DIY Wireless Streaming Audio

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Extreme geek alert...and long post...

Because I only belong to one forum, and there are a lot of smart folks here, I figured I'd post this idea and see if there's any response.

The problem: I have amassed a HUGE collection of digital music, and it lives on an external hard drive connected to my computer in the office. I also have an Onkyo dual zone receiver, capable of providing an audio signal to both the living room surround system and outdoor speakers in the backyard. I have no link from the computer to the receiver, and the floorplan does not lend itself to wiring a direct connection. But, I want to play music from my collection through the Onkyo unit.

Possible solutions (from easiest to most difficult):
Just run the wire, and let it be ugly.
An FM transmitter.
Use the existing wireless LAN and connect SWMBO's laptop to the receiver.
Off the shelf wireless streaming audio equipment.
A DIY streaming audio setup.

Solutions I've ruled out:
Wire - it's ugly, and I'm not putting holes in any walls or doing any "fishing."
Laptop - it's a piece of crap, the battery is shot, and there's no good place for it to live anyway when it's connected to the receiver.
Off the shelf stuff - expensive, no fun, please don't point me to links where I can buy this crap.
FM transmitter - not entirely ruled out yet. I have two of them for the car, neither of which broadcast a clean enough signal across the house. I even "upgraded" the antenna on one of them, and it doesn't cut it. I've been looking at the FM-10, FM-25, and FM-30 kits from Ramsey. They're build-it-yourself kits that come complete with all the components. They seem like fun, and my neighbors would probably even benefit. The FCC actually allows for this sort of thing as long as it's under 1W, and you're not interfering with commercial broadcasts.

Why I want to build my own wireless streaming audio setup: I want to learn more about it, I think it'd be fun, it would work well, and it doesn't look all that expensive.

IF YOU WANT TO SKIP TO THE GOOD PART, JUST READ BELOW

So, here's my idea: I'll use XBee 2.4GHz modules to send/receive. A VS1002 or VS1033 decoder will do most of the work on the receiver side. I'll stream audio from the computer to the transmitter most likely via USB.

The bigger problem:
I know next to nothing about streaming audio and homebuilt digital wireless devices. Anybody wanna lend a hand?
 

iBeer

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Hey Yuri
I've been toying with the same idea, but to go one step further not only to I want to be able to listen to my collection which is stored on my Mac in the basement, I want to be able to control the play as well.
Unfortunately, to go that one extra step I've really been limited to networking a laptop so that I can see the playlist. Mac does sell a little gizmo that allows you to broadcast the tunes, but they don't let you control it.
I'm really interested to see what kind of ideas get posted.
With respect to the Ramsey kits, I actually had one many many many years ago when I was a kid, it worked well, but the sound was a little off because of the filtering inside - you lost a lot of thumping bass and the high tones as well. However, this was a long time ago, and I know Ramsey now has digital boxes which will very likely have really faithful reproduction...
 

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The solution I use is loading up songs onto an IPOD. I already had it and it's nice to have the music portable to any location, not just to the family room receiver. It would be pretty cool if someone would come up with a hardware based music player that would simply plug into an external drive. I'm sure it could be built because the mp3 decoders are down to chip level now. What amazes me is that people will still drop $300 on an Ipod dock when they have hundreds or more invested in a home theater system that they can connect with a $3 cable.
 

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I configured a Windows Media Center PC at my office. I can stream audio and video to every resource capable of playing music or movies from my server.

I played with this same idea at my home. I also have an older Onkyo amplifier that I paid a pretty penny for years ago. I researched several solutions on how to make the device a resource discoverable by Windows Media Center operating system. The main problem is how do you make the amplifier a network resource? I worked with a friend of mine that is a certified electrical engineer. We came up with a fairly good solution by wiring a 10 Base T card to the Onkyo and adding it as a wireless hot spot on my home network. However, we discovered quickly that even if the amp is a network resource we needed the operating system to recognize it as an “audio device” this in my case would have required more money than I wanted to spend on this solution. It also was not an aesthetically pleasing solution which was important to my wifey.

Final solution for me:

I bought a 30 GB Ipod at COSTCO and downloaded the thousands of audio files I had which by the way only took up about 8 GB. I plugged the IPOD directly into my amp's auxiliary jack and had it auto shuffle my music to all parts of my home.
 

Bobby_M

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Thousands of files at 8gig? You must have them all ripped or downloaded at 128kbps sampling. You'd be doing yourself a favor if you re-ripped them at 256k. 128 really compresses the heck out of the high frequencies.
 

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Just a question to ponder.....If you are able to figure this out and it works....do you think that the audio quality will be good? I would think that since there are many companies that have spent lots o money/time engineering products like this...thats its more complicated that one may think. Anyways....if all else fails...(and I know you want to do this your self and learn about the process) i recommend Apple's Airport Express, I have had one for many years and its great. Good luck though.
 
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Yuri_Rage
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I fully intend to get a working solution with good audio quality. I don't plan on spending time, money, and effort on something that doesn't work well.

Thanks for a few decent ideas, fellas. I should have mentioned that I don't really like the idea of copying songs to a portable MP3 player, either. My music collection takes up well over half of a 300GB drive, and I want access to the whole collection.

Also, allow me to reiterate:
me said:
Off the shelf stuff - expensive, no fun, please don't point me to links where I can buy this crap.
 
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I'm using Slimserver as an UPNP server and the now defunct Roku PictureBridge as the client. It plays movies and pictures as well. If I didn't have that requirement, I'd really lean toward FM and still may add that capability (see Below)

If you're still bent on this you should look into a Slug to serve.
http://www.nslu2-linux.org/wiki/Applications/HomePage

Client really depends on whether you want to control the music at the client or just hear it.

If you are streaming to several locations at the same time you might have some latency and synch issues.

With the 2.4 ghz wireless, I'd be concerned about nulling out your wifi or general interference from other devices.

Back to the FM. My buddy has had good success with the Ramsey units. He actually broadcasts music from his car!

I think that the advantage of FM is that there are millions of available clients. Working in the front yard... turn on your car radio. Watching the neighbor's kids? Turn on their radio.

Do not buy the CCrane FM transmittters however. Suck.
 
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Yuri_Rage
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olllllo said:
If you're still bent on this you should look into a Slug to serve.
http://www.nslu2-linux.org/wiki/Applications/HomePage
I like it. Also, I forgot about the cool wiring in my house (smart panel) - if I connect a router to my DSL modem, I can have wired Ethernet available at my audio receiver.

So, a Slug with mpd and a USB sound card would work really well. I just might do it.

I'm thinking that the Slug may have some interesting brew-automation applications as well... Sometimes my brain runs too fast...
 

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Yuri_Rage said:
I fully intend to get a working solution with good audio quality. I don't plan on spending time, money, and effort on something that doesn't work well.

Thanks for a few decent ideas, fellas. I should have mentioned that I don't really like the idea of copying songs to a portable MP3 player, either. My music collection takes up well over half of a 300GB drive, and I want access to the whole collection.

Also, allow me to reiterate:


Friends don't let friends listen to MP3s. Sorry I'm a bit of an audiophile. I have done basically the same thing but mine is not wireless so I can't help to much with that.

Use FLAC for your compression if you are afraid of fidelity loss. It is 100% lossless and verifiable. Flacfrontend is the pc encoder or xACT for the mac. COG or PLAY are good players for both formats.

I basically use a mac mini with a stack of external HD's (over 1TB, now that is a lot of audio!) that looks very at home with the rest of the entertainment stuff and use a lappy as a glorified remote control.

Edit to add: If you are really that worried about fidelity suck it up and go wired.
 
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Yuri_Rage
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I'm going to give the Slug a shot. I ordered one from NewEgg today. I found a Linux compatible USB sound card on eBay for $14 (Creative USB MP3+). Instead of going the REALLY difficult route by designing my own wireless streaming device, I'm not even going wireless anymore. I can use the wired LAN I never set up (and forgot I had the ability to use).

Once I get this set up, maybe my interest will fade, but I'm really curious about those Ramsey FM units, also. I might have to grab one just for the hell of it. I know it would probably kick ass in comparison to those weak transmitters they sell for personal MP3 players.
 

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Likely way overkill for what you were thinking, but if you hooked it up to a TV as the monitor it's really easy to casemod a basic PC (or linux box) into just about anything. Here's a link to a PC in a Jack Daniel's bottle:

http://www.liquorsnob.com/archives/2006/02/liquor_bottle_case_mod_is_tres_geeky.php

Of course, the more old audio components you have, the better you can probably do. I've been meaning to mod up my old laserdisk player into a PC just for giggles. Then all you have to do is bring the drive downstairs or network it and you're golden.

Edit: Also added another casemod link for giggles since it has something to do with beer. The PC Beer Dispenser!

http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/pc-beer-dispenser-mod
 

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I think the biggest problem with a "dumb" streamer or simple analogue transmitter is the fact that you have to go over to the PC to change songs, pause, etc. Of course, playlists will set you free, but devices like appleTV or whatever allow you to control in that room (and stream video and pictures). Another way around this is to get a cheap USB enabled RF remote. You can program it to control your itunes or player of choice from many rooms away.

If all you want in analogue audio, by the time you build something you could have had wired fished in the walls. It's a liberating experience and anyone that can tig weld and turn mill rollers definitely has the balls to pull it off.
 
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jezter6 said:
Likely way overkill for what you were thinking...
Sweet case mods...

I know, it's definitely overkill. However, I started checking out all the possibilities for those little NSLU2 gadgets, and it piqued my interest. My first project will be to get mpd running on the Debian/NSLU2 distribution. After that...who knows?

Bobby, you point out one of the key disadvantages, but I think I can eventually overcome that as well. I think the direction I've taken here is among the least problematic of the digital/networked solutions - certainly worlds easier than my first idea.
 
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Yuri_Rage
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Bobby_M said:
You know you could have just run your analog audio over your network cabling. I just saw the part where you have cat-5 running near your receiver.
True...but the cost would have been disabling LAN access in the affected rooms.

I know I'm using a fairly complex solution to a simple problem. It should be a fun little project, and I think the possibilities are endless once I get the Slug set up.
 

Bobby_M

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I'm not sure about your house, but they ran Cat-5 even for my phone jacks in every room. Most plates in house have 2 phone, 2 network so that's 3 cat5 runs each. For the phone, I have 4 spare conductors and that would work for audio and I'm actually considering using them for a cheap wired intercom if I can find one. Everything is wireless these days. Why risk transmitting audio outside of the house on such a common 900 Mhz band.
 
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Bobby_M said:
I'm not sure about your house, but they ran Cat-5 even for my phone jacks in every room. Most plates in house have 2 phone, 2 network so that's 3 cat5 runs each. For the phone, I have 4 spare conductors and that would work for audio and I'm actually considering using them for a cheap wired intercom if I can find one. Everything is wireless these days. Why risk transmitting audio outside of the house on such a common 900 Mhz band.
Sounds like your house and mine have a lot in common. I also have Cat 5 cable running to every phone jack. I hadn't thought of using a spare pair for audio, but it sounds like it would work alright.

If you read above, I'm actually going to use a wired network connection for the Slug. I'm excited about the project, and I think it has some real potential as much more than just a remote MP3 player (perhaps a full fledged media server...).
 
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So, everything arrived today. Here's the setup - from left to right: Onkyo receiver, USB sound card, NSLU2 with a 4GB Sony memory stick (note the size - I was amazed at how small the NSLU2 unit is):

4688-slugonshelf.JPG


Currently, I'm just starting my second attempt at a Debian Linux install. In case you were wondering, don't try to move the NSLU2 and accidentally bump the reboot button when you're 83% of the way through a 2 hour OS install.

4688-debianinstall.JPG


I'll be installing Samba, mpd, and alsa (if it isn't packaged in the installation) later this evening. Minor setback aside, so far, so good!
 
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It works! I can play music across the LAN, using the Slug as a server. The sound quality is very good, and I think I can tweak it slightly to make it even better. I'm currently using a Java client to connect from my desktop computer, but I may try a few different clients to figure out which I like best.

Linux has come a LONG way since I last messed with it almost 10 years ago. It had huge potential, but it was very difficult to handle back then. Device drivers were few and far between, and I recall a great deal of frustration trying to install an ethernet card. I'm glad to see that Linux is very much alive and well, and that so many commercial devices are using forms of it. Yesterday I followed some simple instructions, and the Debian installer got my Slug connected to the internet and provided very complete USB support in a matter of seconds. To say the least, I'm very impressed. I can't wait to see what else I can get the Slug to do!

Thanks for all the great ideas, guys! Thanks in particular to olllllo, who suggested this method.
 
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I'm going to use a higher tech solution for the home audio system (music will be shared over a wireless LAN and played on Rhythmbox via PS3). Now I have an NSLU2 with no home. So, it's going to become a wireless brew monitor. It's got support for USB serial devices (like the Arduino microcontroller I like so much), and it even has webcam support! Here's a webcam capture that it grabbed (accessible via the LAN web since it's running the lighttpd web server). The NSLU2 is on the lower right, its HD is to the left, and it's connected to the network via a WRT54G wireless bridge running DD-WRT.

webcamae0.jpg
 

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If you have extra coax in your locations - even old coax - you could use an IP over coax solution.

Or you could use a wireless router in bridge mode hooked up to your onkyo.
 
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No LAN option on the Onkyo. No extra coax available in the new house. I'm pretty happy with the audio scheme...now it's time to work on the brew rig.
 

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I forget you are a geek. If I ever do anything even remotely technically interesting, my very non-technical wife wants to use it. This ends up with me fielding a ton of calls (I travel about 70% of the year sometimes over weekends but mostly not) about "why isn't this or that not working? Can't you fix it from [pick the country/state]?"
 
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Yeah, I get the same thing. I usually wind up using a Ron White-type answer - "Just throw a paper towel over it, I'll clean it up when I get home."

I'm brewing tomorrow - perhaps I'll use the new webcam capability to do a simple webcast.
 

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You've probably found this already if you've done much reading on the slug & NSLU2-Linux, but the processor in some hardware versions is underclocked from 266MHz to 133MHz from the factory (check your BogoMIPS in /proc/cpuinfo to be sure). You can remove (or just cut) one resistor on the board to "de-underclock" it. It's easy to do. Just be sure to cut the right resistor. I got the wrong one initially. Fortunately it didn't seem to hurt anything, but the slug got zapped by lightning shortly after so I'm not certain everything was working okay.
 

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Yuri, you are a nerd, hacking all of this stuff, but I must say, I have no room to talk. I do love the DD-WRT firmware, it's awesome!
 
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