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Whole Home Audio with Sonos, AirPlay and Bluetooth

| On 23, Apr 2013

If you’ve been looking for a way to play the music on your phone or computer in the rest of your house, or in the backyard, here are some suggestions:

If you’re looking for suggestions to help you evaluate sound systems, they’re at the end of the post.

The launch of the Sonos playbar had me thinking about the Sonos product line again. I’m impressed, but committing to a proprietary, somewhat inflexible single-vendor eco-system is not exactly my favourite solution. Also, the requirement to have one device (if not a speaker then the bridge) directly connected to the router, even if the price of the bridge is now only $60, also seems to be a purchase that shouldn’t be necessary. Anyway, pushing those thoughts aside, the system feels like a powerful and interesting one, especially with the iPad controller app.

I’m a longtime fan of whole-home audio, or streaming audio or wireless audio … I’m never sure what the right term is to describe this. The idea is that once your music collection is digitized, you should be play to play any of your music throughout your home – with the speakers in each room being controlled independently or in sync speakers in other rooms.

My first serious streaming audio device was a Slim Devices squeezebox, although after I purchased it the line was acquired by Logitech. Logitech discontinued the product line in September 2012, but continues to maintain the website at mysqueezebox.com.

I loved the squeezebox for the analog VU meter display on the LED panel, but it also had very good technical credentials. It supports nearly all lossless audio formats and there are versions of the server application for many NAS devices, including my Netgear ReadyNAS. At the time, I made a significant investment in time and effort to re-digitize my music collection in the lossless FLAC format, but found maintenance to be too time-consuming for the amount of serious listening time I devoted. A few NAS hardware upgrades later, I use the squeezebox primarily for itunes playback in my workroom/office/media centre.

I also lost interest in squeezebox as we became more heavily invested in Apple products. The first generation Apple TV actually replaced the squeezebox in the home theatre listening area, and Airport Express devices popped up in many rooms with powered speakers attached. The attraction of a $99 device that could stream music was very powerful, especially as it could be connected to a wide variety of audio devices, from powered speakers to receivers.

Even with the Apple remote app and the introduction of AirPlay, which enabled me to stream from multiple idevices to the AirPlay speakers, the system fell out of favour and into disuse. Access was complex – the computer hosting the music had to be on and the express units were not as reliable as I’d hoped.

Last summer I bought the Bose Soundlink after reading David Pogue’s very positive review in the NYTimes. I’ve been very pleased, although it does seem as if it’s the world’s most expensive transistor radio. Radio reception in our little Brulé valley is poor, so the availability of radio streams, especially CBC, English and French has made my world a little happier.

After listening to some of my favourite sample tracks* on the Sonos and the B&O speakers, I came to the realization that the quality ofthe equipment (or make that MP3 and AAC files in general) exceeds that of the AAC or MP3 files. 

And that brings us to today’s video release. Our shooting was on a single day, at Doug and Deb’s, B&O, the beach in front of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion and home. I must recommend that you visit the B&O store at the corner of Avenue Road and Davenport. Friendly staff and really impressive sound from a wide variety of devices. 

All of the audio playback is simulated (added in post). The screen captures are condensed to speed up sequences.

I’m thankful to Calla for the use of the tunes from Green Apple in the video. At Ali’s suggestion, I added a more professional intro sequence, and Calla composed the theme for the intro sequence and the closing credits. The video is in three sections, implemented at Rob’s suggestion, to enable improved Youtube navigation.

I’d love to read any comments and suggestions that you might have.

Here are the technical details. The video is primarily shot using an NEXVG20, with the kit 18-200 lens. I use a Sennheiser ew2 radio mic kit. For voice overs I use an audiotechnica AT2020. Manfrotto tripod (190xb+701hdv. Indoor lighting with a single lowel totalight with umbrella. Screens are captured using an elgato eyetv hd box, using an external HD Cable Ltd hdmi to component adapter. The video is edited in FInal Cut X on an iMac,. The font for supers is ITC Franklin Gothic Demibold. 

*Sample audio listening tracks

Here are a few of the tracks that I use to listen to audio/stereo/home theatre equipment. I typically take my CD copies around, but I also have AAC versions on my various idevices.

Simone Dinnerstein J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations (Telarc CD 80692) Compressed files really don’t handle solo piano well – and the transition from the aria to the first variation is particularly ear-opening. Set the level so that the aria sounds like a piano in the room and wait for the fortissimo attack of the first variation. To my ears the overtones created in my AAC file (256kbps VBR) are disturbing on the Sonos kit, but even more so on the B&O. Lossless is definitely recommended.

Antonio Forcione and Sabina Sciubba Meet Me in London (naim cd021 – sadly the only recording they made together). For a well-recorded voice play Caruso, for a terrific percussion and guitar track, play Brasilico. For a reference to see how good these tracks can sound, go to Bay Bloor and listen on the totem forest speakers. Sabina’s voice literally comes out of the speakers on the former, the snap of the drums is tight and powerful on the latter.

Emilie-Claire Barlow Sings (RT CD0001) Pipoca creates an incredible blend between Emilie-Claire’s clean and pure voice and the band.

Lyle Lovett Joshua Judges Ruth  (Curb MCAD 10475) The depth and breadth of the soundstage of the various players and singers in Church is the best cut I know for judging stereo placement. Again, sadly, the AAC version just doesn’t seem to have the channel separation required to do this track justice. And although the playbar is good at presenting a large sound stage, it doesn’t define it as well as this cut demands.

Angelique Kidjo Djin Djin (razorandtie 79301822967-2) Although no recording can do justice to the power that Kidjo displays live, Gimme Shelter (with Joss Stone) does a pretty good job of raising the roof while bringing you to tears. Great bass, killer horns and searing vocals to challenge any system’s clarity when confronted with a wide-spectrum wall of sound. This really demonstrates why you’ll want the Sonos sub with the playbar.

Comments

  1. Wow! This is something interesting that I am definitely willing to try. Playing home audio system in backyard is after all a great idea.

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