A number of years ago, we were displaying speakers at the California Audio Show. We were using a Denon CD player as the source and feeding the S/PDIF output to very good sounding DAC. Since it was the DAC that was responsible for the sound quality, we didn’t see any reason to use another player. But people would peer into the room, see the Denon, assume the sound quality was not worth a listen and move on. So we obviously needed an alternative approach.
In addition, working with CD’s at a show was not the most convenient. So we made it our mission to return the following year with the best source streaming player we could find. Thus began our search for the ideal player.
We looked at quite a few possibilities, but were not able to find a device that precisely fit our desired goals. So, as we have always done with speakers, we decided to develop our own streaming player. There were quite a few conditions we set out for this product.
First, it would be simple to operate, yet extremely stable. We had seen others using Windows computers and JRiver to play music. But in the middle of the presentation, the computer would freeze and they would have to re-boot. At those times, the room would empty. So a Windows solution was out.
Others had used MAC Mini computers to accomplish the same end. But being married to a monitor and keyboard didn’t seem all that practical. And the MAC Mini was far more complicated at the hardware and software level than need be for the task at hand. We wanted a simple system that could be controlled remotely via an iPad, iPhone or some Android device.
That led us to Linux, a solid, stable operating system using MPD as the player software. No graphical user interface was required which meant we could use a very stripped down version of Linux as well. (Linux, by the way, is the operating system used in most all DVR’s which perform a similar task for video.)
When we looked at available players, we noticed a few features that were not really required.
Some had either character or graphic LCD displays. But if all the information on a given track is available via the app you are using to remote control the player, an LCD screen seems a bit redundant. Sure, it looks impressive, but you often can’t read it from the listening position anyway. So we weren’t interested in a graphic display.
The same is true of control buttons. Who wants to get up to advance the track? Again, if you are using a remote device to control the player, what value do these controls offer?
The other common feature of many of these players were on-board optical drives. This would seem to be a convenient feature, but there are reasons it, too, makes little sense. First, the gold standard for ripping audio tracks is dBPoweramp, which runs on Windows and MAC operating systems.
Secondly, most computers have built in optical drives. So you would end up duplicating hardware you already own. And since the StreamPlayer would be a network device, ripping to it would be exactly the same as ripping to a local drive on any other computer on your network. The streaming player would simply show up as a drive on all computers on your network and saving to it would be no more involved than saving ripped music to a local drive on that computer. In fact, dBPoweramp can be set up to save to a specific drive with a specific folder layout. So ripping music from any computer running dBPoweramp is as simple as inserting the CD and hitting “Rip.” Everything else is done for you.
The bottom line is that by eliminating all of these unnecessary “features” lowers cost and increases reliability with no reduction in convenience. They simply aren’t needed and only serve to make the unit more complex with additional failure points.
The StreamPlayer is Born
Once we determined what we were looking for, we realized that our “dream” unit did not exist. So we set out to design our own and the first generation StreamPlayer was born.
The resulting unit worked very well for its intended purpose. When used at audio shows, we were able to very conveniently select the tracks we wanted to play. The StreamPlayer never failed and allowed us to do things like search for artist, genre, year, CD, song title, etc. What’s more, we could save playlists that could be called up anytime we wanted to re-visit a particular arrangement of tracks.
When we used our StreamPlayer at shows, we generally had quite a few people asking if we would be willing to build units for them. That presented an issue. Obviously we had no trouble configuring our players using a Linux terminal (remember, there is no graphical user interface to simplify this task). But for most of our customers, using a Linux terminal is beyond their capabilities. So we spent about 8 months developing a web-based user interface that allows users to configure for their unit to suit their needs. Behind the scenes, the web interface writes the appropriate configuration files for the user…no Linux knowledge required.
In recent years, the audio industry has started promoting DSD. While the original StreamPlayer was capable of playing these files, the embedded processor we used in the first generation StreamPlayer was being pushed harder and harder. Plus, all kinds of DSD-capable DACs started appearing on the scene and it was hard to insure that the majority of them would work with the original version of the StreamPlayer. So this past year, we introduced the Generation II StreamPlayer with a higher powered processor and more capable USB circuitry.
We now have a streaming server that works very well for us. Since it is not a speaker product, we decided not to include it in our main web site. Instead, we created a separate site just for this product.
If you’d like to explore the StreamPlayer further, here is a link to our StreamPlayer Home page.