MP3's on a home LAN

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  • Andrew Pratt
    Moderator Emeritus
    • Aug 2000
    • 16507

    MP3's on a home LAN

    Converting CDs to MP3s
    By JIM CARROLL -- CNEWS Tech News

    My eight-year-old happens to think that CDs are from the "olden- days."

    Not surprising, given that in this household, most of the 1,000 or so CDs that I own sit on a shelf, serving as nothing more than a form of backup. That's because almost four years ago, I converted all of my music into MP3 files, and so in our house, music comes through the network, not from ancient, shiny things of plastic. Down in my basement, I've got a "server farm" with a variety of old PC's, two of which contain almost 200GB of disk storage, enough to hold all of my music and then some.

    Lots of people still seem mystified as to how to make the leap from the "physical-age" of music to the digital age, and so I'll take you through some of the details of what I've done here.

    First and foremost, to listen to the music from any PC in the home (of which there are 18!), we use WinAmp, a Windows-based software program. ( This allows me to tune into my library from my office desktop, or my sons to hit their songs from their room.

    But the most exciting piece of equipment is found in my living room. A year ago, I was one of the first people to buy an AudioTron (, a fascinating device that looks like a piece of stereo gear, but which happens to be a full-fledged computer with an Ethernet jack.

    Through this device, I can easily choose any particular artist, musical style, album or song from amongst my 14,000 song library, simply by using a remote control, or by pressing the various buttons found on its front panel. Not only that, but I can make up a list of favourite songs using WinAmp on a PC (known as an "MP3 playlist", and the AudioTron will discover the list and let me use it later. And last but not least, I can even access the device via my Web browser to control what it is queued to play. (This way, if I'm in the home office, and I hear my wife listening to James Taylor in the living room, I can fly into the device from my browser and load up some Led Zeppelin.....)

    How did I go about converting my CDs to MP3? I used MusicMatch Jukebox (, a marvelous piece of software that converts each CD to MP3 in a way that preserves the artist name, album title and song name.

    Simply make sure that you've got a connection to the Internet, pop in a CD, and click "record." MusicMatch will go out onto the Internet to grab all the details for that album, and then convert it to MP3 in a matter of minutes. If you are using the defaults, you'll get a file folder that consists of the artist (band) name, with a subfolder consisting of the album title, and in that folder, you'll find each and every song, duly named. If you want to organize your music in some other fashion, you can do so.

    It took me about three months of off-and-on CD-popping to convert my entire library over to MP3. And things are now to the point that as soon as I buy a new CD, I immediately convert it to MP3, dump it to one of my music servers, and stick the CD on the shelf, never to be seen again.

    I then press a button on the AudioTron to have it rescan my home network, and it finds all the details about the new CD.

    What do I store all this music on? Linux servers! In order to keep my cost low, I downloaded and installed Mandrake Linux ( This was a critical decision, since if I used Windows 98, I could expect the darn thing to crash every couple of days, and if I went with WindowsNT or 2000, I'd be faced with rather ridiculous fees for server licences throughout my home, not to mention the cost of the server software itself.

    Instead, my library sits on a couple of old Pentium 166mhz systems, with each system holding about 80gb of disk storage. Reliability? Given that they are running Linux, they simply don't crash. I just checked, and one server has been up non-stop for 153 days, while the other has been performing flawlessly for 118 days.

    The trick to using Linux in this case is to have it run a software module known as Samba. This handy bit of code makes a Linux server look like a Windows server, meaning that any Windows-based system in my home can see these machines in the "Network Neighborhood." The AudioTron happens to look for music in the network neighborhood, so it simply sees these machines as Windows servers too, thus finding all the songs. In the case of WinAmp, we simply point it to any particular directory on these servers in order to play those songs.

    Backup? My entire music library is also backed up to tape, and stored in our bank safety deposit box, using a few OnStream 30GB tape cartridges. (

    The only real challenge I've been faced with is organizing my songs into particular musical "genres," a necessity if I want to use the AudioTron feature which allows me to load particular musical styles. When I first "recorded" all my CDs into MP3's, I didn't pay attention to the "genre" tag that is stored within each MP3. The result was that I had a rather ugly mishmash of details that didn't quite fit within what the AudioTron wanted to provide me.

    To solve that dilemma, I went out and grabbed a copy of Tag&Rename (, a program that allows me to change, on a batch basis, the internal "tags" that are found in MP3 files. This allowed me to take every single song in a particular directory, and give it a particular musical genre (such as "Blues," "Rock," "Punk," etc.)

    Last but not least, I take my music with me on a Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox! ( I've had this particular one for almost two years, and have taken it to the health club while I work out, on 60km bicycle rides, or on 2,000 kilometre airplane trips. It has performed flawlessly, and my only complaint is that given my vast musical library, I can only fit a small part of it on the Nomad 6GB hard drive.

    Last but not least, to those audiophiles out there who read this article and are ready to attack me, complaining that the quality of MP3 is lousy, I say this: I'm happy, it sounds great to me, and not all of us can afford $20,000 stereo systems that are necessary to hearing the tiny nuances that you hear!

    Not only that, but two developments promise to ratchet up the quality of digital music. First and foremost, there is a rapidly emerging alternative to the MP3 format known as Ogg Vorbis, which is said to offer even better quality that MP3. I'm starting to play around with that now.

    Second, the continuing collapse in the cost of hard drive space means that five years out, I'll be able to store each of my 14,000 songs in a size that is equivalent to what is found on a CD, and so the whole issue of quality really becomes moot. Today, I've already got a terabyte of disk storage throughout my home. I think it's a slam dunk that five or 10 years out, I'll have a petabyte of storage - that's equal to 1,024 terabytes, since the cost of hard drives continues to fall dramatically. Five years ago, I had but 8GB of hard disk in my home, and today I've got 1,000GB. Who's to say we won't see continuing change here?

    Whatever the case may be, CDs are old and irrelevant, and record companies are extremely dishonest in denying the future that surrounds them, by refusing to get involved in the MP3 world.

    They prefer to play a public relations game that has the effect of convincing the public that MP3 is all about music theft, when it isn't - it is about the emergence of a dramatic new way of accessing music that happens to make physical media irrelevant. The fact is, they continue to try to sell for $20 something that most of us only want to pay a few dollars for, and that's why they are seeing their sales collapse. No one denies that theft is a problem, but there are lots of honest people out here too.

    We've discovered the future of music, and quite like it.The fact is, we've got a marvelous new digital future evolving around us, and my music situation is living proof of that.

  • Andrew Pratt
    Moderator Emeritus
    • Aug 2000
    • 16507

    Given that my megachanger is primarily used for something very similar to this I can see myself one day doing the exact same thing. Of course I'd also have a hard copy of the CD"s that I critically listen to available for those times I want to really listen...


    • Sonnie Parker
      • Jan 2002
      • 2858

      Nice information Andrew.

      I have about 5500 mp3's on my computer. I have that same shelf of cd's in our study shelves and scattered about.

      Our daughter loves the 150 songs on one disk. Very neat!

      I use cdex to convert from cd to mp3.


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      • SiliGoose
        Senior Member
        • Aug 2000
        • 942

        Me too. It blows away changing CDs. Now I just have to figure out how to access my collection wirelessly from my car!

        I use CDEX too as it (along with LAME) gives fantastic sound quality (I dare you to tell the difference between the CD and a properly encoded VBR MP3).

        I question the guy in the article getting the best quality from Musicmatch and the Audiotron. My experience with both is they are unexceptable to my ears.



        • David Meek
          Moderator Emeritus
          • Aug 2000
          • 8938

          Four questions gang:

          1) Doesn't MP3 use a lossy compression algorithm?

          2) What kind of signal-to-noise ratio are you getting?

          3) What's the usable frequency range - ie. 20Hz-20Khz?

          4) What's your opinion of the sound quality of a well-recorded MP3?

          I think Sili answered number 4 for me, but I'd like to hear from everyone. Thanks in advance.

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          • John Holmes
            Moderator Emeritus
            • Aug 2000
            • 2703

            Great find Andrew!

            It's no doubt, times have changed. It will be just a matter of time before the music companies submit to the mases. I had my doubts of MP3 in the begining, however, it seems to be the format of things to come.

            "I came here, to chew bubble gum and kickass. And I'm all out of bubble gum!!!" My DVD's
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            • JonMarsh
              Mad Max Moderator
              • Aug 2000
              • 15272

              Well, I've thought about the convenience of doing something like this- but my music playback keeps moving further and further into what some might call the "extremo" world. My current main listening system is NLFB from source to speaker- not an op amp or feedback loop to be found.

              MP3 can be encoded at several rates, with varying degrees of loss of the original signal quality. It is a lossy algorithm, like Dolby Digital and Sony ATRAC for MD. Also Philips DCC. (Digital Compact Cassette).

              Now, large hard drives are starting to appear at affordable prices- by large, I mean 80GB at ~ $110. 80 GB is about 100 CD's. I've found some interesting outboard units to interface hi rez audio with a PC; coverters in external chasis. May not be "real" audiophile stuff, but the best I've found, so far.

              Echo test hardware is used worldwide to verify audio quality for millions of devices every year. Over 25,000 audio testing units installed.

              Not convinced I'm willing to pop for one of these just to see how it sounds.... $995, for record and playback. 24/96. Could digitize SACD with this.... Hmmmmm.


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              • Kevin P
                • Aug 2000
                • 10809

                Great article there Andrew! I've envisioned doing something similar when we build our next house. A server closet with a box dedicated to housing MP3s, tied to a whole house audio system.

                For critical listening, I would have the CDs or SACDs, or I could store the new or favorite tracks in PCM format, and then demote them to compressed MP3 status when I no longer care to listen to the track in full fidelity.

                I like how he used Linux boxes to house the MP3s. I will probably do something similar in my next house.


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                • Sonnie Parker
                  • Jan 2002
                  • 2858

                  Originally posted by Sili in deliberation
                  Now I just have to figure out how to access my collection wirelessly from my car!
                  That would be interesting. Currently I have a Premier CD player with a 12 CD changer. My thoughts are to change out the player for a Premier CD/MP3 player with XM satellite radio. I'll keep the 12 CD changer because I can. That pretty much covers it for me.

                  I've tossed Musicmatch and Winamp a couple of times. Mainly because I organize my files in general genre folders and use explorer to navigate. I very seldom listen on the puter but when I do I use Windows Media. I just double click the song I want to hear.

                  I would like to get my puter working through my a/v system though. I just haven't explored it in depth yet.


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