SliMP3 Not Quite There, iRock Fails

by Scot Hacker


When I wrote the MP3 book for O'Reilly two years ago, I incorrectly predicted that the mainstream electronics market would soon be flooded with all manner of MP3 home stereo components. While a few semi-commercial units have been released, almost everything out there is still coming from 2nd-tier vendors, or consists of bodged-up home computers stuffed into smaller cases, running some form of Linux hacked every which way to Sunday.




Very cool, but as much as I want to be listening to my MP3 collection on the home stereo, I had a different idea about how to do it right. I've already got a meticulously organized collection on the hard drive of my always-on G4, and I don't want to have to be sync'ing it with the stereo all the time. I will not tolerate fan noise in the system, and I want something low-profile. The perfect solution, as far as I could see, would be a small unit consisting of nothing but an ethernet port, an MP3-decoding DSP, and an LCD or LED display. The collection would be controlled from any of the browser-based PHP or perl packages out there.




Slim Devices built exactly the device I was looking for with their SliMP3. A friend bought one and fell immediately in love with it.




My only real hesitation with the device is its lack of digital outputs (I have an outboard DAC that I hate to see go to waste). So while I wait for another rev of the SliMP3 to arrive with digital out (not that the company has promised, but it is a highly requested feature, and seems inevitable), I decided to monkey around with another - and much cheaper - solution. Plunked down $30 for an iRock - a tiny FM transmitter that takes whatever is coming out of your computer's audio-out jack and broadcasts it to the tuner in your home stereo. Cheap, and seemingly elegant.




The iRock arrived yesterday, and turned out not to be a panacea at all. Living in the SF Bay Area, the low end of my FM radio dial is full of signal, but I chose 88.1, where the existing signal was weakest of the four options. Got 90% static, 10% signal. Put the iRock on an extension cord and hoisted it up to line of sight with the stereo, which is 25 feet away in the living room. Better, but still static-y. Pulled out the tuner's FM attena and spread it all over the room. Finally, I was getting 95% signal and 5% noise. But that's 5% noise too much, and at the expense of spreading wires all over two rooms. Kind of defeats the point. I'd get better results running audio cable under the floor, and wouldn't need to mess with batteries. The iRock went into a drawer. Maybe it will come in handy when we take a trip and want to listen to the iPod in the car.




For now, I'll keep listening to MP3s on computer speakers, biding my time until Slim Devices takes their near-perfect unit the final mile to MP3 nirvana.




Have good experiences with other MP3 home stereo devices?


11 Comments

mknepher
2002-06-27 10:38:57
Playing MP3s on home stereo
Despite their cheezy image, X10 does have some useful stuff. I use their MP3/DVD Anywhere rf transceivers to push video and audio from my computers to my home entertainment center on the other side of the living room. They even work from room-to-room fairly well. The signal quality is very good, with only very occasional interference.
brucest
2002-06-27 13:34:12
iBook is working for me
While I realize it's not the solution you're looking for, I've been pleasantly surprised at how well the combination of iTunes and a new iBook is working for adding this kind of functionality to my life. I just keep a cord hanging off my AUX stereo port, and jack my iBook in when I get home. I invested some time in ripping my favorite CDs to MP3 on the iBook, and I'm really enjoying the greatly increased listening options I now have (shuffle through a specific artist, genre, my whole collection, etc.) I especially like never having to ask the question "Where is that CD??" anymore.
shack
2002-06-27 17:48:28
iBook is working for me
Laptops are perfect except in two respects:


1) Small hard drives (my collection is 80GBs and still growing - mostly ripped from my own CDs)


2) It's a lot of money to tie up into a stereo component - although a used one could do the job pretty well.


And you still need to rig up remote control or browser based control if you want that...

anonymous2
2002-09-13 21:02:47
Slimp3
I too would like to have digital out on the slimp3 player, but I find it odd that you would choose an FM solution over the RCA connections of the slimp3. So far my big complaint with the slim is the has to do with mp3s that I'm going to have to "Normalize" my older songs to get a consistent volume as opposed to it normalizing via the ID3 tags.
weebotech
2003-01-03 07:09:41
Consider a Turtle Beach Audiotron
Although not as hackable as a Slimp3.
The audiotron is a definite step in the right direction.


http://www.turtlebeach.com/site/products/audiotron/producthome.asp


Pros:
Looks like an audio component
(front panel access, remote control access, rack mountable).


Works like a web appliance (Web server builtin).
RCA and Digital outs.


No server software applications needed however,
You will need to run some sort of Windows based file sharing.
I.E. sharing a windows directory or running Samba on Linux or a NAS device.


This can be considered a pro or a con.


Http programmable interface. I.E. Applications can send commands via http calling an accessible API on the web server. Good for automation.


Turtle Beach is committed to providing good support. They've enhanced the firmware multiple times to add features per user requests.


Cons:
RCA outs not as good as could be.


Speed of web server.


There is a finite amout of ram for loading MP3 information/tags. It's reported the upper limit is in the 30,000 range.


Scanning of large collections can take a bit of time, yet TB has provided an API for caching and loading a table of contents which is 10x faster.


anonymous2
2003-01-31 16:39:38
just how would the cable option work?
I have a Powerbook with a 1/8" audio-out jack. Let's say I want to listen to music from it in the kitchen, 75 feet away.


If I run a 75-foot cable with 1/8" connections on both ends from the audio-out jack to a set of powered speakers, would that work?


Thanks.

anonymous2
2003-03-02 20:34:24
MP3 Audio Wire
There is a company coming out with an audio wire that you can hook uo to your stereo from your PC sound card. Then you can play all your MP3's through your stereo.b
anonymous2
2003-04-13 18:16:42
MP3 Audio Wire
IT IS OUT!!! http://www.pcaudiowire.com/pca_order.asp
anonymous2
2003-04-13 18:17:22
YES ITS HERE
http://www.pcaudiowire.com/pca_order.asp
anonymous2
2003-04-30 05:21:36
MP3 Audio Wire
You mean (shudder!) there's a RCA to phono cable coming out?! That's AMAZING. I can't believe this isn't at Radio Shack already!


Wait...this one has colored ends. I'm going to get seven of them.


Nice advert, creep.

unithom
2004-02-28 12:20:38
SliMP3 does this now
Squeezebox, the latest offering from Slim Devices, now has wireless ethernet and a digital out (both optical and coax), as well as RCA, ethernet, power connections. Check it out! Their developer community is constantly adding new features, audio codecs, and updating the firmware free of charge.


So, even though this article is a bit out of date, hopefully this comment will help to keep the information on this page current.