SpinFreeNews.com - MP3 news and guide


MP3 News

MP3 Basics

MP3 File Conversions

MP3 Players Guide

Internet Resources

Web Directory

Digital Networks: PC to Stereo 

WASHINGTON -- "Music wants to be free!" may be the rallying cry of the digital-music revolution, but all those MP3s can easily end up in a cage of a different sort -- the trusty home computer.

Music fans may find the tedium of ripping songs from CDs or downloading them from industry-sanctioned Internet sites surpassed only by the disappointment of listening to them through tinny computer speakers in the home office.

Home-burned CDs and portable players like Apple Computer's iPod, costing $300 to $500, offer one way out. But electronics makers are coming out with a new class of device that can pipe digital music through the living-room stereo or other speakers throughout the house.

Linked to the computer through a wireless connection, Ethernet computer-networking cable or a power line network, many of these "digital audio receivers" can also stream Internet radio and display video or digital photos on the living-room TV.

Such devices are expected to play an important role as digital music and home networks catch on over the next several years, though sales in the category so far are minimal, according to IDC analyst Danielle Levitas.

"The basic idea is a really good one," Levitas said. "Adapters are a very real bridge solution for the foreseeable future."

In his Washington row house, lawyer David Rhodes prepares dinner in the kitchen while listening to a random mix of the 8,000 songs stored on his Macintosh three floors above.

Music streams over the electrical wiring of the house to a SLIMP3 audio receiver made by Slim Devices, a small black box that lists the song title and artist on a fluorescent display and costs $240.

For Rhodes, the device finally delivers on the promise of digital music, allowing him to enjoy his extensive musical collection without smearing tomato sauce on the computer.

The system is also a hit with his wife, Brooke Clagett.

"She's buying more music than ever," Rhodes said. "It's taking her back to her high-school days making mix tapes."

While the SLIMP3 is one of the few digital-audio receivers compatible with the Mac and Linux operating systems, Windows users have plenty of choices.

Hauppauge Computer Works's MediaMVP ($100), Voyetra Turtle Beach's AudioTron ($300) and Hewlett-Packard's en5000 Digital Media Receiver ($130) can fit on a home-audio rack next to the CD player and turntable. Users connect to their computers with Ethernet cable or a power line network.

Users who have set up high-speed wireless networks at home can opt for cd3o's C200 ($200) or Cisco Systems' Linksys Wireless-B Media Adapter ($180), which include built-in Wi-Fi cards to stream the music wirelessly from their computers. Prismiq's Mediaplayer ($250) includes a slot for an optional Wi-Fi card, which must be purchased separately.

Onkyo's NC-500 Net Tune ($400) features an AM/FM radio and a built-in amplifier for the kitchen or other rooms that may not have a stereo system.

Gadget geeks on a budget might want to consider the X-10 Lola Wireless Direct Connect ($50) or Thomson's RCA Lyra Wireless RD900W ($100), which transmit using the RF technology also found on cordless phones and baby monitors. Users can avoid the cost and confusion of a Wi-Fi network by simply plugging one transmitter into a computer's USB port and another into the stereo. Motorola's Simplefi ($380) communicates through HomeRF, a similar standard.

For those reluctant to add another box to their home-theater setups, two companies have introduced networked DVD players. Gateway's Wireless Connected DVD ($200) and Go-Video's D2730 ($350) allow users to stream music, movies and photos from their computers and play DVDs as well.

Wireless networks do have their limitations, Levitas said. RF signals are prone to interference, she said, and Wi-Fi networks may sometimes have trouble handling video, though music rarely poses a problem.

The most expensive bridge devices avoid home networks altogether. "Hard drive jukeboxes" like D&M Holdings' Rio Central ($1,500) and Escient Convergence FireBall E-40 ($2,000) combine a CD player with a 40-gigabyte hard drive, allowing users to rip CDs into MP3 form as they play them.

Users can gradually build a digital-music library that way, or plug in their computers to transfer MP3s directly.

Of course, music fans without thousands of dollars to spare could run Belkin's Audio Y Cable Splitter ($7) between the computer and the stereo -- a cheap, if inelegant, solution.

© Copyright 2024 MP3 News and Guide. All rights reserved.