MUSIC CONTROL SYSTEM

It was easy enough to rip my music CDs onto my hard drive. The problem was how to access all those songs conveniently from wherever I happened to be in my house. The answer is to use an old computer as my music server, configure it as a web server, and access it via a wi-fi connection from my laptop.

The Hardware

To make things simple, I’ll assume you can scrounge a bare-bones PC that you’ll use only as your music server. You don’t need much computing power to play music and serve a web page; I used a very old Packard Bell. It must run Windows XP with all the updates, and must have an Ethernet jack.

I’ll also assume you have a wireless-enabled laptop, and a wireless router with at least one empty port. Plug your server into that port using a standard Ethernet cable. Now plug the output from the sound card on your server to any unused input on your regular stereo receiver, probably using an audio cable with RCA jacks on one end and a mini-jack plug on the other. RadioShack sells these cables.

Copy your music collection onto the hard drive of your server, and we’re ready for the setup.

1. CHECK YOUR SYSTEM

To let your laptop find the server, the server needs a static IP address. We have to pick one that won’t cause a conflict with other devices sharing the router.

On your server, click Start ⇒ Settings ⇒ Control Panel, double-click Network Connections, double-click Local Area Connection, click the Support tab, and then the Details button. Write down the numbers for your IP Address, Subnet Mask, Default Gateway, and DNS Server. (Don’t worry if you don’t know what all these numbers mean.)

2. SET UP AN IP ADDRESS

Close the top 2 windows to get back to the Network Connections window. Right-click Local Area Connection and select Properties. Highlight Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and click the Properties button. Click the radio button beside “Use the following IP address.” Now, for your IP address, very carefully type the first 3 numbers from the original IP address you found in Step 1 (often, they will be 192.168.0) but enter a fourth number that is different from the fourth number of your original IP address.

You’ve created a new IP address for your server. Make a note of it!

Now enter the Subnet Mask, Default Gateway, and Preferred DNS Server, using exactly the same values that you found for these items in Step 1, without making any changes. Click OK twice to close the windows.

3. SILENCE XP

Since you’re going to connect your stereo to your server, you won’t want to hear every bonk and chime that Windows plays when it wants you to know something. Open Control Panel and double-click Sounds and Audio Devices. Click the Sounds tab, pull down the menu under the Sound Scheme heading, and choose No Sounds. This refers only to the sounds generated by the operating system. Sounds that come from your music player are controlled separately. Click OK to close the window.

4. INSTALL WINAMP

We’ll use Winamp software to play the music because it’s a very nice, full-featured media player with a free plugin named AjaxAMP, which will let us control the music remotely through a web page. Download and install the software from winamp.com and ajaxamp.com.

During installation, Winamp wants to install some “extras.” We don’t need these, so unselect the Winamp toolbar, free extras, and free music.

After installing Winamp, run it. It will prompt you to add music the first time you run it. Click “Don’t show this again” and click the Cancel button. Close Winamp.

Install AjaxAMP, then open Winamp again, pull down the Options menu, and select AjaxAMP Preferences. Change the server port to 80. Click Library, and then Add Directory, and select the topmost folder containing your music collection.

5. PLAY THE MUSIC

Open a browser window, and in the Address bar, type the new IP address you assigned to your server in Step 2. Bookmark it for future use. If everything went as planned, you should see the AjaxAMP web page with the controls and the play-list on the left side of the screen and your library on the right side. Choose a song, click Play, and music should start playing.

I implemented this system using Linux originally, and the Windows version can be tweaked with additional features such as auto logon. Check makezine.com/13/upload_musicsystem for details.

My family uses our music control system all the time. It actually encourages my kids to explore our whole music library instead of just their favorite CDs. We also have spoken-word recordings, so we can listen to books while we do chores or prepare meals. When friends visit, they can click their favorite songs from several albums. And, the system is great for parties. Rock on!