When I wrote the MP3 book for O’Reilly two years ago, I incorrectly predicted that the mainstream electronics market would soon be flooded with all manner of MP3 home stereo components. While a few semi-commercial units have been released, almost everything out there is still coming from 2nd-tier vendors, or consists of bodged-up home computers stuffed into smaller cases, running some form of Linux hacked every which way to Sunday.
Very cool, but as much as I want to be listening to my MP3 collection on the home stereo, I had a different idea about how to do it right. I’ve already got a meticulously organized collection on the hard drive of my always-on G4, and I don’t want to have to be sync’ing it with the stereo all the time. I will not tolerate fan noise in the system, and I want something low-profile. The perfect solution, as far as I could see, would be a small unit consisting of nothing but an ethernet port, an MP3-decoding DSP, and an LCD or LED display. The collection would be controlled from any of the browser-based PHP or perl packages out there.
My only real hesitation with the device is its lack of digital outputs (I have an outboard DAC that I hate to see go to waste). So while I wait for another rev of the SliMP3 to arrive with digital out (not that the company has promised, but it is a highly requested feature, and seems inevitable), I decided to monkey around with another - and much cheaper - solution. Plunked down $30 for an iRock - a tiny FM transmitter that takes whatever is coming out of your computer’s audio-out jack and broadcasts it to the tuner in your home stereo. Cheap, and seemingly elegant.
The iRock arrived yesterday, and turned out not to be a panacea at all. Living in the SF Bay Area, the low end of my FM radio dial is full of signal, but I chose 88.1, where the existing signal was weakest of the four options. Got 90% static, 10% signal. Put the iRock on an extension cord and hoisted it up to line of sight with the stereo, which is 25 feet away in the living room. Better, but still static-y. Pulled out the tuner’s FM attena and spread it all over the room. Finally, I was getting 95% signal and 5% noise. But that’s 5% noise too much, and at the expense of spreading wires all over two rooms. Kind of defeats the point. I’d get better results running audio cable under the floor, and wouldn’t need to mess with batteries. The iRock went into a drawer. Maybe it will come in handy when we take a trip and want to listen to the iPod in the car.
For now, I’ll keep listening to MP3s on computer speakers, biding my time until Slim Devices takes their near-perfect unit the final mile to MP3 nirvana.
Have good experiences with other MP3 home stereo devices?