Back in 2009 I migrated my digital music off CDs. The music lives on a Mac Pro and I play it through iTunes, digital out via USB to a high-end audio system. I’ve become unhappy with the setup. The biggest problem is iTunes, which I’ve come to loathe; but that’s not all.

[Update: If you’re interested in this stuff, do not fail to read the comments. Tons of ideas there.]

Requirements · Mine are a little unusual because I insist on storing the music losslessly; also because I don’t want to send it all over the house a la Sonos. But they’re also simple; I just want to point at a recording or playlist or something streaming off the Net and say “play that right now” and have it play, right then.

iTunes · It’s always been kinda klunky and awkward: too many clicks to anywhere, opaque button labels, unsettlingly like Windows. We all used it anyhow because that’s where the music was. But recently it’s reached the point where I sigh every time I fire iTunes up and prepare to wait.

My #1 complaint is that when I just want to listen to some music, iTunes gets in my way. If it isn’t actually running it takes forever to start. Then, unreasonably often, it wants to update itself. Then maybe it decides it needs to reindex, or tell me about Ping, or do some genius-bar stuff, all of which get between me and my music.

Let me put it this way: Playing a song on iTunes often takes longer than it did to get the CD off the shelf, slide the player’s drawer out and in, and wait for the music to start.

I think I’ve been influenced by the music apps on my Android devices. The iOSians tell me theirs is better, but I can tell you that I have two or three different programs on my Galaxy Tab which get me to the music immensely faster than iTunes running on a large dual-quad-core “personal computer”.

Now, consider all the things iTunes is: a music and video player, a podcatcher, an online music-and-apps-and-books store, a social network, an AI, a mobile-device manager, and probably more. Maybe lightweightness along with all that is too much to ask. It’s just unfortunate for me that the tool I’d like to spin tunes with lives in the sprawling mansion at the center of Apple’s mobile/media plantation.

What I Want · There are already tons of cloud-based music services and doubtless more coming; I personally spend most time with thesixtyone. But surely the days of “having a music collection” are not over, and there will remain a market (as in, yes, I’d pay for it) for something that will just get out of the damn way and play the damn music.

The Hardware · I’m becoming irritated by the big living-room Mac Pro in its capacity as music box. Earlier in the process, I noted that it was pretty quiet. I don’t think so any more; we’ve done some work and taken the ambient noise in the room down, and it’s become obvious that the Pro does not do audiophile-level silent running; I have to close the cabinet door and turn its screen off to get the hum down to a tolerable level, which means that if I want to glance at the album art or whatever, I can’t.

So, I dunno; maybe a Mac Mini, or something that’s not a computer? A smart media-savvy Google colleague suggested a Sonos even if I don’t care about multi-room. And there’s audiophile gear, for example Olive.

More investigation is required. I haven’t figured out what the right next step is, but I’m sure that I can do better than I am right now, hardware and software both.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: David Pashley (Mar 07 2011, at 01:33)

In Europe, we have Spotify, which is making it very close to the position of not requiring a music collection any more. I can stream from any computer and to my Android phone; it's very rare that I listen to music not via Spotify these days. There are some notable gaps in the tracks available, but 99% of what you want is there. I've noticed a number of tracks disappearing and as long as that doesn't keep happening, I'm happy to keep giving them £10 a month.


From: David Collie (Mar 07 2011, at 01:37)

+1 for the Sonos. I have a single S5 but it works great streaming my iTunes library from a NAS.


From: Graeme Tait (Mar 07 2011, at 01:53)

I have a similar setup (although much cheaper!), and while I agree with you about what's wrong with iTunes, I don't seem to experience any of the same annoyances. Firstly, I use an old headless Mac Mini hooked up to a hifi system. This machine is stored in a cupboard so I can't even see it, let alone hear it. I imagine a Mac Mini stored in a cabinet would be just as silent. Secondly, I treat this machine more like a server than a desktop, in that I never turn it off. The advantage to this is that I never, ever have to wait for iTunes to do anything, as it's always running. Thirdly, if I want to play music I rarely use the iTunes interface, instead using the Remote app on an iPhone. This app is fantastic, I really can't recommend it enough.

So from this setup I can walk in to the room, turn on the hifi and start playing whatever music I want instantly without touching a computer. ('touching a computer' really seems like the wrong phrase, as of course I am physically 'touch'ing a pocket computer!) But it's the instantaneous response that really makes this system so powerful, and seems to be missing from your setup. The smartphone becomes the interface to your music, and the fact that there is a desktop computer driving this is forgotten about.

Of course, this is ignoring getting music in to iTunes, but I have to say that I find that fairly painless too.


From: Ricco (Mar 07 2011, at 01:55)

For me, iTunes has been degraded to a mobile device manager and music container. I sync my music to my iPad and iPhone and use those to play it on my home stereo via an Airport Expresss and AirPlay. That way I can play my own collection or whatever other source I might want (Spotify, web radio, some other music playing app) directly from a handheld, couch-comfortness.

A lot of Apple here, I know, but it just works.


From: christian (Mar 07 2011, at 02:03)

If you haven't already, take a look at Logitech Squeezebox. Open source server, and players that connect wirelessly to your music files (so you can basementise your Mac Pro). Supports just about any music format you can think of. Kind of a cheaper version of the Sonos.


From: christoph (Mar 07 2011, at 02:44)

(old/used) mac mini, windows + foobar2000, completely customizable, ui wise and with plugins, super fast and lightweight. streaming with upnp/dlna plugin.

silent, cheap and powerful setup :)


From: Alex Fiennes (Mar 07 2011, at 02:46)

You should have a little look at - I'm not sure whether it has a digital optical out, but it has the option for adding high quality external DACs so it shouldn't be too difficult to add a USB sound card with the appropriate outputs.

I've been using a slimdevices squeezebox for some time hooked up to a Musical Fidelity DAC and getting better performance than I have out of any CD based system.


From: David Kågedal (Mar 07 2011, at 03:01)

I use a Squeezebox. I store a single flac file per CD, and the server software (squeezecenter) uses cue files to find to individual tracks. You can of course use individual track files instead.

And you get internet radio and other services (spotify, depending on where you live). And the server sw is extensible and hackable.


From: Erik (Mar 07 2011, at 03:43)

I hear you on the iTunes becoming more of an impediment to getting music to play back immediately. The bigger the library, the longer the startup delay, and it hits the disk hard after any metadata updates since it exports the entire library as an XML file...that's all your fault, Tim :-)

The solution I've come up with that seems to combine the best of all worlds is a Mac Mini in the living room, hooked up to the stereo (and the TV) with iTunes running all of the time. Now obviously keeping a big lossless library (plus films) just isn't going to be viable here since you end up with a stack of external disks that make as much noise as the Mac Pro.

To get around this, I host the files of the iTunes library on an NFS share, which offers a number of advantages over AFP or SMB since a statically mapped share (NFS Mounts in the Disk Utility) has a path that never changes, while if you use AFP or SMB and there are connection issues, a reconnect may end up with a second entry under /Volumes with a "-x" appended to it. This is fine for user based navigation but iTunes expects a hard pathname that doesn't change and will insist that the library is missing. Now if the server goes offline for whatever reason iTunes simply stops playing, but as soon as the server is available again, it just picks up where it left off.

I've tried different mixes of OpenSolaris, Solaris Express and Nexenta to host the NFS shares, all of which work amazingly well, with the added advantages that I keep hourly ZFS snapshots of the library to permit me to recover from stupid user errors. This has the added advantage of centralizing the actual data files on a system that I can efficiently backup using ZFS send/recv.

The Mac Mini consumes almost no power is almost perfectly silent and discreet in the living room. I'm currently evaluating the HP N36L as the dedicated file server since it is small, quiet and consumes under 50W in regular use with four 2Tb Samsung EcoGreen drives. Other side advantages are that with home sharing and an always on iTunes library, I can now play back anything in the library from any iOS device or iTunes equipped machine immediately either through the stereo via Remote or locally.

The only additional thing that I've done recently was to upgrade the Mac Mini to a 64Gb SSD to minimize the impact of the iTunes XML export. This particular Mini is one of the second generation Intel machines so it's starting to get a little long in the tooth and limited to 2Gb of RAM, and is also used as the daily computer for my wife for iPhoto (also on an NFS share), general web browsing, mail, etc. so swapping was becoming an issue.


From: Daniel (Mar 07 2011, at 04:26)

I guess an iPhone/iPad for controlling iTunes (and viewing album art) on an out-of-the-room Mac isn't an option ... ;-)

Trying to get the optimal digital music setup is a road to madness. At least if you are concerned with sync and metadata preservation as well as ease of use and great sound.

I got a Squeezebox a couple of years ago. It's a nice piece of hardware, works well for playback (at least the earlier models are supposed to have DAC:s of equal quality as some premium devices) in a no fuzz way - you can clearly see it's geek roots. Managing playlists is not that great though, neither on the small LCD-display nor the web interface. I guess some of the newer models (with real screens) might be more usable.

My music (and the Squeezebox Server software) lives on a Linux NAS that is a little too slow to do any real processing, which means I have to keep my music in the natively supported FLAC format. For more capable music servers there are on the fly transcoding options, but I'm not sure if you'd get lossless transcoding from ALAC-FLAC or rather ALAC-MP3. (You could always batch transcode the whole collection.)

There is support for quite a few Internet music services, and some standard streaming protocols. Unfortunately the support for the only service I actually use, Spotify, requires an Intel server.

For me the main drawback is that it doesn't work well with iTunes/iPhone - at least not when the music is in FLAC format. I have to have multiple libraries, with all the hassle of syncing media and managing metadata and playlists in multiple places. (I've looked in to Mp3FS for that, and it might be useful. But not on my current hardware. And it won't help for playlists.)

I'm looking at the Mac Mini option, possibly as a better Squeezebox server with ALAC/iTunes support, or possibly for going all in on iTunes. I'd prefer to place it in the server closet, as I can't justify a Mini with no other duties than being a music player/server, so I guess that would mean transcoding and streaming to the Squeezebox. There is AirPlay (former AirTunes) through Airport Express, but I have no idea if the DAC in it is any good.


From: The_Qwerty (Mar 07 2011, at 04:38)

The subscription based services like Rhapsody/Zune Pass/Spotify continue to make more and more sense to me. Does it kind of suck to no longer "own" my music? Sure, a little. Is the quality as good as a CD/lossless rip? No, but for me it's transparent.

It's not at all perfect, but the size of Rhapsody's library and the ability to easily access it on my Android/iOS devices and through a number of items in my home entertainment system (I prefer Slim Devices' Squeezebox) makes it worth the monthly payment.

It sure beats doing all of the back-end work myself.

Granted, that may change when Rhapsody decides they really do want to stay on iOS and they pass that 30% Apple tax down to all of their customers.


From: Daniele Gobbetti (Mar 07 2011, at 04:39)

Hi Tim,

on the software side I'd suggest that you check out git-annex.

Of course is a bit on the geeky-side, but it works.


From: alex (Mar 07 2011, at 04:49)

The interface for the AppleTV is pretty awesome. (in that, 1) you can just spend 100bucks and not have to change anything 2) my girlfriend figured it out on her own )


From: B Michael (Mar 07 2011, at 05:13)

My suggestion: Buy a lightweight box with a fast, quiet hard drive, and then hook that up to a small monitor and your DAC. Really, the computer is a just a transport, right?

[Longer answer below]

Have you ever looked at the community? There is a lot of passionate, reasonably well informed folks over there. Your problems with iTunes are both reasonable and unreasonable.

The startup time for the program is pretty bad. On my older MBP, it took more than a minute. I think there was a plist file I could have deleted and started over to make it faster. The more music you have, the more smart playlists you have (especially!), the more everything you have, the slower it is. I have a 13" air w/4gb ram right now, and itunes is the only program that causes a beachball or any visible slowdown.

On the other hand, I'm only prompted to update occasionally (they update the program more, likely, because all their flagship devices run through it), and on the first launch the program may "inform" me about new services, but it's nothing as how you described. That seems like petty sniping to me.


From: JulesLt (Mar 07 2011, at 05:37)

iTunes starts quite quickly (1-2 seconds) on my laptop - which has 5 days of audio - compared to my main machine - which has over 50 days.

My guess is that most of the startup time is spent spinning up the database engine, loading in thousands of album cover thumbnails, etc - the autocomplete on artist name when tag editing is lovely and quick, but I'd appreciate a faster startup and maybe a delay while it loaded the artist index when I started tag editing.

(It feels very much like starting a Postgres or Oracle instance, and that's no surprise, as it is largely a database).

On the other hand, I've tried going the other way, and using VLC, as good lightweight player - and it's fine so long as you know exactly what you want to play - and where it is.

Songbird is a mess.

There's definitely a market there. It's a niche - but on the other hand, it's the kind of niche that audiophile equipment and re-issue labels are able to make millions out of.

As for hardware - sounds like the key is getting the HD out of the listening room. Doesn't the Airport Express do digital out? (If not the Apple TV definitely does and can act as audio only). Combine that with an SSD based notebook to act as the remote control??

(Theoretically you control it from an iPod Touch, but I'm personally still quicker with a full keyboard).


From: Simon Jones (Mar 07 2011, at 06:12)

Take a look at

These players sound awesome and use open protocols for control and media. I store my music on NAS device in the basement and control the player with an iPad that I leave on my coffee table. The software on the NAS (Twonky) and the iPad (ChorusDS) is written by third parties.

Given your day job, you will be happy to see that there's control software for Android:

Not only can these devices play uncompressed FLAC and ALAC, they can also play high-resolution files (

There's a wiki with more information:

There's one big drawback to the Linn devices: they are expensive.


From: zdw (Mar 07 2011, at 06:23)

Some options:

1. Leave iTunes running all the time, but hidden or minimized. The major cost for this is a bit of RAM, but RAM is cheap these days and a Mac Pro can take a whole lot of it.

2. Rather than going to the machine and using it's UI to play back music, use a mobile wifi connected device as a remote. iOS devices have Apple's version, and someone figured out the protocol and wrote an Android client (haven't tried it):

3. To get the Mac Pro out of the way, you can use an Airport Express or AppleTV as an audio out. Both have analog and lossless optical digital outputs (you can pass DTS encoded audio over it to a receiver, for example) so you could wire it up to an external DAC if so inclined.


From: Michael Thaler (Mar 07 2011, at 07:00)

I feel similarly about iTunes, and this is my music player:

I don't know how well it runs on anything other than Ubuntu, but on there it's fast, everything I need, and very little I don't.


From: stiv kit (Mar 07 2011, at 07:16)

I have a mac pro in my office, and use the Airport Express to stream to my living room's stereo.

It's a nice little device. No computer gear in the Living room, and ios devices for the remote.

Also, check out Fidelia, a new Mac music player.

I ve been using it and like it. It uses your itunes playlists if you want and has great sound.


From: Richard Dale (Mar 07 2011, at 07:19)

I use Macs, and in the past year I've ripped all my CDs to AIFF under iTunes. I rip them using XLD and play them using an app Decibel.

XLD has more error checking than iTunes (which doesn't report errors at all). It is Free Software licensed under the GPL.

Decibel is simpler than iTunes and sounds better - the complex processing involved in iTunes trying to be everything and the kitchen sink also has an impact on its sound quality. You can get Decibel for 33 dollars at

I find the Computer Audiophile site ( is a good source of information about this sort of thing.


From: Brandt Kurowski (Mar 07 2011, at 08:00)

I'm no fan of the iTunes UI in general, but using it doesn't have to be all that painful as you're making it out to be.

As long as you've got your Mac setup to automatically login to your account on boot, and to automatically start iTunes on login, then iTunes is always running when you need it. Yes, there's an update to install every couple of months, but your media center doesn't actually have to be running the latest software, does it?

iTunes is quite responsive on my three year old Mac mini playing a 342GB library stored on a Solaris server accessed over NFS, i.e. with slower processor, less ram, and slower IO than your setup. Perhaps something else is making the iTunes experience on your Mac Pro suck?


From: John Childs (Mar 07 2011, at 08:20)

Well, this isn't really a mac friendly solution, but I really love the zune software on my pc's especially when combined with a Zune Pass for unlimited downloads/streaming. I really only use it for MP3's so for internet radio streams and stuff I generally use VLC.

On my mac I find myself using spotify free alot, although that is not US friendly.


From: Paul Huff (Mar 07 2011, at 08:54)

I use a squeezebox. There's also a virtual squeeze box written in java so you can listen to your music on any machine with a java vm. The API is clean and nice. I have written an emacs interface, so I can choose new music to listen to without leaving my editor.

While they're not quite as opensource-y and cool-independent as they were before they got acquired by logitech, the API hasn't changed in several years (4 or more?) so my elisp implementation has been pretty stable.


From: Ryan Cousineau (Mar 07 2011, at 09:07)

Not swearing it will solve your problem, but are you a prime candidate for the new-gen Apple TV? The trick there is (optical) digital out to your components, and a noiseless box for the actual distribution.

It also lets you browse off the Apple TV interface on screen, using a little remote (which you probably already have), or via your other computers.

It might not be the whole solution, but it would make your listening room low-noise.

I'm facing a very similar music and video distribution challenge, so keep us posted.


From: Dirkjan Ochtman (Mar 07 2011, at 09:09)

+1 on the Squeezebox. Pretty cheap, should have a fairly good DAC. Streams from an open source server (Perl + MySQL, should be familiar enough?) over wired or wireless Ethernet (I think there might even be some Firewire in there).

My model doesn't have a color display, but I imagine newer ones do.


From: Phil (Mar 07 2011, at 09:24)

I've had perform like a champ for me. The server is always running, and there are clients for virtually any platform. I've got a keyboard on the headless box in my living room that lets me just press enough keystrokes to uniquely identify an album (using Emacs' ido-mode) so I can queue stuff up if I don't want to pull out my phone.


From: Viraj Mody (Mar 07 2011, at 09:26)

Tim, give a shot.

The Mac/Windows clients are super lightweight and support lossless audio formats (FLAC/ALAC) in additional to MP3, AAC and WMA. The Android and iOS apps + website allow you to access all your music everywhere, and it's free.


From: Kjetil Thuen (Mar 07 2011, at 09:30)

Another vote for Squeeze here. I am pretty particular about my music setup, and after years of searching I've landed on the Squeeze Server. It supports everything an anal retentive music fan like myself could possibly want; Any file format you can throw at it, replay-gain, hackable, extensive metadata support, plugins galore, 24bit flac support, etc, etc.

If you don't want to buy any of the hardware squeeze players, you can use the command line client running on your computer (at least available for Mac and Linux, I have no idea about Windows).

The control is done via the Logitech remote, a web app or any of a selection of software controllers. Mostly I use my Android phone as the controller. Works like a charm.

The server can be set up to automatically pick up files that show up in your watched folder, so adding new music to the collection is just a matter of dragging it to the music folder.

As an added bonus Squeeze Control for Android lets me easilly copy tracks to my phone for music on the go.

I realize this ended up sounding like an advertisment, I promise, it is not, I am just a satisfied user :)


From: Max (Mar 07 2011, at 09:32)

I use a dedicated Mac Mini (the last version of the PPC model) in a cupboard, upstairs, logging in a user and starting iTunes automatically. I've installed a 250G disk inside it & store music in Apple Lossless. The bits are sent by a CAT-5 USB extender to a USB DAC in the hifi rack, which I use as TOSLINK source feeding my Quad CDP-2 in DAC mode. It sounds good.

I use an iPad as my remote. Before Apple's Remote app was updated, I purchased yTrack which is a 3rd-party app to do the same things. This has now gone open-source, and FAIB. I'm getting into the code: I particularly want to try to provide a basic 'point and play' interface to iTunes.

I find iTunes's UI confusing in places: am I looking at the currently playing track, or browsing somewhere else in the library? Can I select something while browsing to get more detail about it without immediately starting to play it? If I click something, will I play the one track, the grouping, or the whole album? Will it start playing immediately; after the current track finishes; or after everything currently in the queue?

And how do I get to the 'nothing playing' state instead of 'paused'?



From: Nick Adams (Mar 07 2011, at 09:56)

I used to have the HTPC running my music setup for me, but have since simplified. My two primary means of music listening at home are the following (both access music that resides on an external harddrive attached to a computer in the office):

1. I use PS3 media server (free download) to transcode (with amazing quality I might add) all my music, video, photo files for use on my PS3. It works amazingly well and provides a very simple user interface via the PS3 game controller. I was shocked at the quality of streamed HD files using this free software. It means you don't,have to worry about meeting the PS3's codec requirements. The software also allows a ton of tweaking.

2. I have Audiogalaxy serving up my music collection via the internet so I can plug my phone into the stereo system (Android app) and stream my entire collection. I use this primarily when I want to shuffle my collection as the PS3 doesn't have that option.

Given the fact that even true audiophiles have difficulty telling the difference between 256 mp3s and lossless, I think the sound quality on either of these, assuming strong internet speeds, will be to your liking.


From: Cedric (Mar 07 2011, at 10:04)

I'm surprised that all the suggestions offered here use Macs.

It seems to me that a Windows solution would address a lot of the complaints, both on a hardware side (there are a lot of very small, quiet and inexpensive "PC's in a box" solutions available), and software (plethora of players, great remote access utilities, pretty much all the codec and sound processing software that you can dream of).

And if you decide to stick with what comes standard, Windows Media Player is no worse than iTunes, especially with Windows 7.


From: Evan Kaufman (Mar 07 2011, at 10:14)

I may not totally understand what you're looking for, but I've heard very good things about Subsonic. It's just an open source music server you run on any computer (supports Windows, OS X, Linux) and it lets you stream your own music to any web browser or smartphone (it has client apps for iOS, Android, and WP7).


From: Stewart (Mar 07 2011, at 10:39)

Well, you sound like a bit of a Mac fanatic, so maybe this is a bit too geeky even for a Goolgler of your status.

What I use is a Debian server in my office to host all of my media files. My entire music collection (flac), dvd collection (full iso), photos from several years, etc. It has samba shares as well as upnp, so there isn't a device that can't connect to it somehow. This server also has two tv-tuner cards and mythtv server for my dvr duties. In other words, the only video input in the house goes to a linux server without a display :)

In my living room and bedroom, I use an Asus EeeBox 1502. It is plenty fast, has hmdi and optical outputs, dvd drive, and best of its not even whisper quiet, its completely silent. It doesn't make a sound at all (unless you have a disc in the slot, but then its turned up loud enough to not matter).

I run a mini install of Ubuntu with XBMC on the EEE's. A beautiful UI with easy access to all the content on my server and can be controlled by either my logitech universal remote or my evo or xoom. With plugins for mythtv, hulu, pandora and youtube there is no shortage of content I can consume. Netflix and blu-ray are delegated to the PS3.

When it comes to putting the media on my mobile devices, I can convert dvd isos or tv shows to mp4 using handbrake, and flac to ogg or mp3 using soundkonverter. Both the xoom and g1 support mtp, so syncing of music and playlists are as simple as iTunes.

For icing on the cake, I also set up a few icecast streams using my own custom scripts for cohesive playlists using data which can be streamed to my evo or g1 on the road. And I can even schedule mythtv recordings and manage my dvr remotely.


From: Norman Walsh (Mar 07 2011, at 11:06)

I'll add a +1 for the Sonos. We only have the one, in one room, but it reads all the music (mostly FLAC, though I get some MP3s from eMusic because I'm not the audiophile that others may be) off the server and is simple enough for anyone to operate.


From: Fabian Ritzmann (Mar 07 2011, at 11:30)

Whatever you do, try limiting the damage to our environment by moving your music collection off that 200+ Watts guzzling monster and move it onto a more economic NAS or a player with built-in hard disk.


From: Tor (Mar 07 2011, at 12:27)

When it comes to UI, I have to mention XBMC - very keyboard driven. I don't know if it can hold its head high as an audiophile's companion, and it uses a lot of cpu. But when configured, I find it silly simple to navigate to the music I want - which is important when I'm in use mode.


From: Erik Hetzner (Mar 07 2011, at 13:27)

Another vote here for squeezebox. My setup is a little unusual; I don't have the hardware, I just use squeezeslave, which has no UI, & control it via the web. I run squeezeslave + squeezeboxserver on my always-on, pretty quiet, server (basically a laptop in a slightly bigger case; it has no power fan, so it is pretty quiet).

The best thing is that I can "synchronize" two machines. So my server can be playing something & I can synchronize a laptop in another room. You don't really want to hear them together (it doesn't seem to get the timing good enough) but when you move from room to room it works.

I can also stream it via an ssh tunnel to my work, so I have my complete home collection at work. And it does on the fly transcoding to mp3 from flac so it works with my somewhat slow DSL upstream.

The interface is good enough. There seem to be android & iphone "remote control" programs.

Anyway, it was the best thing I could come up with, & I'm pretty happy with it.


From: Kevin Spencer (Mar 07 2011, at 16:02)

Since Dec 2008 I've had all my music on my MacBook Pro and can't really say I've ever experienced the problems you've described. Mind you I just leave iTunes running so it's there when I wake the box up, and I only have something like 16,000 songs taking up 150GB.

For me, the power of iTunes can be summed up in two words: smart playlist. That alone is why I'd be hesitant to use anything else. Plus I'm just a little bit fond of how scarily good the Genius playlists are.


From: jrr (Mar 07 2011, at 18:09)

I share your desire for lossless format and digital-out to a high-end stereo. I have more requirement to throw in the mix: smart playlists that update play counts and star ratings from my portable players. Some day!


From: Martin Fowler (Mar 07 2011, at 20:26)

Another up-vote from me for the Squeezebox. I've been using them for a long time <> and although I've had occasional glitches, we've never wanted anything else.

Having said that, I need to seriously look at changing much of my media infrastructure. Like you I have a power-hungry server that should be replaced with something more frugal, and I'd like to explore a video server into my elderly-but-good TV. But whatever I come up with, I expect the squeezeserver to be handling the audio.


From: alex (Mar 08 2011, at 00:37)

follow up on the AppleTV. It's also a great way to always have your pictures rotating on your TV. (it's got Wifi-N (no cables) and it's connected to the mac mini sitting up in the attic)


From: Emanuel (Mar 08 2011, at 02:30)

I second the Squeezebox solution. I've had for quite some time a ReadyNAS Duo (small, inexpensive and RAID mirrored) with a squeezebox plugin installed that served all my music.

It may solve you some problems.



From: Andrew (Mar 08 2011, at 11:59)

If you are done with iTunes then you are done with iTunes but I find streaming music to an Airport Express from my office computer and controlling it via the iOS Remote app sounds great and works beautifully.


From: Matt Ginzton (Mar 08 2011, at 12:09)

I'd vote for Sonos even if you only want one room.

I've had several Sonos devices for years and I couldn't be happier. They just work. Even compared to Apple stuff, which has a reputation for just working (but iTunes + Airport Express + AirTunes had all kinds of glitches for me), Sonos really resets the bar.

I also tried Squeezebox, but playback was glitchy, the UI was nowhere near as nice, and you need to run their server app on a computer somewhere.

So: I don't work for Sonos or have any vested interest in them; it's just that I spent a few years and a lot of $$$ trying the Squeeze and Apple solutions to the same problem, and was never happy.

With Sonos, the up front cost is a little higher, but the UI is really nice (free apps for Mac OS, Windows, and iOS, supposedly Android coming soon), playback is glitch free even over wireless, and there's no server software. It talks SMB to any file server if you have a NAS box, and talks to a bunch of cloud services (Rhapsody, Pandora, etc).

I have a NAS I leave on all the time, Rhapsody and Pandora accounts, and the Sonos setup can start playing from any of those pretty much instantly... if what you want is a silent device that gets your music playing as quick as possible, I can't think of anything better, especially if you want to control it from your Android device.


From: Peter da SIlva (Mar 08 2011, at 14:20)

I love iTunes. I don't care if it takes 15 seconds to start up because it's always up. The real win for me is smart playlists. About five years ago I spent an afternoon setting up a series of smart playlists that let me really control what shows up in Party Shuffle:

0 Stars 3 months - Unrated (no stars) not played in the past three months

2 Stars 2 months - 2 stars, not played in the last 2 months

3 Stars 2 weeks - 3 stars, not played in the last two weeks


and so on. There's a few special cases, stuff that I might not have given 5 stars but like hearing all the time anyway.

Then there's a "weighted" list, that's the union of these playlists. And that feeds to party shuffle.

Maybe this is a bit obsessive, but I find it gives me a better control over how often I'll hear tracks than simply "play higher rated tracks more often".

I also have some Applescripts that control iTunes, so when I skip a song I can choose whether it gets marked as played (and so won't bother me again for a while), or rate the track I'm playing up or down, all by hitting different keys, whether or not iTunes is the frontmost application. Lots of good stuff, and with a much better user interface than the set of shell scripts wrapped around mpg123 that I used to use.

I like iTunes because it gives me control.


From: steve (Mar 08 2011, at 15:51)

i like iTunes; i leave it running full time and basic ops are pretty fast; annoying extras are simply turned off; i have 45K+ tracks & a few videos on a 2.16GHz MacBook Pro that also serves FileMaker, document scanning and files

the laptop sits closed on my desk with an LCD display and a few hard drives attached; a bluetooth keyboard is in a drawer -- i mainly RIP and tag on this machine (not done digitizing my CDs); Time Machine automatically backs up changes; i use the iTunes Artwork screensaver to remind me what's in the library; when i play tracks it's usually via AppleTV to a receiver in another room, before that i used an Airport Express and the Remote application on my iPhone

i use a tool called Mojo to move tracks to my work laptop when i want to sync them to my phone

the only major delay i have is that the Apple TV is a little slow to wake up


From: Ian Heath (Mar 09 2011, at 10:11)

my new set up is really clean, easy, and quick.

Rdio subscription, iPhone app, AirPlay streaming wirelessly via wifi to airport express wired into home theatre system.



From: razmaspaz (Mar 10 2011, at 11:50)

I don't trust air play yet, and its not supported widely enough, but I do like my XBMC for both music and movies. It will satisfy the hacker in you, and I think it has an android based remote. I use it with an Acer Revo 1600 nettop ($200). It runs HDMI out or I use a turtle beach usb-> optical to go to my receiver. Audio quality is top notch, assuming your source is top notch. Pulls everything off a NAS mounted to the machine. It also has an android remote, so you could control it via a tablet or phone, which is a much used feature when I leave the room.


From: Gregor (Mar 17 2011, at 04:56)

I am very happy with my Boxee box which I use as my media frontend connected to my TV (=only downside, no display).

As my backend and storage, I have built a small Atom 330/ION/miniITX "server" running Debian Linux with a SSD (system) and 1.5Tb (now humble) for storage, and a TV card (MPEG2 hardware accelerated) for recording shows.

This setup works nicely and might be even more energy saving than running a full-blown Mac,-)


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