Wednesday, October 2, 2013

New Stereo Setup

I call my website "The Stereo Lab". This was an idea of mine during my wife's first pregnancy. I pictured our home having a large room with a stereo and work spaces for each family member. No TV!  I pictured us creating, making and learning together in this room as a family. We recently had our 2nd child and when I returned home from a long stay in the hospital I was ready for a mini-project. Mini-project because I have no time for real projects right now.  I decided that we would need something other than a laptop with USB powered speakers if I wanted to make a real life Stereo Lab.

Here were my problems:


  1. All of my music is digital and stored on a personal computer not available for family use. This is the computer I use to rip CDs and purchase music on. I needed any changes to this music library to be mirrored on the device serving the music in the family room.
  2. The only device I had to serve music to the family room was a laptop with a non-functioning keyboard and trackpad, and with a broken screen.
  3. The only speakers I had were USB powered and sounded awful.
  4. I had only $180 to use towards this project.

1. Automatically Syncing My Media Library with the Family Room Stereo

I turned to a free tool to accomplish this task:  SyncBack Free by 2BrightSparks.  This is a great piece of software that lets you easily backup, synchronize and mirror directories either on the same local machine or across your network.  In my case I created a share on the broken laptop and had SyncBack Free mirror my music library to this directory daily. Any new music I add to the collection or unwanted music I remove is then added\removed from the laptop's library within 24 hours. 

2. Accessing Music on a Laptop with No Working Inputs and a Broken Screen.

I considered attaching a computer monitor and external keyboard and mouse to the laptop. This takes a lot of space and was not an option for me.  I have a Nexus 4 phone and my wife a Nexus 7. My next idea was to use these devices to control the stereo. 

I first needed to setup my media player on the broken laptop. The player that best fit my needs was foobar2000 which is, in my opinion, the best media player for windows. It is open source, light weight, and very customizable. It is also free!
On the Android side, I installed an app called foobar2000 controller PRO by Sergi Mola. It costs $1.49 per device and was a great bargain. From this app on my android devices I can access my foobar music library and network shares. It has a lock screen widget and a standard widget with the PRO version. A free version is also available for testing purposes.  Note that in order for this app to work with foobar I needed to install the foo_httpcontrol component and follow these instructions.

3. Stereo Equipment

To obtain a more enjoyable listening experience I needed to upgrade from my USB powered speakers. Being somewhat new to this area I decided to consult Professor Google for an education.  I knew I wanted a 2.0 or 2.1 setup, but I was unfamiliar with which equipment and brands were desirable.  The consensus seemed to be to purchase used equipment in good shape. Craigslist had slim pickings and I wanted something setup before my baby came home.  Then I came across a very well informed gentleman by the handle of Zeos.   I followed a thread he started on his subreddit.  He also has some enjoyable reviews on his youtube channel.

I pieced together this system:

Behringer UCA202 DAC -- $29.99 (to convert my digital collection to analog)
Topping TP21 Amp -- $71.50 (to power the speakers)

I did not have enough money for the 2.1 system, but when I buy an amp I most likely will go for the Dayton Audio Sub-1000.

In 2 days time everything was delivered and setup. The system sounds amazing, especially for the price. This will also allow me to make modular upgrades as funds become available.

4. I spent just under $180 for everything shipped.

I had a good time learning a little about audio equipment. I can say my music sounds significantly better with this equipment and the family is really enjoying gathering around the stereo together.



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