music

Thumbs up to Tomato Firmware, Thumbs Down to X-Wrt

I have an old Linksys WRT-54G v3. I have ran various different firmwares over the years, but performance was never a big deal. I was mainly looking for something that allowed to me to access all of the devices features and a nicer frontend than the one that Linksys provides. At one point I was using different firmwares for QOS when we were sharing our connection with some other people in our building. Anyways, I had been using X-Wrt (white russian) for quite some time. It is basically a nice user-friendly version of OpenWrt.

Recently we purchased a Squeezebox Duet and even more recently we purchased a second Squeezebox Receiver. We finally have wirelessly-streamed music in pretty much every room of the house. We had been noticing gaps in the audio and I decided it was finally time to fix it. I discovered a diagnostics page (called "Server & Network Health", available via SqueezeCenter's Help page) and noticed that streaming rates I was getting were much lower than the 3000 kbps that I was expecting. In fact I was actually getting much lower than 1000 kps and had to change the scale of the measurement just to get a proper reading.

I decided to upgrade to Tomato firmware, which I had heard a lot of good things about. Immediately, I was getting about 3000+ kbps and the audio problems were gone. As an added bonus, we are now able to watch MythTV from a wirelessly-connected laptop, which were not able to do before (previously I had assumed that wireless streaming video was just too much for today's wireless networks to handle, or too much for MythTV to handle). I think I am going to make a donation to Tomato because it has made such a big difference for us. We can now enjoy listening to our mp3 library anywhere in the house (without gaps) and can watch recorded TV shows on our laptop.

Bye Bye Ogg Vorbis, hello VBR mp3

Part of my music collection is stored as *.mp3 and part of it as *.ogg files (vorbis encoded). We have a portable Samsung YP-T9 which, when we purchased it at Future Shop about 4 months ago was one of the few devices that played ogg files (which is why I bought it). Even then, I had to update the firmware so that it would play oggs, and although it plays ogg files perfectly well, it does not recognize the ogg tags! So all the files get thrown into the "Unknown" artist and "Unknown" track basket. It sucks. I tried all sorts of tricks like embedding id3 tags in the files as well as the ogg tag and renaming the files to mp3s but nothing works. Apparently others have had problems with their ogg tags not being recognized as well. I got really pissed off. Partly at Samsung and partly at myself for encoding these CDs into ogg format in the first place.

What is the advantage of ogg format anyways? Better quality than mp3 for the same file size is how it can be explained most simply. But who gives a damn about filesize these days with 0.5 TB hard drives going for $115. If you want high quality forget disk space and go with Flac or use VBR mp3 or 320kbps CBR mp3. If you're tight on disk space your encoding is going to be lossy no matter what and it will sound like crap. The only reason I can think for using ogg many years ago when I did was that VBR was fairly new at that time and was not fully supported by all players and hard drive space must have been more expensive.

I also just bought a Squeezebox Receiver and Controller and I don't want to discover some flaw in its ogg tag support when I'm hosting a party and trying to play some oggs.

Luckily most of my oggs were ripped off of CDs that I still have in storage. I am in the process or re-ripping those CDs into mp3s. I knew nothing about mp3 conversion before so I did some reading about it. This list of recommended LAME settings was the most helpful in addition to the lame man page. I eventually decided upon the following:

lame --preset fast standard *.wav *.mp3

A couple notes, the "fast" option adds the --vbr-new setting, the "standard" option is equivalent to "-V 2" and the -h option is not necessary with VBR. This gives a target bitrate of 190 kbps which is good enough for me. I did think about using flac but I don't care that much about audio quality, and I would rather not to have to upgrade my hard drive in order to be able to use flac for everything.

For some CDs that I really care about, such as Pink Floyd, I rip it using

lame --preset fast extreme *.wav *.mp3

which gives an average bitrate of around 245 kbps.

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Just Pre-Ordered a Squeezebox Duet

My wife and I just pre-ordered a Squeezebox duet today that should be arriving here at the end of February. It's a device that will allow us to access the mp3/ogg library on our PC from another room in the house (without requiring a laptop). Before the introduction of the display-less Squeezebox Receiver and Squeezebox Controller, the only choice was the Squeebox unit, which comes with a simple remote. I don't have much use for a display like that on the original Squeezebox. For me it is much more useful to have one nice remote with a display and multiple display-less receiver units.

The Squeezebox line is similar to Sonos' devices, and they are now in direct competition with the introduction of the Squeezebox controller. The only problem with Sonos is that it is so god damn expensive, not to mention that their devices are much bigger. Sure it is more powerful, allowing you to connect to up to 16 devices with Samba shares or Windows shares on them and one of their devices has an amplifier whereas all the Squeezebox devices require a separate amplifier or powered speakers. Fortunately we don't have any good speakers of our own already so we'll just buy a few nice Bose powered speakers. Then maybe buy a couple more along with another Squeezebox Receiver and expand our network.

Squeezebox has the advantage that it's SlimServer software is open source so it is constantly being updated and improved and it is written in Perl so it is totally cross platform. It's unfortunate that it is written in Perl actually, but I guess they could have chosen an even worse language.

My First Piano Lesson in 15 Years

Just had my first piano lesson in 15 years tonight! The last time I had a lesson was when I was 12. It was so weird; I felt like a kid again. Felt especially like a kid after buying a book of songs called "Something for the Boys" (it's got arrangements for music from Star Wars and other such movies). I did feel like a grown-up when my teacher would say stuff like "Usually what I do for kids is but you're not a kid so . . ." I'm really enjoying playing piano again. Just bought a circa 1988 Yamaha Clavinova right before Christmas for about $500 and have been playing almost every day. Sometimes I lose track of time and hours can just slip by. My first lesson has already paid off as I learned a new technique for learning a new piece, then tried it tonight and it worked great. The teacher is also a few years younger than I am, rather than 40-50 years older than me which I like lot better. I'm working on Grade 4 Royal Conservatory, for anyone who knows RCM.

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