Streetlife. It’s not the only life we know. Much of an audiophile’s music listening is done at home, an ever-expanding library of digital files laying the foundation to streaming. My FLAC library of downloads and CD rips, according to Roon, comprises 8000 albums and EPs. MacOS’ Finder says that’s almost 3TB of data.
But how do we listen to this same music outside of the house in CD quality? Tidal or Qobuz will independently cover most of it. And if we don’t wish to chew through our phone plan’s monthly data allowance, we can choose to offline albums with a single click. Streaming apps give us a wholly elegant solution but with one crucial gotcha: what of those albums, EPs or alternative masters that aren’t covered by streaming services? I’d peg at least 20% of my own FLAC collection as unavailable on Tidal or Qobuz.
What would be an elegant solution?
We could go back to the home server to copy all non-cloud-streamable content to a microSD card, ready for playback on a compatible Android phone or DAP. This would create extra work: 1) a DAP means we’d have to battery-manage a second hardware device; 2) we’d then have to know what to drag and drop; 3) and then find it in a possibly tiered folder structure — going through each and every artist folder (1000+ in my case) to drag and drop all releases that are not streamable would be finger-fiddly in the extreme, not to mention time-consuming.
Moreover, each time we buy a new CD, we’d have to search for its streaming availability to know if we’d also have to push the server rip to the microSD card for portable playback. Micro-managing a smaller second library is not an elegant solution.
And what of iPhones (and any ‘Droids) that just don’t do microSD cards? We’d have to connect the phone to the server with a USB cable (or Pushbullet’s Portal) to enter another game of selective drag and drop. Again, not an elegant solution.
‘Selective’ because, at the time of writing, Apple caps its iPhones’ internal storage at 128Gb, 256Gb or 512Gb and DAP manufacturers their microSD card support at 1TB.
But wait: surely this drag and drop dilemma could be sidestepped by higher capacity cards and/or phones? After all, with a 5TB iPhone or microSD card, we could copy our server’s entire contents over, primed for walkabout. True — but we’d still have the micro-management niggle of keeping the two in sync. Roon fills in the blanks on album/artist/song info and cover art. We’d lose in a folder-structured copy. Micro-managing a second library, even if it includes every song we own, is not an elegant solution, especially if its metadata isn’t up to snuff.
What if instead of creating a copy of the server’s FLAC repository, we could make it streamable (and one-click offline-able) when out of the house? Squeezebox used in tandem with a VPN and smartphone apps OrangeSqueeze (Android) and iPeng (iPhone) gives us a taste of what’s possible.
However, it’s PLEX and its companion app Plexamp that gets us over the line without VPN hassles but with encrypted data transfers. Installing PLEX on our server opens the door to streams instigated by Plexamp, which also lets us decide if we want to 1) transcode our FLACs streams on-the-fly to a lower bitrate or 2) to offline them with a single click. Furthermore, Plexamp preserves PLEX’s Roon-like metadata layer.
In other words, Plexamp behaves exactly like Tidal or Qobuz to create a private streaming service from any music library overseen by PLEX. At last (!), we have an elegant solution: