Way back when we were younger, I had my stereo system set up with speakers in the family room (where my audio set up was), the living room and the office. At one point, Brian actually crawled through the attic, feeding wires through holes in the ceiling. Then, in 2003, we started to remodel the house.
And the wires were gone. I no longer had house wide audio. Oh, I did find a couple of transmitter/receivers that would send the signal through the house and it worked. But somewhere along the line, the one I chose, I think it was a Logitech system, to use on a regular basis just kind of went by the wayside.
Then came the internet, when I didn't spend so much of my time in the other rooms and was okay with just listening to music from the computer. In the family room, I have a turntable (I have lots of vinyl), I have a nice receiver/amplifier, I have a 100 disk CD changer, I have two of the first CD recorders, I have a dual cassette tape player. I used to make my own mix music tapes, then CDs. I would use one of the CD recorders, the one that accepted rewritable disks to make the CD, then burn that to a disk that could be used in the car. Not all homemade CDs could be played on vehicle players back then.
Then came the capability of recording CDs from a computer. CDs that played in the car. Cool, right? I made tons of those.
But then....nothing. I don't know what happened, but I just kind of got out of listening to tunes. Recently, that's changed.
With Google minis and Alexa Echos and Dots, I could send music wherever there was a speaker. I'd pick them up on sale. At this point, I have a lot of speakers. Mostly Google, but a fair amount of Alexa devices. Of course, I needed a way to send them through the house. The original routers and range extenders were pretty half assed at doing a decent job. Our cable internet comes in through the very back corner of the house. Who knew that it wasn't the best place? This was back in the mid 90s. I've had Amped Wireless extenders, NetGear extenders (I still use one of these), and finally tried the TP-Link brand.
I use these for the shop. One in the house that sends the signal to the one in the shop. Where Brian uses an Echo Input (no longer available) which has a speaker attached to it. He listens to music, sometimes the news while he's working.
In the house, I now use a TP-Link Deco Mesh system. I got that to replace a NetGear extender that kept dropping the wifi signal from the office. So much buffering for video and I was really irritated with its poor performance. And it was forty dollars more than the TP-Link system. I have one of the Decos in the office (close to the router), one in the bedroom and one in the dining room. And I can't say that we've had any signal problems since. (I doubt in the future I'll even look at NetGear, after having NetGear routers for years, for anything. From the research I did with the problems I was having, dropped signals is pretty par for the course.)
Anyway, that kind of brings us up to my most recent scathingly brilliant idea (Haley Mills, The Trouble With Angels). My Pandora stations left me wanting. And what I wanted was to use my own music to send to the speakers. I spent a couple of days doing the research. It is doable. But could I do it? Could I set it up? Only one way to find out. And today, I'm happy to say, I did it. And here's how.
Okay, so my current router is a NetGear AX5400. It has a USB port, for a printer or an external hard drive. I use it as an external hard drive. Kind of like a quasi NAS. So, on my Rokus I could use the Roku Media Player to view photos, video or listen to music. The drive I have attached has a ton of files on it. All of my photos (close to 200,000). My music files. I run Quickbooks from it so I can use it in the office or the living room. All of the graphic software that I've gotten through the years. The Silhouette files. There's a lot of stuff I really don't care to have to wade through when I just want to listen to an album. But there is no option to hide folders from the NetGear media scanner. When it indexes the files, it completely scans them all again. It takes hours.
It just so happened, the external drive started to have problems. It would go missing from my mapped drive list and just disappear. I unhooked it from the router and plugged it into the computer and the computer didn't see it. I unplugged it from the power source and plugged it back in, but a few days later, the same thing happened. Time for a new hard drive. I got the same flavor, then decided to partition the drive and have all the files on one partition, then copy the music, video and photo files (not the complete set) to the other partition. Hopefully this would work.
Files copies, folders mapped, I set the NetGear's media server to start indexing the files. Like I said, it took hours, even though it was just the four folders. Music, photos, audiobooks (got them for cheap from a Meh sale) and my Disney meet videos (the ones I made, burned and sent DVD copies to everyone who was there). Great, right? Nope.
For some reason, the NetGear software would drop the drive from the mapped list. After it had been indexing for hours, it would drop the drive. And start all over when I remapped that drive. So annoying. I started doing research for an actual NAS drives. Brian, having sympathy for my plight, gave me the go ahead to get one. I didn't need a lot of space, the stuff I wanted to stream didn't even total a half of a terabyte. I decided on a Buffalo LinkStation. It came with the hard drive and would be more than adequate for my needs. It was pretty easy to set up. This should do it.
So, the Plex program (or something similar) seems to be the way to go as the actual streaming part. I signed up for Plex last March figuring I could run it on the old laptop that I have the weather station and the camera running on. I was mistaken. That poor ancient device just couldn't do the job. I had paid for a lifetime subscription, then I had to ask for my money back. Fortunately, they went against their policy of no refunds and refunded it completely after I clarified my "this is just crap" comment when I made my request was referring to my system, not their software. After reinstalling it on my computer, I had it up and running. This would work, for sure. But.
Yeah, once again, there's that but. If I wanted to stream the music to my devices, the computer running the Plex server needed to be on. And I don't like the idea of running the computer 24/7. It's hot in this room. And, of course, there's the energy consumption. What to do...what to do?
I headed over to eBay. Looked at refurbed computers. Found the most adorable little PC. A Dell Optiplex 7010. It's not even a foot tall! It was $75 on eBay, with a $10 discount (when I bought through the eBay app) and free shipping. It was here in two days. I had to let Brian know that I'd ordered it, after the fact. He rolled his eyes and I said "it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission". There was a problem, thought, the description on eBay said it had HDMI. It did not. I had a HDMI splitter that I bought last year and thought would be perfect for the laptop to an old monitor (vga to HDMI adapter) and just hook the Optiplex up as well. The seller offered to reimburse me for the cost of the adapter, but I did get that $10 discount from eBay, so we're square.
The adapter got here the next day and we were off to the races!
The Optiplex in the center, the Buffalo LinkStation NAS on the speaker. Isn't that mini-tower cute?
Plex saw the server (it actually saw ALL of the servers, needed to delete the ones I didn't want). I also had to find that little snippet of code to prevent Plex from indexing the photo and video folder. And then deleted all the folders it had found previously and started indexing again. I finally got it how I wanted it. Got the libraries just so. So far, so good.
Next, what about playlists? I had a few from the last decade when I was listening to music. I printed them out and realized that this was going to be time consuming to do. I started to make new playlists on Plex using the information I'd printed out, but damn...I don't want to do this. But guess what? There's a software for that! MusConv. The trial is limited to twenty-five songs per list. But the trial was okay, so I signed up for a month. It will convert all of my playlists (both zpl and m3u formats) that I made in Windows Media Player to Plex. It won't take a month. So, that's nice.
Now, the thing with Plex is there's a free version and a paid for version. If one wants to do what I want to do, stream to my devices, I need to run it on my phone. And while the free version runs on computers, you need to subscribe to have it running on phones. The plus side is with the subscription, you also get other fun things. This time I just subscribed for a month and will keep watching for the discount on the lifetime subscription they offer a couple of times a year.
Once set up on the phone, make sure, make sure, make sure (because I didn't) the wifi connection on the phone is the same connection you have your devices on. I have five different network names here at home. A couple of them wired, the rest of them wireless. I have my reasons for this (like the one I run the webcam on doesn't have anything else pulling from it; Alexa devices are on one network, Google on the other). I was getting so frustrated that Plex on my phone was not seeing the Google devices. Then I changed the network. There they were! Honestly, I spent a couple of days trying to figure out why there was no "cast" option in Plex on my phone. Because there were no speakers to cast to. At least, not on that network. Change the network on the phone? Voila! Speakers! But we're golden, once again.
Plex will broadcast to Google groups. But it will not do the same for Alexa. With Alexa, you run Plex via Alexa. But Alexa has commands, so there's that.
The Google speaker list - you can choose individual speakers or a group that you've set up. I named mine "everywhere".
With everything up and running, it's time to consider ripping all of my CDs to that NAS drive. I have a lot of CDs. It will take forever doing one at a time. Way back with the Disney meet videos, I had little disk burners, but only one of them works now. So, I got a couple of these on Amazon. If you want to do the same right now they have a discount. But don't do the white ones, go with the black ones. They are the same thing, just different colors. Same price. But, the white ones have a 20% discount. The black ones have a 25% discount. And if you want more than one and want the discount on each one? You have to place separate orders. It only takes one discount per disk per order.
My CD collection. I've been getting CDs since the mid-eighties. Kept them all.
And now that we have the capability of burning more than one at a time how will we ever do that? I was using Windows Media Player, but found another software (that will burn more than one at a time) that's pretty sweet. DBPowerAmp CD ripper. They have a fully functioning twenty-one day trial version. I liked the little bit I did this morning, I purchased it. To do multiple disks, you have to open the software for each device you're using. But it's really not all that hard to figure out.
dbPowerAmp at work. See the little windows at the bottom of the screen? I can watch how the ripping process is going. The burners are on my desk, doing what I want them to do.
I made a promise myself to put the ripped CDs back where they belong, instead of letting them pile up. These are the ones from yesterday and this morning.
And that's it! There are a lot of links in this post. Many to "how to" pages and others to what I used. Just in case you were curious and wanted to try it out for yourself.