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    Personal Streaming Services Part 1: Vox

     

     

    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.
    • CarPlay.
    • 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 Rocks

     

    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 uploader settings.jpg  Upload in progress.jpg  upload failed.jpg

     

    Vox Ethernet Speed.jpg

     

     

     

     


    Cloud Details

     

    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. 

     


    Playback Details

     

    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

     

    IMG_1875.jpeg  IMG_1878.jpeg  IMG_1876.jpeg

     

     

     

    CarPlay Images

     

    Vox CarPlay.jpg  Vox CarPlay Browse.jpg

     

     

     


    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

     

     

     

     



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    Offline capability means the music is downloaded to the phone and stored there, is that right? So you'll probably want the iPhone with 256GB storage. 🙂

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    1 minute ago, Jud said:

    Offline capability means the music is downloaded to the phone and stored there, is that right? So you'll probably want the iPhone with 256GB storage. 🙂

    Absolutely. I usually only offline 25 or so albums on my 512GB iPhone. 

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    2 hours ago, Jud said:

     

    I don't know why Tesla doesn't provide the option to use an iPad in place of the center console video screen.

     

    If I had to guess I would guess that would make Apple pretty happy, but I think there is some bad blood between the two. Plus, you can't play whatever video game Elon Musk is making a big deal out of being able to play on their latest in car entertainment system with AMD CPU and GPU.

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    I just started using an iPhone (12 PM 256GB) and primarily use my Jabra 85t's for listening as I have yet to pick up the Lightening adapters.  Sounds decent enough but does an app exist to bypass Apple's reluctance to use the enhance BT codecs.

     

    For music I primarily use Radio Paradise.  If I want to listen to my music I just use the QNAP file manager and access the NAS...which if I read the recent article correctly, might not be the smartest thing to do.

     

    Otherwise my Sony NWZ-ZX2 is fine,

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    Chris,

     

    Phenomenal find. 

     

    As an Android user, please tell me music can also be accessed via a web interface. 

     

    Joel

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    8 minutes ago, joelha said:

    Chris,

     

    Phenomenal find. 

     

    As an Android user, please tell me music can also be accessed via a web interface. 

     

    Joel

    No web interface :~(

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    18 minutes ago, joelha said:

    Chris,

     

    Phenomenal find. 

     

    As an Android user, please tell me music can also be accessed via a web interface. 

     

    Joel

     

     

    This from the Vox forums 14 hours ago:

     

    We are currently releasing VOX Universal (beta) on Windows and macOS, hopefully, Android.app will be the next step!

    If you would like to try out VOX Universal (beta), please submit your request here: https://vox.rocks/windows-music-player 2!

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    Thanks Jud and Chris,

     

    Still a killer opportunity. 

     

    For the price, I might try it anyway. 

     

    Joel

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    Well, this sounds like a great deal; however, I'm seeing some teething pains :/

     

    I started to upload my ALAC (iTunes-based, but stored on a local NAS) collection overnight, and so far, it's only uploaded 185 (of 120,000) tracks - the service seems to be responding VERY slowly and is consuming almost 150% of CPU on my Mac Mini.

     

    Also, the Vox player is timing out trying to load the few albums (I'm assuming) that have been uploaded already (gateway error or the like), so I can't even use / listen to what has apparently been uploaded.

     

    Given I have 300Mb Internet that seems to be working well for other purposes, I have to think they've got some resource contention, etc., issues going on on their end - hope that clears up soon.

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    3 minutes ago, jhwalker said:

    Well, this sounds like a great deal; however, I'm seeing some teething pains :/

     

    I started to upload my ALAC (iTunes-based, but stored on a local NAS) collection overnight, and so far, it's only uploaded 185 (of 120,000) tracks - the service seems to be responding VERY slowly and is consuming almost 150% of CPU on my Mac Mini.

     

    Also, the Vox player is timing out trying to load the few albums (I'm assuming) that have been uploaded already (gateway error or the like), so I can't even use / listen to what has apparently been uploaded.

     

    Given I have 300Mb Internet that seems to be working well for other purposes, I have to think they've got some resource contention, etc., issues going on on their end - hope that clears up soon.

     

    My question is in the other direction.  Can uploading be paused?  If I do my entire collection in a single month, I'll exceed my data cap (1.2TB/mo), so I'd like to start near the end of a month, pause if/when  necessary, then finish up the next month. Possible?

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    17 minutes ago, Jud said:

     

    My question is in the other direction.  Can uploading be paused?  If I do my entire collection in a single month, I'll exceed my data cap (1.2TB/mo), so I'd like to start near the end of a month, pause if/when  necessary, then finish up the next month. Possible?

    I think you have to close the uploader app to pause / stop it. 

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    2 hours ago, jhwalker said:

    Well, this sounds like a great deal; however, I'm seeing some teething pains :/

     

    I started to upload my ALAC (iTunes-based, but stored on a local NAS) collection overnight, and so far, it's only uploaded 185 (of 120,000) tracks - the service seems to be responding VERY slowly and is consuming almost 150% of CPU on my Mac Mini.

     

    Also, the Vox player is timing out trying to load the few albums (I'm assuming) that have been uploaded already (gateway error or the like), so I can't even use / listen to what has apparently been uploaded.

     

    Given I have 300Mb Internet that seems to be working well for other purposes, I have to think they've got some resource contention, etc., issues going on on their end - hope that clears up soon.

    is it 300mb both directions?  Usually upload is a LOT slower.  on Cable services anyway.

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    Interesting run-through Chris.

     

    Quote

    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.

     

    ... this is so annoying though and reminds me of YouTube Music. It really makes the service feel like it's a playback-only solution - i.e. your local collection must remain "gold" and push changes to Vox.

     

    There are actually quite a few solutions in this arena. Not all bundle the storage - some also allow you to playback from existing storage (e.g. a Google Drive, or whatever).

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    55 minutes ago, Dan Gravell said:

    Interesting run-through Chris.

     

     

    ... this is so annoying though and reminds me of YouTube Music. It really makes the service feel like it's a playback-only solution - i.e. your local collection must remain "gold" and push changes to Vox.

     

    There are actually quite a few solutions in this arena. Not all bundle the storage - some also allow you to playback from existing storage (e.g. a Google Drive, or whatever).

     

    Always advantages and disadvantages.  Google Drive gets more expensive at the TB+ volumes a lot of our collections run ($10/mo), as do various other common cloud offerings from the big tech companies.  Vox isn't a complete backup solution, and we don't know whether they'll still be in business in 5 years or still be priced at $5/mo.  But they do provide a form of backup very inexpensively, the service is apparently dead easy to set up, and you get hi-res music playback for your collection bundled with that music file backup.

     

    What I use currently is more robust on the backup side (Backblaze - they have a $60 annual unlimited plan, as well as the plan I'm on that offers more geek-oriented features for more money, called B2; they've been in the backup business for a long time, so I feel fairly comfortable they're not going away anytime soon), and doesn't cost much on the hi-res playback side ($27 annually for a domain name and the Subsonic music server; $4 once and done for the iOS app I use, AVSub), but it's not a simple all-in-one solution like Vox.  The hi-res playback side of things is described in the article linked below, in enough detail that people who are interested in a geekier, more customized way of doing this should be able to give it a good try:

     

     

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    Jud,

     

    To employ your streaming solution with Backblaze, do you have to use the B2 option?

     

    Thanks for the great information and for kicking off a discussion with your earlier article that I suspect will benefit many of us. 

     

    Joel

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    3 minutes ago, joelha said:

    Jud,

     

    To employ your streaming solution with Backblaze, do you have to use the B2 option?

     

    Thanks for the great information and for kicking off a discussion with your earlier article that I suspect will benefit many of us. 

     

    Joel

     

    The streaming solution is entirely separate from Backblaze, which I use for backup only.  Sorry if I didn't clarify that above.

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    4 minutes ago, Jud said:

     

    The streaming solution is entirely separate from Backblaze, which I use for backup only.  Sorry if I didn't clarify that above.

    Nothing to be sorry for, Jud.

     

    I'm still excited about employing some form of what we're discussing here. 

     

    Thanks. 

     

    Joel

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