My new music-listening system

May 26th, 2004

In an effort to practice what I preach, I designed and built a new music-listening system for myself around the beginning of the year. It’s been in use for a while now, so I thought I’d post a report on it, particularly in light of my other posts today. The overall goal is to wean myself off physical CDs.

First, I’ll describe my old system. There are basically three places that I listen to music: my house, at work, and in my car. I don’t use headphones in my house, and only rarely carry music portably.

My House: I have a fairly standard home stereo system (floor-standing speakers, 5-disc CD changer) in the main room of my house, which has an open floor plan. Whether I’m in the “living room” or the kitchen, that’s what I use to listen to music at home. At the side of the room I have my 2 CD racks holding approximately 800 CDs. Like most people, when I wanted to listen to music, I’d pull something off the rack and put it in the CD player and listen. I’d rarely use the CD-changer capability.

At Work: I have a small stereo system on my desk in the office, and am lucky enough to be able to listen to music all day. Every morning, I would choose ten CDs from my rack at home and carry them into work, listen to them throughout the day, and then bring them home.

In the car: I don’t drive all that much or that far, so I just grab a CD or two off the rack whenever I know I’m going to be out for a while.

Now, to the new system.

At Home: I built a Media PC. It sits in my TV stand and looks just like another one of my audio/video components. I spent about a month ripping my whole CD collection to the hard drive in mp3 format. (In addition to storing and playing my music, it also acts as my HDTV tuner/recorder and allows me to use my TV as my computer monitor, but that’s not relevant to this discussion.)

The output of the high-quality soundcard is connected to my home theater amplifier (and then to the speakers), so the music sound and experience is indistinguishable from listening to CDs (meaning it doesn’t feel like “I’m listening to music on the computer”).

I use Apple’s iTunes software program to organize and play my music. If I have my TV on (which is the computer’s monitor), I can use a wireless keyboard/mouse to control the software and select music to listen to. Otherwise, I have a small, 3 lb. sub-notebook computer with wireless networking that I can use to log into the Media PC using Windows Remote Desktop. iTunes (or any other application) appears on the notebook just like it’s a local application, and using it, I can instantly play any of 8000+ songs from anywhere in the house (or even from the backyard).

At work: I bought a 120GB external hard drive, and copied my whole collection (currently 58GB) onto it. It’s approximately the size of four CDs. It’s connected to my work PC through USB, and then the audio output of the PC is connected to the Aux input of my stereo amplifier. Again, I run iTunes to control it.

In the car: I haven’t done anything here yet, but since it seems like my in-dash CD player finally crapped out, my thought was to get a new one with a front-panel aux-input, and then get a small flash-memory based mp3 player to plug in to that.

So far, I’ve been really pleased with the whole thing. The most obvious difference is that I don’t have 50-60 CDs strewn around my house at the end of the week (brought home from work, but not re-filed). Also, I don’t have to spend the tedious 10-15 minutes every weekend re-filing them (not to mention the time it takes to select them in the first place).

But perhaps the most pleasing thing is that I no longer have to predict in the early morning hours what 10 albums I might be interested in listening to throughout the workday. I can listen to anything from my collection at any time. There have been a ton of times when I’ve been sitting at work reading this board, and someone will post something that will make me say “Damn, I really want to listen to that album again right now!” Well, now I can do it. Or maybe an unexpected mood strikes me. Now I can find music to match it. On top of that, I don’t have the weight of 10 CDs added on to the back of my bike every day!

Random play of 8000+ songs is a lot of fun. iTunes tracks my listening habits, so now I have a record of what I listen to. Being able to purchase and instantly start listening to new music while sitting on my couch is really cool. And you haven’t lived until you’ve changed the music playing in your house while you’re sitting on the crapper!

So hopefully that helps explain why I like to pester all you luddites out there – it’s all to make myself feel superior!

Comments are closed.