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Music in the air

Music in the air
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First Published: Tue, Feb 16 2010. 08 43 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Feb 16 2010. 08 43 PM IST
Your hard rock albums are stored on hard disks; all the Top 10 songs are stuck on USB thumb-drives; and a humongous number of MP3 files are lying digitally disorganized on compact discs. And God knows “you” want to break free from the clutter and confusion of this ever-growing music collection.
Come together right now
As the new decade dawns, we may have finally discovered the paradigm shift that will fundamentally alter how all of us listen to our music at home.
First, you need to get a media hub, a sleek black box with a huge hard disk inside, preferably with a capacity of 1TB or more. You can drag-and-drop all your music files in it. Amazingly, some models can also “auto-magically” connect to the laptops and desktops strewn across your home via the wired and wireless network, and collate and sort out all your music files in one place, in one go. Check out the Linksys Media Hub NMH405, for instance, as well as similar devices from Netgear, LaCie, Iomega, and several more. You can then connect this media hub to your regular home stereo or hi-fi system using standard audio cables, and say goodbye to rummaging through packed drawers of CDs.
Alternatively, you could just get a stand-alone hard disk connected to the wired or wireless network at your home. Such a hard disk is typically known as a Network Attached Storage (NAS). Find several models from Buffalo, HP, EMC, and dozens of IT and storage-solutions companies. Most NAS devices can’t connect to your home stereo, but they’re good to get your music organized and in one place. The trouble is, NAS is just a computer hard disk and it cannot play music on its own. It can only connect to your computers.
We will rock you
But you will not get any satisfaction with just a media hub and an NAS if you want to roll the music into any room and listen to any track or playlist from any device. You need systems and devices, such as those offered by Linksys by Cisco, Yamaha and Sonos. Linksys offers Director, Player and Controller—either as individual components or as bundles. Yamaha has different names for its components, in a similar family of products called the MusicCast2 Zone Pack. A third popular contender, the Sonos Multi-room Music System, also gives you a free application that turns an iPhone into a full-fledged controller for the Sonos Multi-room System.
My personal favourite is the Linksys Director DMC250, a wireless music player with an integrated amplifier. This device can connect over Wi-Fi with laptops, desktops, NAS and media hub, across your home, all without using wires. It can directly plug in USB thumb drives, though an optional dock is required for iPods. The Director even streams music from among tens of thousands of Internet radio stations over the cloud of the Web. So if the cloud bursts, listen to the thunder in your ears, as the Director connects via standard audio cables to your home stereo or hi-fi system.
Let the music begin
What sets the Director apart from all the media hubs or tech solutions is that not only does it receive music over Wi-Fi, it also transmits, or rather broadcasts, these good vibrations across your home, in every room. With media hubs, for instance, you can only play the same music everywhere. With the Director, you can choose different playlists to play in separate rooms, say, jazz in your study; Michael Jackson in your child’s room; and Hindi film music in your spouse’s room. Yes, it can do all this concurrently, pulling in all the relevant tracks from all the connected sources available to it. For a party or a large gathering, it can transmit the same playlist to every room, balcony, and the garden, carefully timing the delay to eliminate echoes and unwanted reverberations. Clever new wizardry does not downgrade the audio quality when transmitting music over Wi-Fi.
It’s yesterday once more
Do you still have a large collection of precious recordings on audio-tape which you still haven’t gotten around to digitizing into MP3? Well, no problem! Connect an analog cassette player using standard audio cables to the Director, which will instantly beam the playback from the analog tape-deck across your home with Wi-Fi radio waves. Audiophiles with Vinyl LPs can also continue their romance with the crackle and pop of records streamed in a similar fashion over Wi-Fi. CD players, mini-disc and any other kind of player can all be jacked in so you don’t have to look back any longer.
Across the universe
As the music from the Director’s Wi-Fi reaches various rooms, you need to add a receiver box in each room to capture the audio waves and pump them out of any available stereo or speakers. This little receiver box is called the Linksys Player DMP100. You can purchase as many Player units as you need to fill your home with a multi-room music experience. One iPod connected to the Director, which streams music to multiple Players across the home, can turn the whole neighbourhood green with envy.
Wrapped around my finger
Tweaking playlists and volume levels across rooms can become a tedious chore with all the running around it entails. Save yourself the effort, and bring in the Controller DMRW1000—it is rather handy. Sitting in any one location in your home’s audio ecosystem, you can remotely control every feature of the Director and all the Players. The Controller’s colourful touch screen gives you remote wireless access to any individual file or playlist from any of your available sources, which you can send anywhere in your ecosystem.
So with all this new-generation gear, we may all be set for the new decade. Except, when will Apple realize the iPod needs to transmit multiple playlists concurrently across a built-in Wi-Fi support? When will a wireless audio ecosystem beam favourite playlists from a home to a next-generation 3G-enabled car radio? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
Laptop to wireless music
If you just wish to transmit music wirelessly from one laptop to one pair of speakers, try the Apple Airport Express router. Disappointingly, it only works with iTunes software for Windows or Mac. For anything else, add a commercial app called AirFoil. Alternatively, try the Creative xMod, or the Creative Sound Blaster Wireless Audio Transmitter, paired to a receiver.
Boom Box
Linksys Director: Wireless Music Player with Integrated Amplifier DMC250
$449.99 (around Rs21,000)
Linksys Player: Wireless Music Extender DMP100
Linksys Controller: Touchscreen Remote DMRW 1000
MusicCast Amplified Network Music Player: MCX-A300
MusicCast Network Music Commander: MCX-RC100
Sonos ZonePlayer 120: ZP120
Sonos ZonePlayer 90: ZP90
(All prices subject to change. You may find stocks and better pricing at leading e-shopping sites)
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Feb 16 2010. 08 43 PM IST