If you've got gigabytes of music you want to play from a central server in your living room—without keeping a big ugly PC there—the Squeezebox network music player's for you. A Squeezebox is a shiny black box that plays the digital music saved in virtually any format on your computer over your home wireless network, plus thousands of internet radio stations. Working alongside the SlimServer software on your computer, the Squeezebox device—hooked up to your stereo—plays all your digital music via remote control. Here's how to get it set up.
What You'll Need
- a large CD collection
- A Squeezebox device
- The SlimServer software installed on your machine (the installation is extremely straightforward)
- A dedicated hard drive for your music
- A home network (wireless or wired)
- A stereo
A note on the dedicated hard drive: You don't have to have a dedicated hard drive just for music in order to do this, but if you've got a large music collection, you'll probably want to make the investment. External, internal, doesn't really matter— whatever fits your musical storage needs. I bought the biggest one I could afford at the time; a decently sized 300 GB.
Get Your Music to the Squeezebox
The first thing you'll need to do is get into SlimServer on your computer. If you have purchased a Squeezebox, this is already said and done.
Get into the SlimServer interface and click on Server Settings, Basic Settings. This is where you're going to specify where you music folder is. You're also going to designate if you'd like to use iTunes or your own customised folder structure to send music to the SlimServer. While you're free to use whichever method works for you, I found that iTunes was the absolute dead easiest one to get going with this setup— after all, it does organise all your music for you. One last thing for the Basic Settings stuff: you'll definitely want to check off the rescan option. This tells the SlimServer to add music on your machine to the Squeezebox; this could be downloaded music or music that you have on another networked machine.
Next, go to Basic Settings, iTunes. These settings are pretty self-explanatory.
After you've got all these settings organised, go ahead and close the SlimServer (it keeps running in the background). Open up iTunes and pop in your favourite as-yet-unscanned CD in the appropriate drive. iTunes should pop up and ask you if you want to import this CD; you'll want to click "yes".
The import process takes roughly five minutes, depending on the CD, speed of your machine, size of your hard drive, etc. After iTunes is finished importing, the CD is in the iTunes library and since you tweaked the SlimServer settings already, it's already sent to your Squeezebox, where you can listen to it with the click of a remote. That's about it—it's so simple. Here's a few screenshots that give a bit more background information for the process:
Here's a short video clip of how the CD's look on your Squeezebox after you're all done setting up the process.
Pros and Cons—Price
Okay, so the Squeezebox is pricey (around $300), but the SlimServer software is free—which raises the question of why would you fork out the dough for the Squeezebox?
Well, you do have a couple other options: you can run SlimServer with a NAS device that is conceivably cheaper than the Squeezebox. However, you would have to somehow access the command line in the NAS in order to install the SlimServer; plus, most NAS devices won't have the CPU oomph to run the SlimServer without some stutters. In addition, you can run SlimServer running somewhere on your network with access to your music files on a dedicated drive. Bottom line is that the Squeezebox is simply a dumb terminal: without SlimServer it's not worth anything. However, if you want to access ALL your music from your living room without a) grokking an NAS device to accept the software or b) putting up with a space-hogging music-only PC, then the Squeezebox is the way to go. After all, what we're looking for here is maximum music in the minimum amount of space. Plus, you get a nifty remote control to zip through it all.
Pros and Cons—Time and Space
It also takes time to get all your music over to the Squeezebox; however, you could just pop CD's in and out all day as you're going about your regular work and it shouldn't take away from your productivity at all.
In addition, with the space you potentially save by using the Squeezebox and SlimServer to store all your music, you can have a way less cluttered living space—not to mention your friends and family will be awed by all the music that is apparently magically stored in that itty-bitty box on top of your coffee table. Or maybe that's just my friends and family (they're easily entertained).
Pros and Cons—Availability
You do have to have the PC that the SlimServer is installed on powered up in order to listen to your Squeezebox. The jury is still out on whether or not it's a good idea to completely turn off your computer every night; the computer that we use to run SlimServer is pretty much on all the time except for thrice-weekly reboots so I haven't found this to be a problem.
The biggest pro of using this setup? The incredible luxury of having all your music in one convenient access point that you can remotely control from the comfort of your couch. I find that I'm listening to more music than ever before now, simply because it's all there in one slick little box. How do you organise your music? Let's hear in the comments.
Wendy Boswell, Lifehacker's Weekend Editor, is appreciating the extra space in her living room that the Squeezebox has created.