Streaming Made Simple – a guide
Links provided at the end of this blog
Streaming is fantastic but appears incredibly complex. Here I’ve tried to give you an insight without too much complexity and I hope this throws some light for you.
I’d also start by emphasising the importance of a good hi-fi shop in helping you navigate these waters and decide which path is the best for you. It is extremely handy when you have problems to have someone who can tell you what is causing them and what to do about fixing them and getting you back to listening to music. Our experiences have formed our choices and recommendations and we like to always take a belt and braces approach. That way we know our product intimately and can assist you in a meaningful way if you experience problems. But I digress…..
We all have large music collections and the larger they are, the harder they are to access and enjoy properly. They also take up a lot of room.
Many people have also got used to using i-Tunes to listen to music because of the convenience that it offers and the ease you can browse, listen and even make playlists. Sadly Apple are the Devil and have decided to set the default to low quality. This means that when you rip your CD’s or download music from i-Tunes you are paying for something that isn’t very good quality. I’ll repeat that – they’re selling you music COMPRESSED and they’re even COMPRESSING the music you’ve already bought.
Whilst it is a fact that you can monkey around in the settings of i-Tunes to select uncompressed, doing so it a little bit like searching for the Holy Grail. And even if you manage to do it you can still only buy music in compressed form. You can’t do this retrospectively either – once music is compressed the quality can’t be recovered.
On the other hand streaming properly can offer remarkable improvements in quality and also enable you to enjoy high definition audio. It can also offer all the joy and convenience that you have gotten used to with i-Tunes.
My first experience of streaming was when I heard a 24 bit High Definition version of Blackbird by The Beatles. Any scepticism I had evaporated in an instant and I realised I needed this quality at home.
The thing I noticed after I’d had a Streamer at home was how much time I spent listening to music as opposed to looking for it. Also I purchased a streamer that was far cheaper than my CD player and yet outperformed it substantially. So sound first and ease of using second. Both big scores in my book.
Here is how to do it properly – Archiving your music
Storing music on a laptop or a PC is troublesome. For a start these devices can be unreliable and are items that we replace fairly often. Also storing a lot of music takes up space and can slow down the operation of these devices. That’s extremely bad. Slow machines are frustrating and lock up and with all the endless antiviral and windows updates you will find accessing your music frustrating and night on hellish. Storing music on your computer also means that your computer has to always be on.
Instead store your music on a Network or NAS Drive. This plugs into your router and sits there doing extremely little except serving you music. These are reliable, not expensive, can be expanded should more space be required and don’t impact on the performance of your computer or your choice of computer.
We recommend QNAP NAS drives like the one above. We recommend these because in our experience they are the simplest, the best and the most reliable. Techies may tell you they know better but we have experiences many many network storage devices and let us assure you these are by far the best. When we have problems it is normally because our customer has installed a NAS that his techie friend or IT specialist has recommended!
When you order the QNAP you also need to order a 1, 2 or 3 TB drive to fit into the above. That will allow you masses of storage. The QNAP contains small opperating system that runs something called Twonky Media which is basically a music organising program that enables you to browse your music by any means you wish (artist, album, song, genre etc).
As an after note; avoid USB drives as the main way of storing your music. They’re a bit cheaper and brilliant for keeping back-ups or for lots of other purposes but for streaming they are poor because they are NOT network devices.
(I’ll include links at the bottom to tell you where you can get everything you need from – we will gladly fit and test and even update and configure these free of charge when you purchase a streamer or DAC. Otherwise we charge £75)
Once you have your storage device and this is plugged into your router it will be visible on your network. Create a folder on it called Music and you are now ready to archive your CD’s.
There is now a choice of the software you need to do this and this depends on if you used a Windows based computer or a MAC. If you have a choice may we strongly recommend you use a Windows based computer. We don’t say this because of any preference that we have but because almost all streaming and ripping software is designed for Windows and it is both simpler and easier to do many of the things that need doing. I suspect part of this is because of Apple’s preference for i-Tunes.
If you use Windows you need to download DB Power Amp
If you use MAC you need to download JRiver Media Centre
Again there will be more software that will do the job. Our recommendation is based on reliability, simplicity of use and the knowledge we have of the software that enables us to help you if it falls over.
Once this software is installed on your computer you need to set the program to store music in the “music” file you’ve created on your NAS. You will also need to tell the software that you want to store your music as lossless FLAC files. Both of these tasks seem complex but are easily done and only need doing the once.
You are now ready to start archiving your CD’s. Put a disc in your computers drive and the software will do the rest. It will consult the internet music databases and find all the data relating to your CD. It will then make a bit perfect copy of your CD, storing it on the NAS drive. There will be no loss of data and it will give you a 100% copy as well as storing the artwork, the track listing and all the other data that relates to that album.
That’s it; you are building up a lossless library of your music. You can also choose to add music that is stored on other drives or on memory sticks. You can choose to add MP3 music if you wish but of course this will be streamed at a lower quality.
How to play your music
There are two ways of playing back your archived music. The first is using a Streaming Network Player (Streamer). The second is using your computer.
Using A Streamer
A Streamer will plug into your stereo system just like a CD player did but it will additionally connect to your network. The best way of doing this is to use a CAT-5 Ethernet cable. Cat 5 isn’t expensive and can run long runs (we’ve certainly run over 100 m without problem) so for most people it is the best way to connect. Wireless is not an option if you ever fancy listening to High Definition Audio files. It doesn’t have the bandwidth and will simple cause problems.
If you can’t run wires use Belkin or Netgear Ethernet down mains adaptors. These cost about £50 for a pair and will work absolutely fine. They basically use the mains to send Ethernet and they do so without any loss of quality.
The Streamer will see all the music in your library and play it. Streamers themselves take many forms and come at different quality levels. They will also provide you access to internet radio and often to additional streaming services like Spotify.
Some Streamers are actually systems incorporating amplifiers. Other are just players and plug onto your existing equipment.
Most people will find the experience of using a Streamer to be the simplest and most enjoyable. Part of this is the APP that will allow browsing of your library and enable you to also enjoy additional benefits like browsing artwork and even creating playlists.
These are free to install and work on Apple and Android devices and make the experience of browsing your music library enjoyable.
Using A Computer
Another way to Stream music is to use a computer or laptop. In order to do this you need some software and you need a good quality DAC. You’ll connect the computer to the DAC via a USB cable and the DAC (Digital to Analogue converter) will convert the music into a language that your amplifier or stereo system can understand.
Depending on the quality of the DAC you can get very good results streaming this way. The only downside is your computer has to be on, somewhere near the DAC and of course the DAC is near your stereo system. You will most likely use your laptop or PC to actually browse and control your music; although there are ways of controlling your music using the JRiver Media centre software.
Streaming sounds better than CD. The main reason for this is that it recovers 100% of the data every time. Even the best CD players can’t do that.
High Definition Audio moves the goalposts further. In simple terms there is 16 bits of data on a CD and High Definition Audio files have 24 or more. With a well mastered recording the difference can be quite staggering and the results are much closer to a high end turntable than CD.
These links will help you access some of the items needed for Streaming. Or simply to find out more about them.
Click here – to find the software for archiving your music collection
Click here – to find the best value place to buy QNAP network storage devices.
Click here – to see an ethernet switch. These can come in handy if you don’t have enough ports on your router or if your ethernet suffers heavy traffic from multiple users or on-line gaming.
Here are some useful links for Buying High Definition Audio
Linn Music - Linn have long been exponents of High Definition Audio and initially their choices of music were eclectic and somewhat niche. Now however they have agreements with other major labels and are releasing archived 24 bit recordings from some of the most influential albums of all time.
Naim Audio’s label is a similar story and offers a wide range of product from their own label.
Bowers and Wilkins have a subscription service that costs £33.95 a year. For this you get two free albums a month plus access to all their diverse catalogue.
HD Tracks is our favourite site and offers a massive range of music.
Here you’ll find a list of music available to download from a variety of websites.
To conclude I’ve tried to make something fairly complex simple but in reality you don’t need to know how it works in order to enjoy it. If you have any questions you know where we are. You can contact me directly firstname.lastname@example.org