I hope that when Everett grows up and thinks back to his early childhood, that one of the things he’ll say is “My house was filled with music.” In other words, I’ve been spending some quality time on paternity leave rocking my Squeezebox.
One of the coolest things about the Squeezebox is the fact that it’s powered by open-source software with a vibrant ecosystem of third-party plugins that extend its features in all sorts of cool ways. I’m now closing in on four years of ecstatic Squeezebox ownership, and I just realized I’d never shared the “must have” plugins that really make the Squeezebox really sing. Here’s a quick rundown on how I’ve achieved open-source digital audio nirvana.
- MusicIP. Even though it’s sort-of-abandonware at this point, MusicIP is still the single most compelling add-on for Squeezebox. If you’ve used iTunes’ “Genius” feature, it’s sort of like that, except lots smarter. MusicIP actually generates an acoustic analysis of all of your songs. Then, given a starting song, artist, album or genre, it can find other songs that actually sound similar, which makes for an amazing way to take a “semi-random walk” through your music collection. Not only is MusicIP much smarter than iTunes’ misnamed Genius, it’s very configurable, so you can decide how random those mixes are. (Note: even if you’re not running a Squeezebox, you can still use MusicIP standalone or with iTunes.) MusicIP has single-handedly revolutionized the way I listen to music, and more than anything else, I think it really unlocks the power of an all-digital music experience.
- TrackStat. Long a favorite of the Squeezebox cognoscenti, I’m a recent adopter of TrackStat, Erland Isaksson’s amazing music statistics plugin. TrackStat lets you rate your songs–and even better–it auto-rates songs as you play them. Play something through to completion, and its rating goes up. Skip it before it gets halfway finished and the rating goes down. It also keeps track of how often each song gets played. Over time, it builds up a very rich library of stats about your listening preferences, without you having to lift a finger. Then, Erland’s companion plugin Dynamic Playlists lets you easily build playlists based on your stats, for example to find your favorite not-recently-played songs. Good stuff.
- NPR Radio. Makes it one-click easy to get your favorite NPR stations or programs streaming on your Squeezebox. Now if only KUOW would drop the incredibly repetitive 15-second promo spot they tack onto the beginning of each streaming session, I’d be in internet radio heaven!
- Lazy Search Music. Hey, I’m lazy! Lazy Search Music makes it way easier to quickly search for music using the Squeezebox’s numeric keypad-based remote control. Without Lazy Search, Squeezeserver requires multiple button-pushes to enter each search character. With Lazy Search, you just press each letter once and it does fuzzy matching, which is much much faster.
- FindArt. Lets you find missing cover art for your albums. It’s not truly a mass search-and-download tool (for that I use a standalone program called Album Art Downloader), but it’s a really handy tool for filling in gaps.
I’ve had a Squeezebox as my digital music system for over three years now; it’s still one of the best few hundred bucks I’ve ever spent on electronics.
The Squeezebox’s server software runs on a server. Since 2006, I’ve been using an old Dell Dimension 2350 that we had lying around. But this weekend, I upgraded (slightly) to a Dell Dimension 3000 that my employer Groundwire excessed from its inventory. Wow, what a difference!
The old server had 512MB of RAM and a 2GHZ Celeron. My “new” server has a 1.25GB of RAM and a 3GHZ Pentium 4. My music library is about 24,000 tracks (that’s large-ish, but not huge by community standards, it seems). While my old box never swapped, it was often running pretty close to its RAM limits, and the web interface could be sluggish at times. Under the new server, it’s smooth and fast. I suspect it’s additional RAM rather than the faster processor that’s making most of the difference. I also swapped in a set of optimized MySQL caching settings (thanks Squeeze community!), which allows the system to take more advantage of its increased RAM.
Bottom line: I shoulda upgraded the RAM years ago.
UPDATE: OK, turns out the culprit was my dying Linksys BEFW11S4 router, which started choking as soon as I enabled WPA. iPeng is now chugging along like a champ, and I’m in iPod-Squeezebox remote control heaven. Thanks, Coolio!
Molly got an iPod Touch last week, and so the first thing I tried to make it do was serve as a sexy touchscreen remote control for my Squeezebox digital music player.
A quick search immediately led me to iPeng, an iPhone/iPod Touch skin for the Squeezebox web interface. (Continuing a fine open-source tradition of powerful products with goofy names, I might add.) Eureka, I thought, I’m home free. It’s simple, elegant, has had five releases, and most of the folks in the Squeezbox community seem to be quite impressed.
Unfortuntely, I’m finding it to be unusably slow. All of the pages except for the homepage timeout. Now, I know that the iPhone/iPod Safari will only wait about five seconds for a server to respond, but surely my Squeezebox can manage that. Apparently not.
I’m not sure whether the problem is:
- My large-ish music library (~25,000 tracks)
- My slow-ish server CPU (Celeron 2.4 GHz)
The iPeng skins seems to work pretty well when I hit it with laptop web browser.
I’m bummed. Any ideas?
The SlimDevices team made a final release of SqueezeCenter 7 today.Â SqueezeCenter (formerly SlimServer) is the open-source music library/player at the heart of the amazing Squeezebox digital music player.
SqueezeCenter 7 is a massive, game-changing improvement on the old SlimServer software, which was no slouch.Â The biggest change is a seriously overhauled user interface, which takes great advantage of AJAX to offer a rich, eye-pleasing experience.Â There are also a bunch of changes under the hood, but previous versions of SlimServer were so feature-rich that these are mostly incremental.
If you’ve got a Squeezebox (or a Transporter), SqueezeCenter 7 is a must-have upgrade.Â I’ve been using beta versions for the past few months, and it’s been a stable, enjoyable experience.
Now, if only I had a Duet.Â I lust for that remote control.Â
Just about two months ago I took the plunge, bought a SlimDevices Squeezebox network music player and finally committed to digitizing my music collection. Here’s a two-month report.
First of all, a quick rundown on my setup. I’ve got:
- A Squeezebox 3 digital music player, connected to…
- A pile of unremarkable cheapo stereo components in my living room
- A garden variety PC running Windows XP in the office
- A 500 GB external hard drive connected to the PC
Why did I choose the Squeezebox in the first place? Couple reasons.
- I have a lot of music, and I wanted to digitize it once, without data loss, and in an open, non-proprietary format. So using an iPod as my primary music storage device was right out.
- My computer is fairly far from my stereo, and running either speaker wire or ethernet cable from computer to stereo wasn’t feasible.
- I didn’t want to spend money on a NAS (network attached storage) device, or clutter up my living room with a computer. (I briefly thought of buying a Mac Mini, but $600 was a bit rich for my blood.)
The $300 Squeezebox (plus another $220 for a big ol’ external hard drive) was an affordable solution that would let me store and play high-quality digital music with few compromises.
So, how are things going, two months in?
After many months of hemming and hawing, I finally took the plunge and committed to going digital with my music collection.
I ordered a 500GB external hard drive and a Squeezebox to wirelessly connect my digital music up to my stereo. The drive will run off Molly’s existing desktop computer in the office/guest room. But we’ll be able to command the stereo with the Squeezebox’s little remote control — or by hitting its web interface from our laptops.
That should be pretty cool.
I’m sure that hours of enjoyable CD ripping and tagging lie ahead. My next dilemma: FLAC vs VBR MP3. I think it’ll probably be FLAC — I’ve got the gigabytes to spare and I don’t ever want to re-rip my CDs as formats change.
Possibly in the future: a Kloss Model Two micro-stereo system to replace my bulky pile of mostly-low-end components. But that will have to wait for my bank balance to recover.
No iPod for me, though. I’m a loyal NPR listener on the bus.