I’ve been meaning for a long time to continue my line of posts about my home media set up. Anyone who vaguely knows me (or stalks this blog) will know that I recently moved down to London, into a flat I can (sort of) call my own, so for the first time I’ve been able to play about with AV equipment in my way!
In this first post, I’m going to talk a bit about how I’m currently using the set up to serve my music collection around the flat, to work, and to my phone for on-the-go listening. It’s worth noting at this point that everything here relies on an old machine running Ubuntu server that’s currently sat in my cupboard, a solution that won’t work for everyone…
I’ve mentioned previously that I was looking into using DAAP to get at my music. This ended pretty quickly when I realised the clients available for listening are fairly crap. The actual configuration is fiddly, and I was after a nice functional GUI to access my music through. DAAP failed at pretty much all of this, so I went in search of another solution. After trying many different software packages (commercial and otherwise), I struck upon Subsonic, which seemed at first glance to do everything I was after. Essentially, it requires a server (available for all platforms) with access to your music collection, and will then spit the content back out to its own web UI (accessible through a personal URL if you’re not like me and running some kind of dynamic DNS service) plus it has a number of native players available for different platforms (including mobile). Best of all – it’s free! They withhold some features until you’ve given a small donation, but it’s entirely usable as a free package!
The web UI is basic, but skinnable (I’m still working with the basic skin – works well), and gives you access at a glance to all your artists, albums and playlists (although I’ve not done much with playlists yet, that part does seem a bit tricky). This UI also lets you play with the ID3 tags on your music, including the grabbing of album artwork off the internet, so if you’re as OCD as me about music tagging, your needs are well catered for! Within the web application your play queue appears at the bottom, with the current playing song in a lovely flash player. From the main window you can add things onto the end of the play queue, or change the playing song entirely. It’s basic, but functional, and if you want anything more advanced there are a number of native players available for all operating systems.
What interested me most was the quality of the iOS native applications. I’ve tried all of the ones recommended on Subsonics App page, and a couple that are in the app store but not endorsed officially, but I have now struck upon iSub as a favourite. It allows the caching of songs on your phone for playback when no data signal is available (although you have to have played the song for it to be cached – I’d like a feature where you could pre-cache songs to the phone), plus it integrates nicely with the iOS player API (play/pause whilst locked etc).
One other massive bonus was my discovery of a XMBC plugin for Subsonic (XMBC is what I use to browse media on my TV, as I’ve mentioned previously, more in a future post). This lets me listen to songs through my TV in the flat without having to bother turning a computer on – a massive bonus, and much more sociable if you have company!
The only downside of Subsonic is the reliance on a stable internet connection to an always-on music server. There are commercially hosted solutions available, but since I already had a machine running 24/7, and have recently splashed out on Virgin Media’s 30Mb fibre connection, it made sense to run the package from home.
So there it is – a whole-hearted recommendation for Subsonic (they’re honestly not paying me for this!) and it’s associated other applications. Tune in soon for a peek into the world of my TV/Movie system!