Suggestions for setting an iMac music server

Discussion in 'Apple' started by JohnRice, Aug 17, 2007.

  1. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    I plan on getting a used iMac to use as both a second computer as well as a music server. Believe it or not, after using Macs for 20 years, I have never had two functioning ones at the same time. I was hoping to get some suggestions on the fine details of doing what I want.

    I have my desktop Mac downstairs in my office, and plan to have the iMac in the dining room, which is between the living room and family room. Both those rooms have audio systems in them which I want to feed music in iTunes, which will be shared (Ethernet) from the main Mac. The first thing I'm looking for is suggestions on good ways to get the audio from the iMac to the two systems. Each system is within about 20 ft of the iMac, but in different rooms. I'd like a somewhat elegant way to get the audio to both systems, without spending much money or creating a mess of course.

    I was also wondering if there is any kind of "remote desktop" system with networked macs. What I would specifically like to do is be able to send and check emails from the iMac as though I were working on the desktop in my office. Meaning, I'd like to be able to see Mail on the iMac exactly as it is (received emails, accounts and so on) on the Desktop Mac. I don't know if this is possible. Basically, I want it to work as a remote terminal of my main Mac.
     
  2. Craig S

    Craig S Producer
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    For your music distribution needs, you should look into the Airport Express, which allows you share music over your network (wireless or wired Ethernet) to your audio equipment.

    For your remote desktop needs, there's the appropriately-named Apple Remote Desktop - however, it's aimed at IT installations as the starting price is $300 for 10 computers. That's way too much for home installations. Luckily, there's the free Chicken-of-the-VNC client available which will allow you do what you want, albeit in a more bare-bones manner than the Apple product.

    To set up a Mac to be controlled by either Apple Remote Desktop or Chicken-of-the-VNC (they both use the VNC protocol), just go to the System Preferences->Sharing panel. Find "Apple Remote Desktop" under the Services tab and enable it. You'll get a panel that lets you enable the level of control various users on the machine will have over the machine when logged in remotely. There's also a checkbox called "VNC viewers may control screen with password". You should enable this and set a password.

    Then launch Chicken-of-the-VNC on your controlling machine. You'll see a Connect dialog with a list of "servers" (machines to be controlled). The machine you just enabled should be on it. Select it, enter the password you just set, and click the Connect button. That's it! You're controlling your Mac remotely.

    Hope this helps.
     
  3. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    Thanks Craig.

    I kind of figured that little airport was the best solution, if not exactly the cheapest. I don't even know if that iMac has an airport card installed. Probably not. I can find out quick enough. I suppose that's another $100 or so. I think I would connect it to the main Mac with Ethernet, so I could get gigabit speeds between them. I may want to work with some of my Photoshop files, which get pretty large. Then go airport from the iMac to the audio systems.
     
  4. Craig S

    Craig S Producer
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    John, which model is the used iMac you are getting? I think wireless has been standard for 2-3 years.
     
  5. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    Craig, This is the iMac. No, it is not blistering fast, but I don;t need it to be and it's only $200, plus I know it has been well cared for. I plan to put a larger HD and DVD burner in it, which leads me to another question. Do you know any sites with instructions on how to open it? I just want to make sure I don't run into any surprises.

    BTW, this is compatible with the original airport card, but I see some alternative solutions available. Do you have any experience with any of them?
     
  6. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    I found instructions on opening it Here.
     
  7. Craig S

    Craig S Producer
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    Sorry, I don't have any experience with that model (only got into Mac in 2005). Looks like you've already found some good sites, though.
     
  8. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    Finally got my hands on the iMac, replaced the HD and installed a DVD burner and got the network set up. I have to say, the Chicken of the VNC is pretty slick. It is a bit clumsy, but it does let me remotely operate my desktop Mac. I've also found I don't need it as much as I thought I would, but at times it will be necessary. So, thanks Craig.
     
  9. Ted Todorov

    Ted Todorov Cinematographer

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    Screen Sharing in Leopard works much better than ChickenofTheVNC.

    The main problem with that iMac for audio is it doesn't have optical digital out, so you have to rely on its D2A converters or get AirPort express working. Has anyone tried streaming iTunes audio over 802.11b? Will it work?
     
  10. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    Ted, so Leopard has remote access built in? My only complaint with VNC is that my desktop Mac has dual monitors running at higher resolution than the iMac, which makes the interface kind of clunky. Does the Leopard solution eliminate the discrepancy of that?

    As far as the audio output, it isn't that big a deal. I can use Airport Express, an iMic, or just use the built-in audio. I'm not exactly looking for audiophile sound here. I just want to have music playing.
     
  11. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    Now that most of this is set up, I have been experimenting with how to create duplicate playlists on both the computers. You can easily share them, but that doesn't give you the Party Shuffle option for the play lists on the remote computers. I really want them to be a duplicate. After some messing around, it occurred to me that I could just copy the iTunes files (database, artwork, etc) from my folder on the desktop Mac to the iMac. Presto, duplicate play lists, and as long as the drive they are stored on has been networked, all works great. When I make changes on the desktop Mac, I'll just copy the databases over again.

    Does anyone have any better way of doing this? Seems kind of silly Apple hasn't set up a way to do this more cleanly. Unless they have and I don't know it.
     
  12. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Interesting reading. I too want to do some sort of iTunes server. On my Macbook Pro I have everything encoded 320kbps AAC, but I want to do something more "professional" for my iTunes server, which would be hooked up to my home theater.

    What I'm thinking is buying the lowest level Mac Mini plus one of those 500GB external HDs from OWC that is shaped like a Mac Mini (so it could be stacked below it). I would re-rip [slowly over the course of weeks] my 600 or so CDs either in WAV or Apple Lossless, onto that external HD. I would hook up the mini via DVI to HDMI to my Sony 60A3000, and via 1/8" to RCA to the sound system. Would be costly, though, like $800 total.

    I really wish Apple TV would work with an external HD, because with the HDMI and optical outputs, it would be ideal. But 160GB just isn't enough unless I want to keep my music in AAC.
     
  13. nolesrule

    nolesrule Producer

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    If you want lossless, don't rip to WAV. Go with ALAC or, even better, FLAC. Not only will it conserve space but it will allow you to store the tags in the files for easy conversion to the lossy format of your choice at any time without having to recreate the tags. WAV isn't internally taggable.

    Not to intrude on a Mac discussion, but I use a Squeezebox wirelessly (also has an RJ-45 jack) with optical out to my receiver (also has coax and stereo RCA outs). Slimserver, open source music server that runs on Window, Mac and Linux, runs on one of my old Pentium 3 machines and I store the music on an external drive connected to the PC.

    The nice thing about the Squeezebox is it has its own display and remote control (also works well with Harmony remotes). Slimserver has a web-based interface so it is accessible anywhere on the network. In addition, the server software has many plugins and interfaces, including iTunes, and can even stream the music to music players like Winamp on computers via an on-the-fly encoded mp3 stream.

    Slimserver is open source, and can be downloaded for free. You don't even need a Squeezebox to use it, so you can always use a soundcard output to a receiver and use the web interface to control the software. I recommed you download it play around with it. It even has a java-based Squeezebox emulator to try out.

    The biggest plus of all about my Squeezebox is it ranks very high on the WAF.
     
  14. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Hey Joe, yes I know about FLAC. However I have an Apple household (several iPods, Macs, etc.) and that doesn't support FLAC, so it's WAV, AIFF or Apple Lossless for me.
     
  15. Ted Todorov

    Ted Todorov Cinematographer

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    Go with Apple Lossless -- it is the only compressed format of the three. If you ever need to switch to another one, just convert -- no quality will be lost.
     
  16. nolesrule

    nolesrule Producer

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    Well, if you have to choose between WAV, AIFF and ALAC, it's a no-brainer. Go with ALAC.

    While all are lossless, only ALAC is compressed, and it will support the internally embedded tags needed for whatever applications you use for your music server.

    It's a real shame Apple doesn't support FLAC. It's the defacto standard for lossless compressed audio. Of course, Apple's business model is based on vendor lock-in, not supporting established standards. (please forgive this minor troll [​IMG] )
     
  17. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    Because Microsoft is so completely unlike that.

    If you really look at it, Apple is not so much that way anymore. You can walk into a Best Buy (or wherever) and buy most any Windows peripheral annd it will work on a Mac, unless it is something the manufacturer has chosen not to support Mac with.

    Anyway, ALAC is the best lossless option you have, but I seriously have to wonder if it is really needed, unless you plan to then take files and further convert them or take them back to Audio CD. 320 AAC should be more than sufficient. I have been converting to 256 mp3 using LAME because this is not in place of the original CDs, but simply to have music playing when I want it. I use mp3 because I also burn them to CD so I can play them in the car or elsewhere in a DVD player.

    One nice thing about Apple lossless is the compression is blistering fast.
     
  18. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    I'd use lossless because the music server would be hooked up to my main HT sound system and would replace using CDs. On that system I can tell the difference when I'm playing 320AAC from my iPod and the original CD pretty readily.
     
  19. nolesrule

    nolesrule Producer

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    What's Microsoft have to do with this discussion? We're talking about serving up audio files, and this is a market where Apple has shown they get cranky about competition..

    The solution I suggested runs on Windows, Macs and Linux. But if you want to use iTunes, Apple doesn't support FLAC. They'd rather force you to use their own, proprietary format that they won't allow to play on non-Apple gear.
     
  20. Ted Todorov

    Ted Todorov Cinematographer

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    First of all, if you are hellbent on using FLAC, plugins are readily available for Quicktime/iTunes -- one example: http://xiph.org/quicktime/

    Secondly, there are open source Apple Lossless codecs -- example: http://craz.net/programs/itunes/alac.html

    Third, since Apple Lossless is lossless you can always convert your music to another lossless format -- you are in no way trapped in some proprietary dungeon.

    So far as Apple's crankiness with competition when it comes to audio, lets not forget history -- iTunes started out as a MP3 program (remember the Rip Mix Burn campaign). DRM was forced down Apple's throat by the record industry (read major labels). And yes, Apple took full advantage of their idiocy for its own competitive purposes. However it is still trying to do away with DRM altogether, but the record industry continues its unabated idiocy -- Universal refuses to sell DRM free to Apple while selling via Amazon. All of this is yet one more example of the record industry screwing over their customers, and digging their own grave.

    Ted
     

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