AirTunes

Intrigued by Apple’s Airport Express / AirTunes announcement. Finally, an Apple-centric (but not Mac-centric!) way to get the iTunes library across the house and into the stereo. The solution is pretty unique — not at all what I (or almost anyone) expected, which was more like a wireless iPod-like home stereo component, maybe with video capabilities bolted on. AE plugs into a power outlet and into your stereo’s audio-in (analog or digital). Your Wi-Fi capable Mac then auto-discovers the device, and music flows like water. Cake. And it doubles as an AirPort Extreme base station and print server.

The good people at Slim Devices must be hating this. I personally sold our sliMP3 a while ago; had finally come to see our home stereo as the final refuge, a fortress from which I could escape the ubiquity of MP3 in my life. But AirTunes is a tantalizing prospect…

Music: Can :: Cutaway

15 Replies to “AirTunes”

  1. $129 for a very portable 802.11g access point (tho limited to 10 clients) is nice – we just bought an 802.11b one for $89. Throw in a USB print server, that’s even nicer – hell, just getting a wired USB print server for an Epson printer runs $99.

    Then make it a streaming audio device that allows you to play iTunes on your stereo without moving the computer out of the office or placing the laptop on a percarious temporary perch, and that supports (unlike every other competitor) AAC with DRM.

    There’s the kicker. You can now play your iTunes Music Store music on your stereo via wireless. Nobody else has that right now. This is a sexy little device and just in time to buy for Geek Fathers. :)

  2. I’m curious what’s wrong with MP3s that you need a refuge from them? I personally can’t hear the difference between a 160k/sec vbr MP3 and CD. I know a lot of audiophiles claim to be able to, and I say more power to them, since tube electronics are my current hobby and it’s nice to have parts still being made.

    -Jim

  3. Jim, for me it was mostly a romance thing: Picking out an album intentionally, rather than just browsing playlists, or staying on random play as I ususally do. Reading liner notes as I put it on, studying the pictures. My whole history of music is wrapped up in the album, and I miss it.

    Sonically, I’m just as happy listening to 192kbps MP3 or 160kbps AAC as I am to a CD.

  4. I still have my slimp3, but use it mostly to get to know other peoples music collection and to be able to listen to the collection on every computer in the house as well as on the stereo.

    And yes I can hear the difference between a mp3 and a cd, but I really don’t mind the quality loss. If I want hifi quality I just pop the cd in the cdplayer and listen to it over the stereo.

  5. I can always tell the difference even if you make a direct copy to another cd. Just try to make a direct copy of a cd and compare them on a good system.

  6. Vincent, I beg to differ. A bit-perfect copy is a bit-perfect copy. No possibility of audio differences, even theoretically (remember that even a store-bought CD is a copy).

    As for MP3s, there are numerous informal and formal studies out there with people doing comparisons at various bitrates and noting the threshold of imperceptibility on high-end audio systems. The conclusions differ, but generally agree that 320kbps and even 256kbps in many cases is indistinguishable from CD. But I’m perfectly content with 192kbps.

  7. Sometime ago I read somewhere that it is not possible to make a bit for bit copy from a cdrom at this moment. Anyway I only trust my ears when it comes to music. And when doing blind test with my audiophile friends we always spot the copies with almost 100% success. So how could that be explained?

    I and most of my audiophile friends are also musicians so we are very trained in this (;-))

  8. It’s not only possible to do bit-perfect copying, it’s imperative. If the CD is software rather than audio, for example, one wrong bit could mean the software won’t work, the zips won’t unzip, etc. Error correction mechanisms are paranoid (remember cdparanoia?). Audio and data CDs are not different in this respect.

    I wouldn’t know how to explain your findings with your audiophile friends, because the differences you’re talking about (MP3 aside) are not possible, unless you’re using some kind of DRM copying software that’s introducing problems, or a very crappy CD drive with no error correction. But if that were the case, you would have noticed that your data CDs were corrupted as well.

  9. See Scot I’m almost the opposite of you in terms of how you listen. I never got real big into vinyl while I do have some LPs, mostly stuff I got when my dad died. But the slimp3 does what I want most, it gives me more storage space in the entertainment center. Since I grew up with tapes anyway (ugh, what a terrible format) the liner notes were already tiny and the CD didn’t really improve this area. Now don’t get me wrong when I’m fondling the Sgt. Peppers vinyl I can see how these things could be engrossing but the music industry pushed them aside.

    That said, I quit the slimp3 mailing list about a year ago when they switched to mailman and for about 3 weeks there was a flamewar over the settings for mailman.

  10. Vincent – Thanks for the good reads. We need to distinguish first off between DAE, which is most of what these articles are talking about, and raw bit copies. DAE is a ripping process, even though format is not really being changed. PCM data on the CD is being converted to WAV or AIFF on the hard drive (PCM, WAV, and AIFF are all generally raw). I was referring to disk imaging, using Unix “dd” or some other disk imaging process designed to create CDs that are exact mirror images.

    The critical difference between a data CD and an audio CD for the purposes of this discussion is timing — a data CD can be read as slowly as necessary to get perfect results, whereas an audio CD cannot be. Timing issues just aren’t significant with data CDs. In one sense, an audio CD *is* a data CD, but in another sense it’s not.

    But I think the larger point I took away from these pieces is that different CD reading and writing technologies can have subtle effects (e.g. the same CD coming from different pressing plants can sound different) and I’ll concede that, although I doubt the differences are great enough to be considered noteworthy (I’ve never experienced the difference and would love to hear examples).

  11. Scot – I’ve been playing and listening with good quality audio equipment for a long time now and what I’ve learned is, that it is the combination of the equipment that makes or breaks the sound that you want to hear. I’ve had interlinks of a $1000 making my installation sound horrible while my $500 interlink makes it sound wonderful. Even just the powercord can make a huge difference.

    So, imho, if a powercord can make a huge difference it isn’t so strange that copying music can.

    A listening experience is a very subjective one, and there are a lot of factors that have influence on what people perceive.

    For instance if you go to a good hifi store for a listening demo they usually want you to experience some silence before you start for at least 30 minutes so your ears can come to rest.

    If you want to hear some examples of hifi strangeness just come by my house and we’ll have a good time (;-))

    ps

    I’m always telling my wife: “Did you hear that, do you hear the difference between interlink a and b, its huge!”, and then she says: “No, it is exactly the same.” SIGH!

  12. scot asked me to “set him straight”, so here goes….

    yes, a copy of a cd will be a bit for bit copy. however most audiophiles that i know still hear a difference (or at lesast did when cd burners first popped up, on the digital playback gear of the time – i haven’t payed attn lately…) but the difference was uniformly for the better on the COPY. now you are probably scratching your head….

    here’s my analysis and i didn’t really keep up on it so don’t know if anyone had a better analysis (i know i’ve discussed this with you shacker): a mass produced cd may have softer pit transitions than a one-off. this could manifest in more jitter than the copy. jitter – timimg anomalies in the PCM stream – is probably the biggest digital distortion that is pursued by engineers. (hmmm….a good analog against GMO’s — “perfect sound forever” ended up turning into “new distortions that didn’t exist in the old media”…).

    nowadays, since jitter is acknowledged even by mainstream engineers as an audible distortion, even entry level products should probably have better jitter reduction abilities and hence minimize the difference between a copy and a production cd. although even as recently ass a year or two ago yamaha was advertising a burner that produced superior sonics on burnt cd’s and i suspect it’s because it may have just burnt more precise pits.

    bb

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