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Computer playback - What do you think is missing?

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I've always been concerned with the aspect of controlling playback during a listening session. In other words, displaying & browse media as it plays.


Nowadays, it's simply inconvenient:

1. Using a TV Screen / Monitor?

2. Connecting to the audio machine remotely with a laptop or a tablet?

3. Using some sluggish web interface plug-in for Foobar or Jriver?

4. Using Apple's "Remote" app to connect to an Apple machine or a PC Foobar with the right components?


I think that we're still lacking a comprehensive solution that will make this whole computer playback thing - sexy (once installed and properly configured of course). To be fun and easy to use. To look sleek and offer easy browsing without being dependent on a big screen, hard-to-configure software or solutions comprised of patches upon patches.


And what's missing in YOUR audiophile-computer experiene? :)



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Matt, I think you're spot on; the interface between your music files and whatever device you use to find and select music could stand some improvement. I recently made a slight improvement in my system by getting a 7" Android tablet computer to use as my remote. It uses the MPDroid app to control the MPD database on my Auraliti PK100 player. Although the app seems a bit awkward, it works, and the screen size is a major improvement over the iPod I used initially. And a 7" screen tablet is way cheaper than an iPad or 10" Android machine. Since I dedicated the tablet for use as a remote control, I didn't need the computing power or screen size that would be useful in a general-purpose tablet.


So that has improved my visibility a lot. But there's still the problem of finding a particular musical piece or letting you easily browse your music collection. I haven't yet found a really good solution for that. I have a lot of classical music, and most musical cataloging apps don't handle that well. I hope this thread produces some ideas on how to improve that aspect of the server experience.


Vade Forrester


_________________[br]Vade Forrester

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I've been taking grief lately for complaining about poorly designed, slow, inconsistent, overly complex, fragile user interfaces. (grin)


The user interface, in particular remote control is a big part of what I must have for our systems.


Apple Remote and the Squeezebox apps are at the top of my list right now, not that they cannot be improved upon. They are pretty good in what they do, and for the most part, rather reliable.


Some of the very best products are crippled by this lack I think, or by poor implementations. For example, Fidelia is a hot Mac player, sounds good, etc.

They built their own remote control app, which is solid as a rock, with two little (but damning) problems. First, there is no album art displayed. This is not quite a showstopper. The second is a show stopper for us, when you select an album to play, it won't stop at the end of the album.


I reported this stuff to them, and got a thank you we will look into it. Doubt they will ever look into it or fix it.


It's the little things that can totally ruin the listening experience, dang it all.





Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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I've been experimenting with a variety of control mechanisms, and find these two are the ones I use the most:


1. Apple screen-sharing with a second computer, usually a 2009 Mac mini that sits in the opposite corner of the room that I use as a -- computer. The easiest and most fool-proof way to interact with my system is to use a keyboard and a mouse sitting at a desk. I also have a physical IR remote control that sits on that desk, so I can adjust volume on the pre-amp easily from the same location. I also have a Macbook air that I use the same way, but from a better listening position. This is my all-purpose laptop. I am using it now. I give lectures and seminars with it. But I don't always have it next to me. Maybe a dedicated 11" air book would be the way to go. But $1K is a lot of dough for a remote control unit.


2. iPad. Maybe I am too old, but I still find the iPad clunky to use. I've settled into using three apps primarily: (i) Splashtop remote. Best VNC-type experience so far. (ii) Apple Remote.app. With Audirvana-Plus, this has just become much more feasible. (iii) L5 Remote, which is an app that allows you to create your own remote control interfaces any way that suits you, and you buy a little $40 IR transmitter that plugs into the iPad. I find I use it less than I would like to.


The main thing that irritates the living shi'ite out of me is that for whatever reason, I cannot get ANY of those three apps to stay open on my iPad (now OS 5) when I switch between them. That makes it clunky to use, so usually I wind up using one of the first two apps combined with a physical remote, which kind of sucks.


In many ways, I think Apple's Front Row or ATV2 software would be an ideal interface, except I want to use my own player, and I don't want to have to turn on the damn TV to listen to music.


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I would love to have intuitive voice control like iPhone 4S Siri, via a non-corded remote microphone (i.e. using the mic on a tablet or smartphone, bluetooth headset, or even a wireless mic.


"This song sucks"

"Shall I skip to the next song"


"How about next album...[name of next album]"

"Cue her up baby..."

"Hold your horses"




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I think the biggest thing missing is clean hardware remote control support. Having to fire up an app/laptop/tablet/whatever is actually a major PITA when you just want to hit stop at the last minute when you're walking out the door for the day. I also miss the cd player days of being able to control the system in a tactile manner with your eyes closed or in the dark. The interactive remotes can be a major distraction from actually listening.


I've been using MPD, and I've recently updated my system to start using empcd. I'm using empcd with the Soundgraph iMon remote, which is the exact same remote setup used in the CAPS server OriginAE case - a number of other case manufacturers use the same OEM remote. The problem with iMon on Windows is that it requires a massive software package that offends most audiophile sensibilities. On top of that I don't believe there is direct integration to Jriver or the other popular Windows apps (though I don't have firsthand experience). On Linux the driver is built into the kernel and empcd is a tiny daemon that tracks key presses and maps them directly to MPD or any other functions required. I did have to update empcd to support the keys on multimedia remotes, I posted a LiveCD I've been maintaining to include this function out of the box for other users. Hoping to have a release in the next week or so, currently applying the finishing touches.


Other homebrew and alternate remotes are possible on Linux as well, as IR functions were integrated into the kernel - the setup varies a bit based on the remote scheme; projects like MythTV and XBMC have integrated all the options pretty comprehensively, I think we need the equivalent for MPD.





mpdPup maintainer

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There is definitely room for interface improvement.


Let's cover turning on and off first.


I just power everything off. DAC, preamp, power amp, television (in this instance running on its 'monitor' input), set top box, CD player, turnable, phono amp, DVD player, FM tuner. It's all on a dedicated power outlet (a high current switched electric cooker outlet, and including a switched power socket as well). One click and it's all stopped.


The PC is plugged in to the switched socket. If I am in a real hurry I power that off too. It recovers. They are designed to, as is Windows.


Less of a hurry the PC gets to be shutdown, hibernate, or sleep. Whatever.


That is my regular way of doing it. Every time.


Come back in, one (or two) clicks and it's back on.



The TV is between the speakers as it is used also for regular television and AV. But with music it, and the mouse, is a distraction.


Personally I find iPhones, iPods, and the equivalent Android devices to be unintuitive to use and a PITA to get talking to Windows. I have thought about a Windows tablet, Acer's W500 is a particularly nice one as it comes with a dock which is also a fine keyboard. Such a device will easily talk to Windows in my PC, though I may have to install Windows 7 Professional in the PC for its remote capability, not sure about that yet. And I can use its touch screen. But it is both somewhat 'over the top' and expensive. And I don't have a use for any of these devices other than as the remote control.


If someone can think of a better way I would be very happy.





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I wouldn't say Windows is 'designed' to have the power yanked. It's designed to be robust, for sure, but every time you yank the power you're rolling the dice. Best case is nothing happens, which is probably true most of the time, not as common but common enough is Windows decides to scan it's disks during bootup to make sure nothing went wrong, which delays startup. Worst case is something bad actually happens and manual intervention is required.


That's not to say Linux in general is better in this respect - in terms of yanking the power Windows behaves better than consumer oriented Linux distros like Ubuntu, Fedora, etc - Kernel panics from a hard shut-down are still all too common, and it's not obvious to a typical user how to rectify it on many distros.


Where Linux gets ahead in this respect is that the distro can be designed for the power to be yanked with no ill effects (which is not true for Windows) - and I really mean designed vs. robust. Voyage Linux and the Puppy Linux based version I mentioned are both designed for this application - in those cases the file system is read only, and you need to manually save changes to the configuration. However this allows you to actually treat your music server like any other stereo component - it's like Groundhog day, every time you turn it on it's exactly the same.


The other thing that I like about Linux/MPD is that the startup control can go beyond the OS itself - the audio application itself is automatically started as part of the OS, and MPD maintains a state file - so when you do power off and power back on your playback resumes almost exactly where it left off. Granted you can auto-start apps on Windows, but I don't know any that get quite to that level.



mpdPup maintainer

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Normally I shut it down, sleep, or whatever. It's only if I have to respond to one of 'her ladyships' whims that I just power it off. But all other gear is on the one switch. Don't bother with 'standby' or switching things off separately, though perhaps I ought to with the power amp (on last, off first). I do park the arm first if an LP is playing!


The rest of the stuff is that I have not thought of a better way yet. Not saying a Windows tablet is the best way, may not be even a good way, so far it is just an idea. And Windows tablets are a touch isolated from the rest of the world.


Don't like anything Apple, but I have thought of buying one just so I can use its Bootcamp facility to install Linux, probably Ubuntu. Cant ever see me using the Apple operating system. I don't want it on my regular PC for fear of messing it up. Can I do that with bootcamp?




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Don't like anything Apple, but I have thought of buying one just so I can use its Bootcamp facility to install Linux, probably Ubuntu. Cant ever see me using the Apple operating system. I don't want it on my regular PC for fear of messing it up. Can I do that with bootcamp?


That's one of the benefits of mpdPup, which is the Linux distro I linked before. It's designed to run from a USB stick, so you don't need to screw up whatever you're already relying on. Just follow the install instructions to get it on the USB stick, configure your computer to boot from USB, and then go through the MPD configuration wizard. If you don't like it or want to switch back just yank the usb and reboot.


For remotes I'm not sure what devices you have to work with - there are free mpd clients for the iPhone and Android - the iPad has a great client as well for few bucks, and there are a variety of clients that will run from a laptop if that's what you want to use.




mpdPup maintainer

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I think the key here is the controller / hardware integration. I currently use MPaD and MPoD for my Auraliti PK90. Overall I find it useful and good enough for my needs. My biggest issue is the album artwork. It never seems to pull the right artwork. I know it can also look for local files with a name you specify. I have confirmed this setting with my image files, but I think it is configuration between Auraliti and app that is causing the issue not solely the app.


Which leads me to my point. I think it is the third party control application and the manufacture hardware being designed to work together that is the biggest hurdle. In a demo last week I tested a Naim Uniti that had the Naim app on an iPad. Here the two were designed by the same company to work hand in hand. From the application I could fully control the Uniti including switching sources, and adjusting volume. I could also browse any of the sources in a fairly intuitive manor. Having an all-in-one device and an app specifically designed for it provided by far one of the best experiences I have had.



Main / Office: Home built computer -> Roon Core (Tidal & FLAC) -> Wireless -> Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro 3 -> Dan Clark Audio AEON 2 Noire (On order)

Portable / Travel: iPhone 12 Pro Max -> ALAC or Tidal -> iFi Hip Dac -> Meze 99 Classics or Meze Rai Solo

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I quite agree with everyone who comments that how you control your device is one of the big stunbling blocks with computer audio systems.


As jsmith comments it's only when you get applications like Naim n-Stream which not only allow music selection but also fully control the playback (including volume) that the systems really work. I like iPeng with Squeezebox, but I also have to keep the pre-amp control to hand.






...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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MacOS is UNIX - and quite robust about dealing with disks. It's a matter of preference I suppose. Most of my Macs get rebooted occasionally - as in when an OS update comes in that requires it. Some don't get rebooted but once a year - whether they need it or not.


Windows machines get rebooted nightly in most cases. They just don't seem capable of being used and staying up. One or the other, but not both.


But to answer you question, yes you could, but it would be a waste. Why not look into one of the Linux distros? Vortexbox or Puppy/MPD might be right up your alley.


Umm- maybe. I never turn off the hardware, with the exception of the amp and television around here. That stuff only breaks when you turn it off you know! Except of course, for Windows. :)






Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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I'm pretty much happy with my method of controlling my music playback with a Xoom Android 10" tablet running Gizmo and the dedicated music server running JRiver Media Center 17.


I never shut off my Music Server, DAC and Pre, just my monoblock amps get shut off as they each consume 600W each when powered on at all times being pure Class A amps, it's like running a 1200W blow dryer but they do sound SOOOO GOOD! :)



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