Thursday, January 24, 2008

Playing Internet Radio

I live in one of the larger radio markets in the country. And yet it seems when I turn on the radio I've got fifty bazillion country stations to choose from. Or an almost equal number of "Adult Contemporary," which means mediocre thirty year old rock that aired when I was in High School, for pity's sake.


Which is why I love broadband and streaming internet music: now I can listen to mediocre fifty year old lounge music. Or other even more obscure and narrowly defined genres.

Unlike the early days, when you had to have a computer turned on to listen to this stuff, these days, a number of standalone devices are available. Along with internet streams, these devices will typically allow you to play your own collection of MP3s (or other digital audio files).

After much research, I ended up getting (for Christmas) a Roku Soundbridge, which I have hooked up to my sound system (unlike this model, which has no speakers, the Soundbridge radio has speakers and the ability to tune into regular AM/FM stations). To use it, you configure it to attach to either a WiFi or wired ethernet network, then select the source for your tunes: programmable presets, Internet streams via the RadioRoku website (free!) or by a media server on your local network (more on this later).

RadioRoku is very slick, giving you access to over 4000 (and counting) internet streams from around the world. Once you've set up a free account, you can do searches, save favorites, add presets and manage your Soundbridge device. This is pretty cool--that it is free is amazing.

Setting up a media server gives you the ability to stream your own music collection. If you use iTunes, Windows Media Player 10 or Yahoo Music Jukebox, you've already got a server -- that's how you share music using these programs. Since I've got several computers in the household network, I'm running the Firefly server on the studio Linux box, and TVersity on a miscellaneous Windows box. TwonkyVision has a commercial product which I also recommend checking out; it runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, and can be use to server video, if you happen to be using a compatible device.

I like my Soundbridge so much I went and got another similar (albeit less sleek) device: the Linksys WMLS11B. Like the SB, it will do Internet streaming, accept preset, and play from a local media server. On the plus side, it has its own (so-so) speaker system. On the minus side, they aren't as well made and the software is a little on the flaky side. Now discontinued, they are available on eBay for between $30 - $50 and have a fairly active user community. Instead of RadioRoku, the Linksys WMLS11B uses a Linksys-branded version of VTuner, a third party service that comes with a one-time cost of $29.

Other devices, both high end and low, that encompass this niche include Slimdevice's Squeezebox, DLink's DSM-120 and Netgear's MP101 (also discontinued but available on eBay). There seems to be a move away from music only players in favor of "media" (read: "video") players. While these have their virtues, they pretty much mean you will be turning on your TV to listen to music. Not exactly what I want to do.

One note: you may see the Linksys WMB54G Music Bridge. Be aware this is essentially a virtual sound card -- its functionality is entangled with your Windows computer. Unlike the above mentioned devices that will stream directly from the internet, this cannot, and as far as I can tell, will play whatever would have been heard on your computer: system event noises included.

Have fun!


Dan Brekke said...

That is very cool stuff. I just got my first MP3 player -- OK, an iPod. I'm not of the generation that feels comfortable wearing it everywhere, but it's great in the car, and we have one of those iPod specific speaker/playback systems (from Linksys) that works pretty well.

Amazing where we're going with this stuff. And yes, it sure beat listening to "Go back, Jack, and do it again" over and over and over and over again.

Dr Ralph said...

I'm the only iPod-less member of our household, but finally got a cellphone that is pitched as an MP3 player. It's no iPod (semi-lousy music management) but it does have a 2GB micro SD memory card. I mainly use it when I go walking.