Earlier this month @Jud filled us in on how he accesses his music from anywhere in the world, in his article titled You Can Take It With You. Jud's approach is very solid and has passed his own tests through regular use. It's also a good approach for those who like to roll up their sleeves and dig into the technology behind serving one's music to other locations. As many members of the Audiophile Style community are a skosh geeky, this solution perfect for them / us.
On the other hand, and I'm sure Jud would be the first to agree, there isn't a single solution that fits all music listeners. Many audiophiles want something a little bit simpler to setup and use on a daily basis. Well, they're in luck. Late last year I researched the options and had a series of articles drafted, only to be sidetracked by life and other things. It's now time to dust off those drafts, update them with new information, and lay out the options for those who want all the audio quality without the DIY style project. Let's dig in.
Taking It With You
I admit, not everyone has a desire to stream his/her own music when away from home. Many people just use a streaming service such as Qobuz, Amazon HD, Apple Music, or Spotify and call it a day. However, some of us want to listen to our carefully curated collections of Mobile Fidelity, Analogue Productions, and Blue Note DSD remasters whether we're in the car, on a bike ride, or 40,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. Many of the best sounding versions of our favorite music aren't available on streaming services and I don't see that changing any time soon. In addition, despite the talk that "everyone" streams now days, there are a great number of people who just aren't into music streaming services. Fortunately those of us in either of these boats, are in luck.
Solutions To Real Problems
Researching solutions required that I first identity the problems and / or goals. Here is what I considered, among other things.
- Stream my own music collection anywhere in the world.
- Very simple setup.
- Little to no ongoing maintenance.
- Full resolution or highest possible quality.
- Offline capability.
- Mobile and desktop playback.
- Reasonable price.
- Bonus: Offsite music backup.
I looked at solutions from many companies including Doppler, Neutron, JRiver, and QNAP, before settling on the two I like best, Vox and OraStream Brio. I'm sure there are many more of which I'm unaware, and I look forward to reading about those in the comments to this article. Here is my rundown of Vox.
Vox bills itself as a music player, but it's actually so much more. I used three of the free Vox applications in my testing, Vox iOS Player, Vox Universal (macOS and Windows), and Vox Uploader and I subscribed to the Vox Premium service for $4.99 / month. Getting started with Vox requires no special ability to even read instructions. One just downloads the applications desired and starts using them. Making my music available anywhere in the world was my first order of business.
I store my music on a QNAP NAS, that's scanned by Roon, Audirvana, JRiver, MinimServer, and a few others. All these apps run on my main CAPS Twenty Windows 10 PC. I installed the Vox Uploader on this PC rather than the full Vox Universal app because the Uploader is purpose built for this and it offers some options unavailable in the Universal app. The Vox Uploader is incredibly easy to use because it does so few things. On the settings tab there are only five options. The only option I enabled was, "Watch for new files in the folders and upload automatically."
On the main Vox Uploader interface, I dragged and dropped a single folder containing all my music and the app took care of everything else. With the aforementioned option selected, the app continues to watch this folder for new music and uploads it automatically. Seriously, that's it. All my WAV, FLAC, AIFF, APE, ALAC, PCM, DSD, 24 bit / 384 kHz, etc... is all uploaded.
My music is now available anywhere in the world!
Note: The Vox Uploader identified six tracks that it didn't upload. The tracks are DSD files in the DFF format as opposed to DSF. Vox said the files have a supported file extension, but an incorrect signature, and suggested I convert to another format, most likely DSF. Not a big deal to me, it was only six files.
Uploading to the Vox cloud was pretty fast. The app hit speeds of over 100 Mbps frequently.
Vox Premium can be used as an offsite backup of one's music because the content is downloadable. Those interested in using it this unintended way should understand that only audio files are uploaded (no album art images or PDF liner notes) and when the music is downloaded back to one's computer all the albums are in individual folders, not the standard Artist > Album architecture.
Vox Uploader Images
Vox enables streaming one's music to anywhere in the world only after content is uploaded to the Vox cloud. This is different from OraStream Brio in that Brio can stream from one's computer or the cloud, but keep in mind that solutions streaming from one's computer require that computer to be on at all times. I don't think any app or service can beat Vox in this area because Vox offers unlimited cloud storage for $4.99 per month! In addition, Vox requires absolutely zero router / port forwarding setup because the uploaded music is stored on its servers.
With my music was in the cloud and the Uploader continually watching for new music, it was time to do something such as play some tunes. No matter which Vox app is used for playback, all audio resolutions are supported, as longs the attached interface can handle it. Streaming 24/192 to an AudioQuest DragonFly will be converted to 24/96 because that's the DF's highest resolution, but sending that same audio to a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB will result in full 24/192 playback from the Vox cloud. There is no attempt by Vox to save bandwidth or do anything to the files as the cloud sends the exact bit perfect copy to the player. Once the player has the audio, resolution depends on the final playback device. Thus, what's uploaded is downloaded perfectly.
On the desktop, Vox Universal is a barebones application for both Windows and macOS. Audiophiles will never want to use this application as their main playback source because it isn't built to be such an application. Vox universal doesn't have exclusive mode or even auto sample rate switching (OraStream Brio has both), but what it lacks in hardcore audiophile features, it makes up for with a very nice interface and simplicity. I can see using this at an office and being totally OK with the limited feature set.
Where Vox really shines is its iOS app and mobile playback. I played all the resolutions I have, connected my iPhone 12 Pro to my car for Apple's CarPlay integration with Vox, and used the offline capability of the iOS app extensively. It was all flawless every time. In addition, the iOS app interface is beautiful, fast (try searching for an album and it appears while typing immediately), and even had more options than the desktop app. The iOS app features a parametric EQ and gapless playback!
My only gripe with the app is that a few albums don't show my cover art, and I wasn't able to figure out why. I'm sure if I looked into it a bit more I'd figure it out, but I'll save that for a cold Winter's day here in Minnesota.
iOS App Images
Solving Problems / Meeting Goals
Overall I believe the Vox apps and Premium service solve my problems and meet my goals. The apps do much more than just make music available for around the world playback, and I highly recommend checking them out to see all that they can do.
Using the Vox Uploader, Vox Universal, and Vox iOS player, I am able to stream all my music (any resolution or format) to anywhere with an internet connect strong enough. The apps, service, and upload procedure, if you want to call it a procedure, were dead simple. Playing both streamed and offline content to my CarPlay stereo on the go was like a dream with Vox, and all for the price of $4.99 per month.
I would ask, what more could I want, but I know the audiophile community far too well to subject myself to that. Only joking of course. We are perfectionists and always see ways to do things better. Perhaps an integrated QNAP app would be even better than the Vox Uploader or even an integration with Audirvana would be nice :~)
Next up I'll cover my experience with OraStream's Brio service and applications. There are some major differences between both, that should make decisions on which one to use, fairly straight forward. Here's a link to part 2 (link).
More Information About Vox - https://vox.rocks