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Saturday, August 21, 2010

019 - Play (with) network-disk based iTunes library?

This note is updated at my new blog space only, blog note Welcome there!

Updated 5Nov2011

This post is a follow-up from my post 018 - From concrete CDs to abstract iTunes files. And now the old amp broke. Things have now become somewhat clearer for me. I now seem to know the questions - and some answers!

Fig. 1 - Obsoleted physical architecture. See it here ::

Fig. 2 - Present architecture ::
Before Nov. 2011:

Present architecture

July 2012: I have added Apple TV and thrown out JackOSX because it did not seem stable on Lion. (I am not able to update the old Mini to Mountain Lion.) So, the figure above is not updated, but see a new and simpler figure at note 027 "Experiencing Apple AirPlay" - and some points about Apple TV.

Previous architecure

Now, all iTunes files are located on a network disk and the Media center (Mac Mini) is running the iTunes as Master while the other machines run iTunes as Slaves. I have dropped the pseudo multiclient architecture described in 003 - Shared iTunes library on a network disk when iTunes went on to version 10.x but iTunes on Tiger machines now have stopped at version 9.x (Sept. 2010). There is a small description of the new architecture in the blog 003 ref above (blue text there).

The stereo now is a Denon Ceol RCDN-7 with AirPlay, new June 2011. See blog 027 Experiencing Apple AirPlay.

I also see the Apple's plug-in solution with the Remote app works like a dream! The whole library in the hand, with music graphics and all I sure have learned since I, half a year ago, deemed that solution as not practical!

But I had to (or have to?) quarrel with firmware updates to get there! See 004.5 and 004.6.

In Nov. 2011 I gave up on Airport Extreme with a USB connected NAS disk for an Apple Time Capsule with internal disk instead. See 004 - Living with a network disk in the house.

How I got here

The goal is to be able to play our music (and view the CD covers) on all the units above: the Media center, the Laptop and Desktop, the Stereo and the Portable (sitting permanently on the fridge). The existing local net should be used as much as possible. There should be as little direct cabling as possible, like analogue, USB or FireWire or opto-coupled TOSLINK (S/PDIF).

Also, the Stereo should be controllable from the Media center and Laptop. And the Stereo should be able to stream "sound out" from those two units, meaning that we could have better sound while viewing TV or running iTunes on the Laptop - since they are all in the same room.

A goal is to only require the Airport Extreme and Network disk to be constantly running. So, the Media center should not run to be able to listen to the Portable or Stereo. So, I hope not to have to install some server on the Media center to convert from iTunes file reading to datastreams. (Update: iTunes version conflict (above) and JackOSX (below) have already changed this for me!)

The users would be me and my wife. Children are satisfied with the the wifi when they are visiting. And grandchildren are satisfied with what we are satisfied with, for now. If wishes coincide, then one of us must at best yield to earphones, since the iTunes files are readable from several sources, but the iTunes client is not multiclient. However, radio, internet radio, TV, DVD or a book would be acceptable alternatives, as well as the basement shop - or a good walk. Please observe that a "5.1 home cinema system" or a "wireless multiroom music system" is not what we're after! However, we might end up using a component from one of these.

Units in need of replacement
  • Stereo
  • Portable
  • The audio switch
Then existing units, still in good working condition:
  • Media center computer ("Mini"): Intel Mac Mini with Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6.4) (Also controlled from the other machines with a VNC client). This may be replaced later with a newer Mini, one that plays full size AVCHD films
  • Laptop: G4 iBook with Mac OS X Tiger (10.4.11)
  • Desktop: G4 «Lamp» iMac with Mac OS X Tiger (10.4.11)
  • Airport extreme router and disk server: 7.4.1 (7.4.2 is unstable for this usage)
  • The Screen: is a full LCD TV with tuner taken out of use since the shut-down of analogue airborne tv in Norway in 2009. But it has a HDMI and a DVI input which fit exactly to the Decoder and Mini
  • TV sound: is terrible as with most LCD tvs, and a pair of Logitech active PC speakers with subwoofer unit are still small enough and good enough for a tenfold enhancement by all measures. But the Stereo is much better, but too old these days.
  • Other units, as seen in the figure
  • CDs are already obsoleted, as they have all been imported to iTunes. But they are still their own best backup! However, music is dowloaded more and more from iTunes Store
  • DVDs are still kept and played on the Media center
Some existing problems
  • 50 Hz hum. The Mac Mini has a TOSLINK opto-coupled and analogue audio output. Since the audio switch does not have a TOSLINK input, I use the analogue connection. Since the switch is also connected to the Screen, then I get hum, barely audible at normal distance. And the switch is not a switch, it's a Logitech volume control box with 3.5 mm aux input, which does not disconnect the other source (TV) when the input jack is inserted. I need a better solution! (This could have been solved with a Logitech Z-5500 Digital 5.1 Speaker System which has a SPDIF/TOSLINK-input - but it's completely overkill)
  • When I want to play music in iTunes on the Laptop and want some more power, I use a cable from it to the existing Stereo's line input. Surprisingly there is no audible hum. But for a new Stereo I'd need a better solution!
  • There is no way at the moment to play TV sound on the Stereo. Wiring it is no viable alternative.
  • Likewise, there is no way to play the Mini's sound on the Stereo
Questions and answers
  • Yes, I use iTunes for my music handling. I am not afraid, as I believe iTunes and Facebook both lock us in, to count two of themThe Web Is Dead")
  • Streaming of "my?" music with a Spotify client I seldom do. If all I needed resided "in the cloud", some problems would go and some come - and some stay. The architecture I describe already streams a lot, internally and externally - like internet radio stations. So, when iTunes comes with streaming services, so be it! I would still not delete the music library on the network disk, and still wonder if I ever find time to import all the legacy 33 rpm record albums.
  • No, I have no plan to switch to Windows, Windows Media Player or Winamp. I know they're good and that people are satisfied with them. Fine!
I am studying
  • It supports Mac OS X "Core Audio" (ref), which I learned about in note 018.
  • It references "Jack OS X - a Jack audio connection kit implementation for Mac OS X. Connecting audio from any OS X application to any OS X application"
I also sent a letter to one of the JackOSX authors, who forwarded it to the Yahoo! jackosx group. See I am now (again) registered as aclassifier there. I certainly hope there will be lots of help! I also am aclassifier at Sonos.

I have now dowloaded JackOSX onto the Media center (Mini).
  1. I now don't have to use the "switch" any more. Hum is gone
  2. The TV sound now comes into the Media center (Mini), and is being routed by JAR (Jack Router), to the line (headphone) output to the Amp (unlike Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil there is no notisable delay, so it's actually useful for tv listening)
  3. Setting up routing with the JackOSX Connection Manager is nice but has to be learned: push one end and then double-click the other end to connect. And stereo means connection '1' and '2' for "left" and "right"
  4. The Mini has to run all the time, since it's not practical to take the Mini out of idle to switch on the TV. I wish I didn't have to. The Mini is very silent, i.e. I can't hear the fan with the present power
  5. The JackRouter does not have a volume control. But the Mac OS X Sound config dialogue box shows that the Line-in and Headphone-out (used as "Line-out") both have. Line-in volume is set in that window only. Headphone-out volume may be set in that dialogue box, in the top Menu line, or with the Remote control. Perhaps this is called the Master or Main volume control? Then, if I connect Line-in to Headphone-out via JackServer (in the JackOSX Connection Manager) - then the Remote control works both for iTunes, DVD and TV! Of course the TV may also be controlled with the Tuner's Remote control, or the Screen's Remote control or Logitech's main control which is a nice physical knob which always works! (See figure below, where I assume that Norwegian should be little problem, Apple's graphics does most by itself)
  6. TV and iTunes could sound simultaneously. It's not enough to switch. One has to turn something on and something off. However, switching the Screen to the Media center disconnects the TV sound, since it comes through the HDMI to the "TV"
  7. Another thing: it's possible to run this sw invisibly. Stopping the JackPilot stops the Connection manager and the Pilot window but not the JackOSX server. Nice!

This is nice but rather complex. Next problem is to find a way to export a data stream to the Stereo and Portable. The JackOSX network module is not in the download since the authors are still(?) working on it. It's got to be more complex. Hmm

Yazsoft is not it
  • I am looking at the Yazsoft media server (which probably reads CoreAudio from JackOSX server?) and exports UPnP data streams..
  • ..which may be read by a Stereo, being an Arcom Solo unit, see,solo,Music-Systems.htm.
  • The Sonos ZonePlayer ZP120 I cannot see is able to read UPnP datastreams?
  • The best of the two worlds would be to find something that sees the network disk iTunes library and UPnP datastreams?
Darwin Streaming Server is not it

The Darwin Streaming Server does not seem to solve my needs See I found this from reading Comparison of streaming media systems at Wikipedia. Here is from macosforge's documentation:
The streaming server supports QuickTime Movie (MOV), MPEG-4 (MP4), and 3GPP (3GP) "hinted" files. Hinting is a post-process that you apply to your movies to make them RTSP-streamable. You can hint them with QuickTime Pro or the hinting tool available in the MPEG4IP package. If you don't hint your .mov's or mp4's they will still be HTTP-downloadable but it will take them some seconds to start playing. You won't need a streaming server for this, just use good old Apache. (
"Good old Apache"

Ok, maybe? Entering a url to a datastream plays that datastream. Starting an Apache server is a matter of ticking in a dialogue box. But then, that's not all I want.

Apple AirPlay ::

Update July 2012: I added an Apple TV unit. See my new note 027 "Experiencing Apple AirPlay".

Apple has already had the AirTunes streaming protocol some time, somewhat discussed in my previous note. I discarded it as pretty uninteresting there.

However, the follow-up protocol AirPlay, introduced by Steve Jobs in Sept. 2010, looks more promising. (Maybe he saw the despair in the notes..).

Apple informs about AirPlay at their page. There's also a wiki-page, of course. Read those now.

Apple say that there will be "featured partners" like "Denon, Marantz, B&W Bower & Wilkins, JBL and iHome" who will produce units that understand the AirPlay protocol. (Most of these companies are "so international" that they present top-level pages pointing to countries, where I found no AirPlay info (7Sept10). But the red should be interesting.)

A company called Frontier Silicon develops solutions for modern radios, like the Pinell Supersound II (blog 18). I would be surprised not to see AirPlay appear from those sources. Not many (any?) present systems will support AirPlay, so I'll have to wait to see it included. It might be worth it. As one of the major vendors answered my question in a closed User group: "Will nn support AirPlay in any of your products?" with the reply "We don't know yet.. with our current line of products it's not possible."

Please see fig.1 and the following (above).

So, why do I think this is for me?

Before I answer, I have a general worry here. See "Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil" (below). It routes AirPlay sound. However, it needs to insert a delay in the sound so that it can be heard in phase on all AirPlay units across the home wired or wireless network. In other words, the tv should also have delayed the video, like Rogue Amoeba's built-in Airfoil Video Player. So, in order to distribute tv, I would have to wait for a tv with builr in AirPlay? So, my general wish to have one audio routing sw only may not be easy to get for a while?
  1. I can play iTunes on any machine and treat my new Stereo (with AirPlay!?) as an external speaker, just like with Airport Express. Nice!
  2. It would work over WiFi and Ethernet. So, the Portable (with AirPlay) could equally be an external speaker!
  3. I would be able to stream also from iPhone to any of these units!
And what would I certainly hope for?
  1. I would hope that I also could take the sound from my tv and pick it up (via JackOSX server?) and route that sound also to the Stereo and Portable. In other words: it would also stream non-iTunes streams. I can't see why this should be a problem, I can already play radio url's in iTunes. (Update 3Jan11: see above, AirPlay probably delays sound like Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil, so this is not really possible?)
  2. I would hope that the Stereo and the Portable, which do not have iTunes (but support AirPlay) would also be able to serve as a client, i.e. I would be able to browse the iTunes library, with artwork and info and all - without running iTunes on any machine. Like how the Sonos ZonePlayer ZP120 would (I have assumed) be able to read my network disk based iTunes library
  3. I would certainly hope that the AirPlay sources would be available under macosforge. That way, any programmer like myself or the JacOSX people could get it going as well! Update: forget it! This most probably needs an AitPlay chip to run.
Posted to

Interesting reading is "Forget Apple TV. AirPlay Is Apple's Sneak Attack On Television" at Gizmodo which tells that there's a hw chip needed(?) for AirPlay - and asks if it will coexist with UPnP, DNLA, and Windows 7 streaming. That article points to this BridgeCo blog. Read on!

There also is an interesting post "AirTunes v2 UDP streaming protocol" at

Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil (for Mac) seems to be AirPlay companion

Conclusion: since I must also run the JackRouter, I don't need Airfoil before we also buy AirPlay hw. And then I would need to run both JackRouter (for tv) and Airfoil (for sound only or video played with the built-in Airfoil Video Player).

It seems like I could "Send any audio from your Mac to AirPort Express units, Apple TVs, iPhones and iPods Touch, and even other Macs and PCs, all in sync!" with Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil for Mac. I will test It may even outfunction the JackRouter. (The new version 4 in late 2010 seems more interesting than the version of Aug. 2010 when I first discovered it, partly because my target has moved..)

However, "Airfoil recognizes only AirPlay (formerly AirTunes) devices" (reply to support mail). Therefore Airfoil sw will not see or be seen by Sonos devices, since Sonos doesn't support AirPlay with their present range of hw (as of late 2010).

Rogue Amoeba does not have any white paper to describe Airplay's sw architecture. "As for a white paper, no, sorry" (reply to support mail).

In my architecture TV sound comes in on sound system input. There is no point in taking "live" sound from that input! Simply because Airfoil delays all inputs by some 1-2 seconds. They need to do it like this so that they can play the music at different locations over the wired or wifi local network with all speakers in phase. Even if AirPlay may be designed for real-time response, since they run on top of ip or wireless protocols I don't see how they could ensure unnotisable delay. With regards to the fact that I'd like one sw sound component only, this worries me! Maybe I'll have to run JackRouter for tv sound and Airfoil for iTunes in the future? (This is the reason why they have a separate Airfoil Video Player, so that they can delay the video playback as much as sound playback.)

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Øyvind Teig

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