CDs+Synology+bliss+Sonos = Absolute Bliss

Call me a dinosaur but I don’t have a Spotify account and haven’t signed up for  Amazon Unlimited Music either. I dislike MP3, and the few services that stream in high quality, such as quboz are very expensive – £200/year at time of writing.

When I was born 78 rpm shellac records were the height of technology.  Sure, 33 rpm vinyl LPs offered a whole different experience on the kit I had in the 70s but wear and tear meant all too frequent replacement. So my small collection of vinyl is staying in the back of a cupboard. 

I’m a CD man.  All my vinyl is now owned on CD.  And I have my own personal streaming service that I can use to deliver all my music wherever I am.1

My sound system

In 2011 I installed a whole-house music system – using Sonos – and I bought my first NAS (a venerable Synology DS411j) to host the music library.2  The Sonos system comprises a number of Play boxes – 3s and 5s in stereo pairs, controlled by the Sonos desktop and mobile apps.

I must confess to a touch of lawlessness at this point.  Whilst it is technically illegal, I rip my CDs because:

  • I want FLAC format
  • I don’t want to hook a CD player up to the Sonos system3

But as I have retained a legal copy of every CD that I have ripped, I think that I will be low on the copyright holders’ radar – my defence is “fair use” even if that concept is not present in the antiquated laws that govern copyright.4  So, shoot me.

My CD collection has become my set of Gold Masters – the ultimate backup should my ripped library have a problem.5

MP3 versus FLAC

MP3 is a lossy format, which compresses the file to save storage space by discarding parts of the audio spectrum.  Lossy is great if:

  • you have tin ears and can’t hear the difference in sound quality
  • you need to cram as much music as you can onto the limited storage capacity on your phone
  • you are are hosting all the world’s music and want to limit the size of your server farm

But lossy is a compromise. If you can hear the difference and need your music to be full spectrum then a lossless format is the only solution. 

Screen shot of Windows media Player rip settings screen for MP3 and FLAC, showing the degree of compression that MP3 applies

At the best sound quality / least compression setting, MP3 discards about 35% of the original recording relative to FLAC.  At lowest quality / highest compression setting it discards a massive 87.5%.

If your sound system can’t make full use of the uncompressed source now, it’s better to let it transcode until it can.  With a FLAC library you can take advantage of new playback technology as it arrives; with a compressed library, low quality content will always cripple the fidelity of the rest of your system, unless you re-rip your collection.6

I use FLAC for all those reasons but also because:

  1. I don’t use the Apple ecosystem (Apple supports FLAC but it’s not supported properly in their native apps.)  For more on this read this post from Dan Gravel at bliss
  2. Compression doesn’t interest me.  Disk space is cheap these days.  My Synology NAS drive has a modest RAID7 System with a capacity of 7TB and would eat my CD collection many times over.  Disk £/TB is only going to go down.
  3. FLAC is supported on other players so that when I’m away from home I can stream it to my mobile devices using DS Audio

Workflow 1.0

When I buy a new CD, there’s a simple process to follow:

CD to Sonos workflow without bliss

The ripping process used to require Winamp but Windows Media Player now supports ripping to FLAC, in a much more user friendly UI than Winamp.8

Simple and effective but sadly lacking in one aspect – cover art which is either wrong or missing.  I went looking for a remedy and found bliss.

bliss

bliss is a rules based, browser application that will, among other things, organise your music collection, harmonise folders and will source, and apply cover art with an incredible degree of accuracy, even for obscure items.  If you have a piece of uber-obscure music it will allow you to upload your own cover art.  And if you like to access your library by genre, it will verify that for you too.  For a full rundown on bliss’s capabilities, take their tour.

The UI / UX is very elegant and my only beef with it is the arbitrary display limit of 96 albums per page.  For my modest library I’d prefer to see an ∞ option but I’d settle for a much larger limit such as 1,000.  Unlimited scrolling is becoming ubiquitous in web apps because “Next / Previous Page” commands interfere with scrolling and are a less satisfactory UX.  But that’s a tiny niggle about an otherwise excellent application.

bliss works well with Sonos but it will benefit any player that uses cover art and genre.

Screenshot of the albums screen in bliss music management application, showing a grid layout of albums in alphabetic order

There’s a rich set of rule capabilities.  For my simple needs I only need a few:

Screeshot of bliss music management applciation showing the way you set up rules to manage your music library

Bliss is available to Synology owners as a Package and once you have installed it, be sure to set the option shown at (1) above.  This uses a hook into the OS file system to identify added folders in your music library and apply your rules automatically to the new content, in the background. Bliss!

Workflow 2.0

 

CD to Sonos owrkflow diagram with bliss embedded into the process

In reality Workflow 2.0 is no different than Workflow 1.0 for the user, because bliss does its job in the background automagically.

Installing bliss on Synology

To install bliss on Synology download the .spk file from the bliss downloads page to your computer and do a manual installation:

Screen shot of Synology Package Centre - how to do a manual package installation

You won’t get update prompts inside DSM as you do with other packages so the same process is used to update the application – be sure to sign up for the bliss newsletter, which will include details of new releases.

Rip your CDs to the standard \music share on Synology9 and point bliss at that share.

With CDs, Synology, bliss and Sonos you can achieve absolute bliss.

Footnotes

  1. Assuming there’s an internet connection
  2. The 411j has been upgraded a couple of times, as I have extended the range of services it hosts but that’s another story.  Were it not for the additional services, the 411j would still be servicing my music library today, because audio streaming needs very little bandwidth, CPU or RAM.
  3. Turning an LP over at the end of side 1 was something I didn’t miss when I converted to CD.  Physically changing CDs and protecting them from damage soon became a chore too.  And why have a piece of unnecessary hardware?
  4. I even buy a whole CD, just to get one track.  I know! How 20th century is THAT?  I do it to support artists properly.
  5. Of course the NAS based library is backed up every night, to a second NAS, and in the cloud on Synology’s C3 backup service so, in 7 years, all I have ever done is file new CDs away.
  6. It takes long enough to rip a CD collection once, why do it twice?  If you rip to FLAC there are other tools that will convert FLAC to MP3 if you need it, for the car perhaps?
  7. Remember, RAID is a Redundant Array of INEXPENSIVE Disks
  8. This may be a Marmite thing of course.  Use whatever ripping application floats your boat – as long as it supports FLAC
  9. This will allow you to use other apps such as DS Audio to listen to your music on the move

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