Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Squeezebox

We have had a iPod in our kitchen for a while.  The iHome IH36 keeps the iPod off the counter, while providing amplified speakers.  Unfortunately, I haven't been completly happy with this solution.  The problem is with the iPod it self, and not the iHome.

The iPod only presents a static view of your music.  In order to refresh it, you need to connect it to your computer.  The staleness problem isn't the only issue that I have.  

I don't have time to create playlists for the iPod, so most often, I just play all of the content in shuffled order.  But this has the problem of playing music that I have no interest in (i.e. Holiday or Children's music).  But even if I avoided that content the mixes are random, so it is hard to get into the music.

I have been looking at the Sqeezebox for a while as a way to solve this problem.  In addition to playing our whole library of content, it can connect to the network for other sources of music.  For example, through their SqueezeNetwork, it can play (and create) Pandora radio streams.  Pandora stations are very good collections of music that relate to one of your songs or artists.



As a companion to the Pandora streams, the Sqeezebox can play a varity of Internet Radio streams.  The other cool thing that I mentioned here, is that it can play your library of content from MP3Tunes.  This would allow you to play your music, without having to leave a computer on.

Playing Pandora and Internet Radio streams work perfectly.  You can even mark certain stations a favorites to make it easy to get to them.

There are several problems/annoyances with this solution:

One major problem with this solution involves MP3Tunes.  There is a large delay when attempting to retrieve a list with a lot of items in it.  For example, when attempting to retrieve the list of the artists in our colleciton, the results are not returned for a good 30 seconds.  This should be a easy problem to solve.  The Squeezebox only displays a single line at a time, so it should be possible for the MP3Tunes server to only return a small number of items in the list back to the device.  In addition the MP3Tunes server could create the correct indexes on the data. These would make the Squeezebox more responsive when displaying this data.

Because of that problem, I have resynchronized my music collection back to my NAS at home, and I will just run SlimServer on our Mac mini.

The other problem is with how SlimServer handles compilations and albums with tracks that have guest artists.  The MP3Tunes syncing software (as well as iTunes) creates directories for every artist.  So if an album has tracks from multiple artists, the files for the tracks will be in seperate directories.  SlimServer doesn't handle this well, and will create seperate albums for these situations.  The solution is to either:

  1. Move all of the tracks to the same directory

  2. Make sure the compilation bit in the id3 tag is set correctly

  3. Make sure that the AlbumArtist tag is set correctly (I believe that this will work.)


I am in the process of fixing the tags.

The other minor annoyance is how they integrated local SlimSever and SqueezeNetwork on the Squeezebox. If you are browsing on the device while playing some content, and you transition from local browsing to SqueezeNetworks or vice versa, the Sqeezebox stops playing music.  This is unfortunately as the only way to be able to play Pandora content is through SqeezeNetwork.  It would be great if you create your own menu structure with menu items from either a local SlimServer or from SqueezeNetwork.

Even with those problems, I am very happy with the Squeezebox