the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Tag Archives: streaming

roon 1.8

Five emails from Roon Labs announcing their latest version, 1.8. Take a look below, that’s the home screen. Seriously. A big “one step back.” No additional features, a horrible UI and UX that’s shaky. Is Roon becoming nothing but a frontend for streaming services? Well, like any other old component in the rack, it’s time to look for the next one and upgrade.

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spotify

rekkids

I come from the age of vinyl. I love my physical formats. Mix tapes, not playlists. I never really considered paid streaming services, mainly because I own all the music I listen to. But things change… When we purchased our new vehicle, we were presented with the convenience of bluetooth. My daughters had been using Spotify for years, albeit with “free” accounts. They’re really not into music that much, so I guess not being able to skip songs and having to listen to ads are no big deal – much like when I was younger, back in the days of FM radio.

Anyway, we purchased a Spotify “Premium Family” plan for $15/month (with the first three (3) months free). It allows up to six (6) family members the ability to play any song ad-free, any time, with the added convenience of offline listening. The last item is key, because it avoids data charges when not on wifi or ethernet – like in the car. So, at the cost of roughly one (1) new CD per month, Spotify is not only inexpensive, it’s good for everyone in my family.

So how’s Spotify?

1. Foremost, the vast majority of artists don’t earn much by having their music streamed on Spotify. Why? Spotify pays out their revenue “pro-rata” vs “user-centric” – the more streams one has, the bigger piece of the total Spotify revenue pie one earns, as opposed to the latter method, where my $15 would be split among what my family listened to that month. There are a lot of arguments, moral and otherwise, around this, and I’ll save that for another post. But make no mistake, if you want to support musicians, go see them live and buy their merchandise with cash. Period.

2. The Spotify app for Android is the worst app of all time. I can’t say anything good about it, other than it works. You’d think being the single point of contact between the company and its consumers, that Spotify would put some effort into the app, you know, a better user interface, personalization options, alternate layouts, etc. Nothing. Total crap.

3. Spotify works with bluetooth. I don’t really listen to music directly on my phone or my computer(s), but I can stream to the car’s radio, my Google Nest Mini, my kid’s Google Home Mini’s (if I really want to pester them) and my Hifiberry. I imagine there’s no need for a portable MP3 player either with Spotify, phones have plenty of storage these days. Also, Spotify does not integrate with Roon, the music management software I use in my house. Why? My guess is the terrible sound quality Spotify serves would be even more terrible on a great hifi. But there are other services that offer high-quality streaming.

4. It’s all about selection. As an aficionado of a rather specialized genre of music, I am astounded at what’s available on Spotify. Japan’s Flower Travellin’ Band, Wales’ Man, Finland’s Tasavallan Presidentti are right beside the catalog favorites (Yes, Genesis, Renaissance) and classic rock I would expect to find. But what’s most frightening, is that it’s all there – there’s no need to buy anything. For a guy that spent decades hunting dusty record bins for every rarity he could find, just about everything, right there, instantly, for $15 a month. Wow.

5. Whatever your take on it, paid streaming services are the future. That’s the big curve of technology – from recording, to physical format, the internet, data files, wireless and now streaming – all the part of one big continuously evolving arc. And in addition to Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play Music, I Heart Radio, Pandora, Qobuz, and Tidal are ready for you to sign up.

The future now. A big, endless plate of all you can eat music.

Spotify

lumin d2

Now that I’m all-in on a digital music and streaming with Roon, it was about time that I upgraded from my “science projects” and bought a “real” DAC/Streamer for my main system. First up was deciding a price-point. Most of my equipment falls in the “couple thousand” dollar range, so it only makes sense that the $100 dollar streamer wasn’t quite up to the rest of my system. Thus, I set a budget of $2000 for the purchase.
As for features, I use ethernet to connect to my home network and Roon core (no real need for wifi), and want to use the balanced outputs to my pre-amp. Displays are pretty cool, but honestly, they’re not that easy to see from a distance. Cambridge had a nice model, CXN, but unfortunately it does not carry Roon Ready credentials. So after posting to the Roon Community website, I landed on the Lumin D2. The company makes much higher end devices (and is known for set-top video boxes in Asia), but all are highly rated, and after scoring a deal at Axpona 2019, I made the purchase. Immediately I heard an upgrade through my system, and I also get the benefit of upsampling to DSD quality.

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On the web:
Lumin D2

this is beep

Just before the holidays I received Beep, a $99 music streaming device. It’s a very simple thing, whose purpose is to provide wireless streaming capability to dumb systems, like a pair of powered speakers, stereo system, boom box, well, just about anything that has an audio input that accepts either 3.5mm analog or digital optical output. I especially like that last part, digital. The Beep runs on 5VDC, sports a metallic finish and consists of a large multifunction knob (start/pause/skip/stop/volume) and some cool flashing lights.

It’s controlled by an app, available on either Android or iOS, that also helps you setup the player on your network. When I first got it, Beep was pretty limited. I could play either Spotify or Pandora, or in my case, neither (because I don’t use either service), though it now also supports SomaFM radio. Okay, it’s still pretty limited. No support for Google Play, Amazon Music, that iTunes thingy, etc.
Screenshot_2015-03-09-17-01-40
Recently however, Beep have added support for DLNA music servers. This is great news, because I can now play all the music on my local media server via the Beep. In order for me to do so, I first installed MiniDLNA software on my Ubuntu box using apt-get, manually edited the config file to get it setup, and opened a few ports in my computer’s firewall, 8200 TCP and 1900 UDP to let MiniDLNA out. It would have been easier if the Beep would just connect to my Squeezebox Server (aka LMS), but it’s just not there, yet…

It would also be better if Beep were a little more stable, and transparent. Throughout the day it randomly lights up “smiley face” (looking for network connection) and “sun shining” (all lights glowing, who knows what this means). That’s ultimately going to be the hard sell on Beep: without a display, no one wants to decode blinking lights; what’s it doing? why is it doing that? It just needs to work.

To use Beep as a renderer (something that plays media from a DLNA server), I had to get another Android app, BubbleUPnP. It’s a fairly straight forward app, though I did have to install the “demo server” in order for it to find my MiniDLNA server. Not sure if this is me or the app, but it was not very intuitive to figure out. That done, however, I can stream my server’s music library to whatever I connect my Beep to.
Screenshot_2015-03-09-16-50-06

On the web:
Beep | Bringing music to every room in your home
MiniDLNA
BubbleUPnP Server

what roku could be…


Don't get me wrong, the Roku HD, at a mere $59, is almost an instant buy. It's a set-top box for streaming digital video. The box connects to your tv or a/v system and facilitates streaming video from the internet, via wireless or wired ethernet connection. It supports Netflix, Amazon VOD, and soon enough Hulu Plus, plus a zillion other "channels" offering everything from sports, music, movies, etc. Too bad their website doesn't have a comprehensive list.

For streaming audio, there's one channel of particular interest to me: MainSqueeze connects your local Squeezebox Server to the Roku. But here's the caveat: the Roku doen't play some audio formats, including Ogg-Vorbis and FLAC. Talk about a heartbreaker!

Will this change in the future? It just seems like too good of an opportunity for Roku to miss, doesn't it? Ogg-Vorbis and FLAC are free, open standards that do not require any licensing fees. Further, the Roku, at just $59 for the entry model, is so much less expensive than the Squeezebox Touch that you could buy five (5) for the same price – one for nearly every room! Ogg-Vorbis and FLAC support usually sets the audiophile scene/buzz on fire, just as the Sansa Clip did when it added support for those formats. It would also give Roku a leg-up on Apple TV, which will never natively support Ogg-Vorbis nor FLAC.

Write Roku and let them know we want Ogg-Vorbis and FLAC support now!

On the web:
Roku Digital Video Player