Rampant consumerism update

I posted a shopping list the other day and have actually gotten motivated to buy most of the stuff.  Here’s a report so far on how everything is working.

The Infrant 1 TB network-attached storage (NAS) device came pre-configured as RAID 5 spread across four 250 GB SATA disk drives.  The actual amount of available storage is only around 630 GB because of the RAID 5 overhead and 32 GB reserved for journaling.  It took about fifteen minutes to plug in and set up the Infrant, which sells for about $1200; the Windows XP desktop machine automatically recognized the newly available shared folders served by the Infrant.  The Infrant is very quiet (Net wisdom is that this is quieter than the competitive Buffalo NAS), producing about 10 percent as much noise as the desktop PC, which was custom-assembled supposedly as a “silent PC”.  I copied all of my music files over to the NAS using a new Netgear 16-port gigabit Ethernet switch.  Sadly I think that the Infrant is the only devicein my house that is actually capable of gigabit Ethernet.

Step two was to plug in a Sonos whole-house music system.  This also required about 15 minutes of set up.  I pointed it at the Infrant’s “media” share and the Sonos software automatically indexed my entire music collection, which was in two separate trees.  Each Sonos “zone player” box has the following components:

  • 802.11 Wifi receiver
  • wired 10/100-baseT four-port Ethernet switch (so that if you have a single Ethernet drop in a room you can plug in the Sonos Zone Player and then plug the PC into the Sonos)
  • 50 watt/channel power amplifier so that you can use the loudspeakers of your choice
  • audio line input that can digitize a signal from a home audio system or television
  • audio line output to drive a standard home audio system’s preamp or television
  • enough hardware and software to convert MP3, WMA, AAC, and WAV streams into 44.1 KHz CD-style digital audio and then convert that to analog to play over the loudspeakers

You can drive all of the Sonos zone players from software installed on a Windows PC or Macintosh OS X machine or from a nifty big-screen wireless controller that has lots of clearly labeled buttons, three soft keys, and an iPod-style wheel.  My plan is to plug one zone player into my legacy home stereo (so old it has vacuum tubes in the preamp!).  This way if I’m playing a Super Audio CD or LP record I will be able to broadcast that to other rooms and if I have a playlist of salsa music on MP3 I can play that on the fancy power amp and speakers (currently B&W 803s).  The other zone players can go into other corners of this miserably chopped up 2BR apartment (http://philip.greenspun.com/materialism/house-design/ talks about what I really want for a house).  I will leave the system in “party mode” so that all of the players are playing the same file at the same time.

Limitations so far of the Sonos:  for the moment it can’t understand DRM-encoded files, which I think means that it won’t play music from the iTunes store or Yahoo! Music.  The system does support Rhapsody (though Rhapsody itself is a Windows-only product) and gives you a 30-day free trial for that unlimited listening service.

Possible alternative:  If you’re tight on space and enjoy ripping up the ceilings a traditional in-wall system might make more sense.  Each Sonos player is about the size of two bricks and reasonably good speakers are at least the size of a couple of dictionaries.  On the other hand an in-wall whole-house music system is more maintenance-intensive, is hard to upgrade when it becomes obsolete, and will cost $2000+ for professional installation.

10 thoughts on “Rampant consumerism update

  1. Nice!

    After making my comment about not really needing anything more than a P&S digital camera, I ended up getting a Canon digital Rebel XT about a week ago, my first non-P&S still camera. (I’m working part-time on a web project involving a fair bit of photography, and wanted something nicer to take my pictures with.)

    I have much learning to do in this department, but so far I’m impressed, and rather enjoying doing some more high-end photography. Now I need to work expanding my lens collection. 🙂

  2. Standard wireless speakers are another alternative to ripping up ceilings, but you’ll get a burst of static whenever somebody turns on the microwave.

    Your shopping list inspired me to order a Kilowatt exercise device; it should arrive in a few days.

  3. Protected files bought off iTunes can be burnt to an audio CD. Rip the new audio CD and you end up with plain MP3 files (or whatever format you choose). A bit tedious, but workable.

    Is there any lose of fidelity? Since audio CDs are in fact digital data(?), it seems there should be no degradation.

  4. Preston,

    Music on a CD is digital data and as such can be reproduced to any number of generations without degredation. The problem here is that the duplication you propose passes a lossy-compression boundry. That is, the DRM file is compressed, you uncompress it to get it to CD (CD format is not compressed) and then you recompress it when you send it back to MP3. Recompression results in a different file. If that is done only once and a decent MP3 setting is selected, it shouldn’t matter too much. Going back and forth several times would probably impact quality quite a bit.

    The same problem happens with digital images. This is why it is best to keep the image in an uncompressed state (shoot RAW, only modify RAW/TIFF images, etc.) while working with it and only save to JPEG (or a different compressed format) as the final step.

    Lossy compression kills the generational non-degradation feature of digital data.

  5. Did you ever find any decent links to reviews of the Infrant and comparisons to the TerrorStation ???

  6. Philip: most PCs start out nice and quiet, but wait until the fans and disks get older and their noise will go up a lot. I bought these Maxtor (or was it WD?) “Ultra Quiet” drives over a year ago for a simple RAID-1 setup in my Linux box (see below) and boy they were quiet! Unfortunately, by now they are the loudest drives I have ever owned…

    How well do the different rooms sync up? Is there any delay?

    Preston, GN: the Sonos will play uncompressed WAV or AIFF files quite hapily, as will it play FLAC lossless compressed files (about 2:1 compress ratio) So you really don’t need to lose any quality by burning and then ripping DRMed files.

    A cheaper alternative to Sonos is the Squeeze Box. Not as nice, but a helluvalot cheaper. I have used one with no problems. It does require server software, for which I run a bog standard Fedora Linux box with two drives in RAID-1 to hold my music. The software also runs on Windows or MacOS X, if you don’t plan to run a dedicated music server for it.

  7. Does Sonos allow you to control an Internet radio application, like MusicMatch? I really dig the Sonos system, but I play Internet radio more often than from my personal MP3 collection. I am building a new house right now, and looking for something like Sonos that will allow me to wirelessly control Internet radio more than anything. Any suggestions?

  8. Does Sonos allow you to control an Internet radio application, like MusicMatch? I really dig the Sonos system, but I play Internet radio more often than from my personal MP3 collection. I am building a new house right now, and looking for something like Sonos that will allow me to wirelessly control Internet radio more than anything. Any suggestions?

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