". Didn't know FLAC was such a religion. This is probably the only open forum for discussing such issues. I was happy with the sound of the SB playing AIFF (which was connected through the coax to a DAC), but it did seem to me that the sound was lacking somewhat, and still not the same as my CD transport.<br />
      <br />
      I then purchased the ATV and was amazingly surprised at how good it sounded, even with a cheap toslink cable. I switched the SB to toslink and it still sounded the same as the coax, and was still lacking. Needless to say, I have since sold off the SB. The ATV is a bit more quirky with the setup, and overall requires more work but it is worth it. With the SB I like that fact that it can pretty much play anything, including cue files. Also, you do not have to create a library. I just pointed it to my network drive. The ATV, however, has forced me to organize my music, which in the long run will pay off. So, despite all of the hard comments directed at my by FLAC users elsewhere, I know what works for me. Just in case, I have purchased a better, but still inexpensive toslink cable, but I can say that the ATV has truly made CD players obsolete for me.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Silverarrows - Thanks for sharing your experience and providing details for all the CA readers.
    1. usernaim250's Avatar
      usernaim250 -
      Hi, I've got an AEx in my living room and can't get an uninterrupted stream by pushing too it. Sometimes it will go an hour w/o issue, other times I get hiccups every few minutes. Some of them are definitely from network traffic, others unknown, presumably interference, and I think some are from my Airport Extreme spinning down the USB drives where the music resides.<br />
      <br />
      So one solution to this would be a pull technology like Atv. By my library is many times the capacity of the Atv. So it still has to stream, but if it streams ahead, rather than in real time, and plays selections of disks, that would solve my problems. Does it do this? If so, what is its algorithm? If I highlight an album, or a playlist, does it immediately start pulling the whole thing? A song at a time? <br />
      <br />
      I could handle a bit of a delay at the start to avoid interruptions. Is this possible?
    1. DavidL's Avatar
      DavidL -
      The Transporter includes a DAC. Is there a device with only digital audio out (AES + SPDIF, RCA & optical) that can receive and decode 24/96 wireless transmissions of audio (via 802.11n I guess)? I'd like to avoid having a computer with hard disc (which includes Apple TV) adjacent to the hi-fi system. Surely the computing task and associated buffers required could readily be handled by a RAM-based computer (preferably with an audio-grade power supply) with software to handle Apple Lossless, AIFF, FLAC and WAV formats?<br />
      <br />
      I have had an Apple TV for a couple of years and it has worked faultlessly. The music is on RAID internal discs on a Mac Pro connected to an Airport Extreme by ethernet. I use the Mac Pro for cpu- and disc-intensive computation (video editing, rendering, DVD creation etc) and have had no transmission problems (the Apple TV is downstairs at the other end of the house).<br />
      <br />
      David
    1. bixby's Avatar
      bixby -
      Like UserNaim250 I have a question about pull mechanics. Is the player iTunes on the main Mac? And if so can the library be 150gb on the main unit? <br />
      <br />
      Now for the tricky part. I have a pc in my office and would like to transport the music from the ATV to my pc for playback via my sound card to my office audio system. Would I go toslink out of the ATV to the soundcard toslink in and then control volume via my soundcard mixer. Or do I need to use itunes player on my pc (bad in my opinion)?<br />
      <br />
      My thought is that the soundcard I have would be better than the ATV analog outs.