Internet Radio, the Logitech Transporter, Music Vault, and more...
I'm going to take a few moments away from discussions of political economy to talk about something completely different: Internet radio and my awesome new toy from Logitech: the Transporter.
I stumbled upon the Transporter while visitng a local high-end stereo dealer whom I was visiting to talk about speakers. I saw this cool-looking device and asked him about it. Once you learn what the Transporter can do, it's pretty much impossible not to want one. I got the silver color as shown above, but an all-black one is also available. You can read more specifications of the Transporter HERE.
After doing some research, it turned out that the nation's leading authorized seller of these amazing things (in quantity and price) is right here in Colorado. His name is Neal van Berg and his web site is http://soundsciencecat.com/
I went to Neal's home near Castle Rock, CO, from where he works, not just selling the Transporter but also designing, building, and selling a "music server" called the "Music Vault"...more on that later. After seeing a demo of the Transporter, I ordered one from Neal within 24 hours. After having it for a couple of weeks now, I wonder -- much like with a cell phone and microwave oven -- how I ever lived without it.
It's impossible to describe in a relatively short blog note all that a transporter can do, but here are the two things that I'm using it for now, very happily:
First, as a front-end for my music server. As mentioned above, Neal designs, builds, and sells a very nice and ultra-functional small-footprint music server. (I'm a bit of a computer geek so I actually built my own, but I don't recommend it for the faint of heart. Also, Neal's Music Vaults have some functionality that mine doesn't.) The music server is a computer to which you "rip" your CD collection so that all your CDs reside as files on the server's hard drive. There are multiple formats you can rip to, including "lossless" formats so that the digital signal which comes out of your computer is IDENTICAL to the signal which would come from the digital portion of your CD player if you put the CD in it. You can sync your ripped CDs into iTunes as well.
Here's what the Music Vault looks like:
To give you an idea how much music you can store on one of these things: Neal's servers (and again, you can build your own or use your existing computer and additional or external drives if you're willing to take the risk and give up certain functionality) come with anywhere from 500 gigabytes to 2000 gigabytes of storage. Each 500 gigabytes should be able to store roughly 1,600 CDs! (Neal's servers actually include an automatic backup feature by which whenever you rip a CD the file is copied to a second hard drive in the system so that if your primary hard drive fails you don't lose all your music.)
So, once you've ripped your music to your server, you connect the Transporter to your stereo (it has balanced and single-ended outputs) and then to your server through your home network (ethernet or wireless) or with a USB cable. Your Transporter is then the "front end" with which you can search/browse your entire music collection using either the controls on the Transporter or with the remote control. You can find and play music based on the artist name, song name, music genre, etc. You can play random songs ("shuffle")...and they can be random from your whole collection, random within a genre (like "classic rock" or "female vocal"), random within one artist (like all albums by Rush), or random within one particular album. As part of the music ripping process you also grab all the album information, including track names, release year, and even the album art.
The Transporter is sold by Neal for $1399, which is an unbelievable deal -- it's suggested retail price is $1999 and anyone who knows me knows how much of a bargain-hunter I am. The thing about the Transporter is that it's really an audiophile unit. The digital-to-analog converter in it is top-quality within the consumer sphere. To improve on it, you'd have to spend a LOT more money and that would be just for the D-to-A converter, without the rest of the Transporter functionality. (The converter is the thing which converts the digital signal that comes from reading the CD into the analog signal that your stereo needs to send to the amplifier and then the speakers. Basically digital is just a series of zeros and ones and analog is what you'd more commonly thing of as recorded sound.)
So, as I have a lot of CDs (and access to lots of friends' CDs) I now have over 2,000 CDs stored on my hard drive and I can play any of them with the push of just a few buttons with a sound quality that rivals any CD player under a couple thousand dollars in price. Beyond the sound quality, though, is the convenience. I love music but I haven't listened to much in the last few years because just the slight extra inconvenience of digging through the CDs to find what I want, putting it in the player, and putting the CD away when I'm done seems like more than I want to deal with when I have two kids under 4 on my hands. The Transporter changed all of that. Now I listen to music almost every day and I love it.
The second way I use the Transporter is for Internet radio. I had heard of Internet radio and had even listened to some stuff on a web site or two. But the world of radio which this has opened up is unbelievable. In addition to the built-in Internet radio direct access, you can use various "apps" (the Transporter has an open-source interface so lots of people write cool add-ons for it!) to access free radio services like last.fm and Pandora. Here are just a few of the thousands of radio stations I can and do listen to through my Transporter:
- All of the Denver AM talk radio stations I like but have a hard time receiving up here in the hills
- The excellent Boulder-based KBCO Studio-C channel
- A classical music station in Dallas
- A pop-rock station in Sydney (Triple-J)
- A toddler music station and a separate toddler folk music station
- A classic rock station in San Francisco, another in Philly, another in London, and another in Montreal!
- A comedy channel (heard Jon Stewart and Sam Kinnison today)
- The only (as far as I know) Internet radio station from Bhutan!
The range of music is as wide as your imagination...and it's unbelievably easy to navigate through these things to find something you want. I even found a "Celtic rock" station.
You can set stations as "favorites" and then just go to your "favorites" to choose among them. In the Internet Radio category, you can also find "staff favorites" where the people behind the Transporter product make recommendations.
Now the Transporter is the high end of a line of products by Logitech called Squeezebox. They make a range of different products which have some subset of the Transporter's functionality, though none of the others have the audiophile sound quality. Neal sells all this stuff and I hope you'll buy from him if you end up buying any of these products. The great thing about buying from Neal has been his willingness to spend time on the phone with me when I had technical questions or set-up questions. (He also responds quickly to e-mail.) Logitech service is decent, but Neal's been selling the Transporter for so long that he knows the answers to most questions better than the Logitech support people do (as I verified by asking Logitech a question which Neal answered correctly and they answered incorrectly.)
The Squeezebox Duet is not only pretty cool as a stand-alone device, but its remote is an amazing addition to the Transporter and works with it flawlessly. What's cool about the Duet remote is that it has a color LCD screen which makes navigation through your music very easy and -- a super-cool gimmic -- it will show the album cover of the music you're playing (if you grabbed the cover art during the CD ripping process.)
In addition to the remote (which will, like the Transporter make you ask "Why can't all software be this good?") the Duet includes the black box you see above which uses your home network's wireless connection to distribute music from your Music Vault (or other music server) to anywhere in your house where your Wireless-G signal will reach! You just have to connect it to some powered speakers or into the input of a stereo you have somewhere else. I think you can even have different music playing in two different rooms, i.e. one thing through the Transporter and another thing through the Duet, and you can control it all with the Duet remote. As I said, I think the Duet remote is so amazing that it's worth buying with the Transporter even if you won't even need the Duet wireless receiver for another room.
I mentioned the open-source nature of the Transporter software. There are some very cool applications you can download and install...many of them free. A couple of examples: There's an iPhones app called iPeng which turns your iPhone or iPod Touch into a wireless remote for the Transporter! You can install a "screen saver" for the Transporter so that it shows your local weather forecast on its LCD screen when the music isn't playing (or when it is, but I prefer to see the info about the music.) It can also scroll sports scores and stock quotes across the screen, believe it or not. You can see a partial list of the apps available for the Transporter HERE. And there's a fairly busy user forum HERE talking about everything from Internet radio to various 3rd party apps to 3rd party hardware. Really fun and interesting stuff, in my humble opinion.
At $1399, the Transporter may be a great deal but it's still real money. And the Music Vaults are serious devices which also cost a few bucks -- from about $1600 all the way up to over $4,000 for Neal's Music Vault Diamond. Some of Neal's Music Vault packages include a "Netbook", i.e. a small laptop computer, which you can use to wirelessly manage your entire music library and control the Transporter. It's just amazing to see in action...and a great way to impress your friends. You can buy the lower end of the Squeezebox line and get most of the Transporter functionality -- and I'd probably recommend that if you don't care about audiophile sound quality or the "rack-mount" look of the Transporter. However, there's no way around needing some decent computing power for a music server if you want to make your CD collection available through these products -- actually, decent storage and backup power more than raw processing/CPU power. (You can do with something much less than a dedicated server if you just want to rip a dozen or two or three CDs to your existing computer. But that also has the downside of having to have your main computer on whenever you want to listen to them. If you have a separate media server, you avoid the various potential issues of serving up music from the same computer you use for work and other thing. For those of you who aren't into building your own computers, Neal's product is great and his support of his customers is even better. He can even set up a way to log in (with your permission) to your server so he can help you set it up or troubleshoot it once it's in place at your house.
So if you want to open a whole new world of music availability, convenience, and sheer technological coolness, consider this stuff. And don't be shy about contacting Neal to get his advice and opinion. He's never given me the "hard sell" on anything and he's been really fantastic to work with. You can reach Neal by e-mail at neal (at) soundsciencecat (dot) com (click that e-mail address to open an e-mail addressed to Neal) or you can call him at 720.308.4000 if you want to hear a human voice rather than read characters on a screen.
Do me a favor and tell him you heard about him from me. If people I refer buy a few things, he might reward me with some sort of electronic toy!
If you love listening to music, you won't regret this.
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