“Is this the worst mess you’ve ever seen?” It’s one of our most frequently asked questions, usually posed when we’re called onsite to deal with a home entertainment issue. In most cases the problems aren’t massive and it’s pretty easy to find a polite way to sidestep the question.
Except on Monday. By a county mile I cam across the worst mess I’ve ever come across.
I’ll give you a flavour of the issues by describing the hardware. A PC, an iMac, a Sonos system with ten zone players. Next to the iMac were three iPad devices - two Classics with stick on labels, then an iPod Touch in a labelled box. Nestling amongst the Sonos boxes were three iPod docks, and yes, each dock had its own iPod Classic.
Then I was told there was a Mac Mini, and sure enough next to the Sonos boxes and the router, in a basement cupboard, there was a little silvery box with a tray containing a flip up screen, keyboard and a mouse. Then I saw the WD My Book Live NAS drive.
How did this mess come about? Here’s the history. Initially the client had a PC and naturally they put their music on it. A while later they decided to move from the PC to the iMac, their music was copied across by the Apple install man. Using the Mac resulted in a larger music library on the Mac, and a stack of classical music CDs ready to be ripped.
Not wanting to rip the CDs themselves, and the Sonos installer not being prepared to do it for them, they hired a student to rip the CDs. The Mac Mini was bought to give the student something to work on, hence that unit.
While the student was ripping the CDs they decided to install the NAS drive because the client didn’t want to have to leave the iMac on when (in due course) the Sonos system was linked up. However once the Mac Mini project was completed nobody seemed to know how to get all the music onto the NAS drive, so various genres of music was downloaded to its own dedicated iPod Classic. Each iPod was planted in its own Sonos dock, so that the in-house music system had something to broadcast.
Where can I begin to describe the problems the household had with all this. First the music ripped onto the Mac Mini had vast gaping holes - none of it had genre information attached. As the Mini didn’t connect to the rest of the home network none of the music on that could be shared, it couldn’t be accessed on the iMac, it couldn't be put onto any of the other iPods. As the iPod Classics driving the Sonos system sit in docks all day, and the docks are in an airless cupboard they frequently seize up. When that happens nobody can access that genre of music in the house until some kind family member does a hard reset. A problem that’s happening more and more often, iPods simply aren’t meant to run all day every day.
The client doesn’t know how to add music, there’s effectively a berlin wall between the Apple iMac in-house and the Sonos system. They have a bag of new music they’d like to add but if they add it to the Mac Mini somebody has to stand in the cramped cupboard ripping CDs. Oh, and as the Mac Mini daren’t be connected to the internet, all track data has to be entered by hand.
Maybe I’m being picky but despite the effort that had been invested in CD ripping (including some poor soul who had stood ripping 400+ CDs onto the Mac Mini) the music had been ripped to Apple AAC at just 256 kbps. Now that’s more than fine for an iPod on the tube but a massive Sonos investment real ought to be driven by higher quality music, Apple Lossless.
The way ahead?
After some head scratching I think the place to head towards is one where all the family’s music is stored in a single place. That should be the NAS drive. How do we do this? Well the Mac Mini has been dragged from its subterranean lair and the music has been removed to another drive.
As the iMac is connected to the internet and the home network the music recovered from the Mini will be plugged into that, where we’ll spend a few hours tidying up the resulting music library. Once that’s done we’ll copy that all onto the NAS drive, setting the iMac to rip into Apple Lossless for any music they might rip themselves in the future.
Once that’s done we’ll make sure the Sonos system is connected to the same router as the rest of the system, and that the Sonos Controller program points to the shared drive on the NAS. When that’s been done all the music will be available on each computer or Sonos unit in the home, any iPod could be loaded with any selection of music regardless of genre. When this is achieved the client will have a few iPods and iPods Sonos docks surplus to requirements.