Listening to music over wifi?

Hey lazyweb! Long time, no write.

I’m wondering what setup people use to deal with the following situation. Upstairs, I have an Ubuntu 8.04 server with 71GB of MP3s. Downstairs, I have a stereo system. In between the two is a wireless network. How can I listen to the music downstairs, without simply copying the lot (or subsets thereof) onto a local disk on some appliance down there?

Currently, I’m using a VNC client on a Nokia 770 to control a JuK window on the server. This works great, believe it or not! KDE 3 can be coaxed into providing a fantastic UI for a small touchscreen. This then uses Pulseaudio to transmit the sound output using the ESD protocol over TCP to the ESD server on the N770, and the N770 plays back the sound.

Until a few months ago, this worked great. However, something (either hardware changes, network topology changes, or an upgrade to Ubuntu 8.04 on the server) has resulted in effective bitrates between the server and the N770 dropping frequently — hence the audio drops out or changes pitch, rendering it unlistenable :(

I’ve tried using UPNP servers (specifically mediatomb, ushare, and Twonkymedia), with the built-in Media Streamer app on the N770. All fail. MP3s cut off near the end, M3U playlists aren’t supported, and sometimes Media Streamer just locks up. In addition it’s pretty messy trying to get the UPNP servers to notice changes to the MP3 collection.

I’ve also tried using Squeezecenter (nee Slimserver), but the MP3 stream playback support on the N770 is pretty atrocious; there are audible decoding artifacts.

So — anyone got a suggestion? Even something involving iTunes might be helpful — as long as it can at least preserve the Linux server. I’m unlikely to host the full MP3 collection on anything else…

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  1. Tim
    Posted December 16, 2008 at 22:38 | Permalink

    Is there a TV nearby? Have you considered an Xbox360, or even an old first-gen Xbox with XBMC?

  2. Simon
    Posted December 16, 2008 at 23:04 | Permalink

    We’re big fans of Airport Express in this house ($80, extra wireless router, wireless printer server, streams audio from iTunes, Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil and presumably something on Linux). It was very handy back in the days of Bluetooth Sony Ericsson remote control applications, and is a treat with iPhone/iPod touch remote software. iTunes doesn’t care where the MP3s live (our laptops all mount the mp3s over smb from a windows box).

    I’ve tried streaming to the Wii and Xbox 360 but they’re all a bit pants compared to hooking a laptop with a broken screen up to the TV and running iTunes there as well.

  3. Peter Weller
    Posted December 16, 2008 at 23:25 | Permalink Might cover what you want to do – it uses DAAP, which is the protocol iTunes uses to stream music. I seem to recall running a media server with a DAAP implementation for Linux at some point, and it worked pretty well.

  4. Chris D
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 00:15 | Permalink

    I think the Nokia is your weak spot here, but the whole setup sounds kind of janky. I bought a Squeezebox 2 (which would now be a Squeezebox 3) years ago and never looked back. I even bought a Boom for the other room. It’s a rock-solid piece of hardware, and for something as worthwhile as listening to quality music (it was made by and for audiophile nerds) it’s worth shelling out some money for.

    Otherwise…garbage in, garbage out. :-/

  5. Darren
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 00:39 | Permalink

    I’ve been running Squeezecenter to a squeezebox for quite sometime in three different places (since 2002 maybe?). I used an Airport Express to bridge the wireless since my squeezebox does not have wireless and ran Squeezecenter (then slimserver) on linux server. It worked very well to stream my FLAC encodings of all my music. Though when I bought a house I ran network cable so as not to have to worry about any wireless interference. Other than a network switch crapping out, it has worked flawlessly. I would say the dedicated device is the way to go. Run an actually network cable if you can, otherwise you’ll need to figure out which wireless router is the most reliable (name brands sometimes are the worst).

  6. Posted December 17, 2008 at 02:01 | Permalink

    Another vote for the Squeezebox “Classic” here. I’ve had one for a few years, and love it dearly. Use my laptop to queue up music in Squeezecenter and away I go.

    (I also played with the “Squeezebox Duet” when I was still at Bose, and while the rich remote was very cool, I preferred having a display on the device and using my laptop as the “remote”)

  7. David Malone
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 08:35 | Permalink

    You can’t change the buffering, so you effectively have a longer playout bufer at the far end of the wireless?

  8. Marc
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 09:01 | Permalink

    My favorite player, GMusicBrowser, can send the music as an mp3 stream, that you can play with a simple player. It says “experimental” on the site, so I don’t know how well it works, but other players may have this function too. And it’s got an ultra-customizable GUI, so you can make one that is easy to use on your N770.

    Oh, I’ve just re-read your post, you say the mp3 playback is atrocious. Maybe you can change it to make a ogg stream instead, it’s in perl. Can’t you find another mp3 stream player ? Anyway, it was just an idea, maybe a hardware solution is better.

  9. Posted December 17, 2008 at 10:34 | Permalink

    Thanks for the great advice, guys! Much to investigate here… I’ll write a proper response this evening.

  10. Posted December 17, 2008 at 12:40 | Permalink

    How about avoiding all this newfangled network sound dæmon stuff and streaming MP3s over HTTP like we used to do it? Apache::MP3 and mod_musicindex come to mind.

  11. aman kohli
    Posted December 17, 2008 at 13:42 | Permalink

    Like @Darren and @ChirsD I am a big fan of the SqueezeBox (I am running the Duet). The nokia is prob. your bottleneck. I had problems until recently with the Duet playing back flac over wireless (but mp3s coded at 320 worked fine). Squeeze/logitech patched the duet and flac worked well. yipee!

    but that was my problem solved.

    with squeezecenter you can set it up to ‘downgrade’ the audio signal through lame, you could try experimenting with that to see what your nokia supports.

    btw, airport express is not a bad idea either.

  12. Posted December 17, 2008 at 22:02 | Permalink

    Tim: results with the XBox360 have been pretty crappy. ditto with a Wii. anyway — there’s no TV nearby ;)

    Simon: re Airport Express supporting playback from anything on Linux — nope. As far as I know it’s another case of Apple playing proprietary. So that’s out :(

    Peter: unfortunately, the only good DAAP clients I can find, run on laptops. If I had a laptop hooked up to the stereo, I could just run JuK on that. As far as I can tell, there’s no good DAAP client for the N770.

    Marc: I’ll check out GMusicBrowser… however, yep, it sounds a lot like the situation with Squeezecenter.

    Chris D, Darren, Rod, Aman: I think you all might be right — a Squeezebox may be the best option. I’ll have to sneak that one past the missus somehow. :)

  13. aman kohli
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 11:55 | Permalink

    Came across this wifi enabled radio, it apparently runs linux(!) and uses gstreamer, the pure evoke flow.

    about the chip/hardware:

    i think you’ll need upnp running on the machine tho.

  14. Posted December 23, 2008 at 00:31 | Permalink

    Squeezeboxes are awesome, I’ve got several and have been very happy with them. I’ve even called support and been happy with that experience. They’re more expensive than homegrown, but it’s totally worth it.

  15. Posted January 13, 2009 at 04:03 | Permalink

    gmediaserver on my Ubuntu box du jour is the only uPNP server I’ve ever been able to make work properly.

    The client in our house is a Reciva chipset internet radio sold by Dixons/Currys/PCWorld called the Logik IR-100, but I’ll recommend any other device with the same chipset ( for a list) as a hardware internet radio.

    You probably don’t need another hardware client though.

    [Hey! Comment #5000! ]

  16. Posted January 14, 2009 at 23:13 | Permalink

    John — good tip! I haven’t tried that one yet.

    For what it’s worth, I’m currently going lower-tech — I now have one of those “ipod radio” adapters plugged into the server upstairs, and listen to it via the radio downstairs. In other words, the audio output is sent via FM radio. it works quite well, actually ;)