Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Modern Playback: Lossless Digital Audio Streaming through the Fog

[Edited 2019-Jan]

I am not so much interested in getting my albums back in the rotation as I am in getting rid of them, just like I got rid of my audio CDs.

OK, I didn't "get rid" of the CDs. I transferred their content to 16/44.1 lossless WAV files, then retired all those jewel boxes and cardboard sleeves to a closet with the rest of my no-longer-needed install discs. That reclaimed much-needed shelf space, simplified the main audio stack by eliminating the need for a CD player, and created a new world of playback options.

Playback from physical media by dedicated players is 20th century. The CD player is obsolete. When music is captured in bits and streamed digitally, virtually any electronic device can be a player to varying degrees. (I'm convinced digital video streaming will eventually obsolete the Blu-Ray player and TV DVR, too.)

Protocols like Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) and AirPlay enable computers, network-aware audio components, and hand-held devices to organize dynamically as:
  • Digital Music Servers (DMS)
  • Digital Music Players (DMP)
  • Digital Music Renderers (DMR)
  • Digital Music Controllers (DMC)
A DMR is a limited type of DMP that cannot locate content on its own. It must be set up by a third partythe DMC.

Once devices have connected, digital audio can stream from DMS to DMP/DMR via standard network transportif not through "the cloud," then certainly through "the fog" (the wireless cloud inside your house).

Any computer in my house can send music to any other computer. Computers can send music to the networked audio video receiver (AVR) in the den. My smartphone can play files stored on computer. Computers or the AVR can play files stored on phones.

My preferred playback configuration is a UPnP smartphone app acting as a DMC, directing the AVR as a DMR to play WAV files accessed through the computer in my office as a DMS. All wireless and controlled from wherever in the house my phone and I happen to be, a solution more elegant than any point-to-point wireless audio gizmo. (The AVR controls audio distribution to speaker sets in various locations. I most often listen to music in the kitchen/dining area during meal prep and enjoyment, or outside on the patio when it isn't Michigan winter.)

This is playback at its most flexible, most powerful and most convenient: over 1 TB of indexed uncompressed audio—my entire dematerialized library—literally in the palm of my hand. And there is no reason why music currently confined to LPs can't join the digital party in a way that preserves the unique sonic characteristics of vinyl.

Then the physical LPs can join their CD brethren in retirement.

               Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #3              

Title: Einstein on the Beach
Artist: Phlip Glass Ensemble
Genre: Opera
Year: 1978

A funny thing happens when you ephemeralize an LP from a physical object into streaming bits—the particulars of its pedigree become less important. The Fog doesn't care whether my Philip Glass bits originated with the cool indie Tomato Records box set or the mass market Sony Classics re-issue. (For the record, my bits came from the former but the album art above came from the latter.) So, with your digital transfer safely stored, you are free to find a collector willing to pay a premium for a late 70s cultural artifact.

© 2012 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.


  1. Are you streaming audio through your home network or listening to phsyical media? Please leave a comment.

  2. Mine isn't in the palm of my hand, but at least it's on my PC, a fairly compact Gateway refurb with Realtek high definition soundcard. I redundantly upsample to 24/192 and I have smashingly good SQ with a schiit bifrost DAC, a vintage Sansui 8080DB and AR4x speakers. Or alternately, a SET integrated running off the headphone jack of the Sansui and high-sensitivity Klipsch Fortes. That's proper rock and roll.

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