thinking about music

Listening to music used to be pretty simple. I’d turn on the stereo, put a record on the turntable, and that was it. It’s gotten a lot more complicated now, though, and I’ve been going back and forth on a few things, thinking about what kind of hardware, software, and services I use to consume music.

I could (and probably will) write a new post about how I’m listening to music on my iPhone right now, but this particular post is going to be about listening to music at home.

I have a fairly old, but still good, stereo setup: a receiver with a handful of standard RCA inputs, and a decent pair of speakers. I used to have a low-end DVD player hooked up to it, which I was using as a CD player, but that broke a while back. (I hooked that up after my original CD player broke.) And I used to have a turntable and a cassette player, but I got rid of those a long time ago. I have a mini-stereo cable hooked in to one of the RCA inputs, and I plug that into my iPhone when I want to listen to, say, Slacker on my stereo. But I currently have no way to listen to CDs on it, or to stream music from my Mac or PC to it. I can also listen to music via my Roku, Apple TV, or PS3 (using various services), but I need to have the TV turned on to use any of those, and I don’t really like to have to leave the TV on while I’m listening to music. It generates a fair bit of heat, and a little noise. (If there was a way for the TV to pass the audio out without having the screen on, that might work, but my TV doesn’t do that.) And I can use the PS3 to listen to regular audio CDs of course, but that’s serious overkill, given the amount of noise and heat produced by the TV and PS3 combined.

So I’d been halfheartedly looking for a new CD player to hook up to the stereo. Well, it turns out, nowadays, that it isn’t as easy to find a small, simple, CD player with regular RCA outputs as it used to be. One limiting factor for me is that I don’t have that much room, so I need a small one. (I actually have my Dad’s old 5 CD changer, and that would work fine, but I just can’t fit it on my shelf.)

So now I’ve been thinking that I’m really a bit behind the times, and I should instead come up with a good way to pipe my digital music collection through my stereo.

First, I started thinking about consolidating the two iTunes libraries that I currently have. I have separate libraries on my Mac and my PC, with significant overlap. But there’s a lot of stuff I ripped to the Mac and never copied to the PC, and vice versa. So, first, I’m looking at ways to merge my iTunes libraries. I looked at a few programs, and SuperSync looks like it would be the best option for me. If it works as advertised, I should be able to install it on my Mac and on my PC, and consolidate the libraries over my network, without pulling over all the duplicates.

Second, I started thinking about ripping all of my CDs. I’ve ripped a number of them already, maybe 20-30% of the CDs I own, but I haven’t ripped everything. I’d say I have a couple of hundred CDs that I don’t have in my iTunes library. So I considered doing something vaguely fancy, like using dBpoweramp to rip them to FLAC, so I’d have lossless copies. Or maybe using EAC. But after thinking about it, I think I’d be fine just using iTunes, and ripping them using the higher-quality AAC settings, or maybe the Apple lossless format.

From there, I’m thinking about building a little box with a Raspberry Pi running Volumio or OSMC. I would just attach a USB hard drive to it with all my music files, and plug it into my receiver with the regular mini-stereo output on the Pi. (And if that doesn’t sound good enough, I could add a DAC with RCA outputs to the Pi.) So that would be small enough to fit on my shelf, use minimal power, make very little noise, and it should be controllable from my laptop and my phone, via a web interface.

I’m not sure how far I’m going to get with this plan. And there are a number of alternatives which might be simpler than my Raspberry Pi plan. But I had some fun today investigating software and hardware options for this. And I like the idea of messing around with a Pi and some open-source audio software. If I go that route, and it works well, maybe I can consider trying some other Raspberry Pi projects.

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