Tag Archives: squeezebox

Review: Synology DS415+ Network Attached Storage

Synology’s DS415+ is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device aimed at small businesses or demanding home users. I have been running this on my own network for the last 6 weeks or so.

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First, a note about Synology’s product range. Let us say you want a NAS with 4 drive bays. Here are the choices, with current bare NAS prices from Amazon.co.uk:

  • DS414j £252.63: Budget offering, 512MB RAM, 1.2 GHz  dual core ARM CPU, 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, 1 1GB Ethernet port. 90W power supply, 32.64W power consumption.
  • DS414 Slim £237.87: Smaller case designed for 2.5″ drives. All the other units here support 3.5″ drives. Given that you can normally tuck your NAS away in a corner, there is limited value in restricting yourself to these smaller drives, but there is also an energy as well as space saving. 512MB RAM, 1.2GHz single core ARM CPU, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 2 1Gb Ethernet ports. 30W power supply, 15.48W power consumption.
  • DS414 £332.83: Core product. 1GB RAM, 1.33 GHz dual core ARM CPU, 1 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, 2 1Gb Ethernet ports, 90W power supply, 28.42W power consumption.
  • DS415 Play £379.99: Home oriented. Benefits from hardware video transcoding. 1GB RAM, 1.6GHz dual core Intel Atom CPU, 3 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 1Gb Ethernet port, 90W power supply, 27.33W power consumption.
  • DS415+ £460.74: Business oriented. 2GB RAM, 2.4GHz quad core Intel Atom CPU, 1 USB 2.0 port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 eSATA port, 2 1Gb Ethernet ports, 100W power supply, 32.64W power consumption.

You can get a more detailed comparison of these four models in this table. Incidentally, I am guessing that in the Synology numbering scheme, the first digit represents the number of drive bays, and the second two digits the year of release.

The 415 models are the latest releases then, and the only ones to use Intel CPUs. The extra cost of the 415+ buys you double the amount of RAM, a quad core CPU, and an eSATA port.

The software is mostly the same on all the devices, Synology’s Diskstation Manager (DSM), currently at version 5.1. It looks as if some limits are lifted with the 415+, for example there is support for 256 iSCSI LUNs on the 415+, versus 10 on the 415 Play. The 415+ also has specifica support for VMWare VAAI (vStorage API for Array Integration) and Windows Server ODX (Offloaded Data Transfer); this enables some storage tasks to be offloaded to the storage system for better performance on the virtualization host.

Why buy a unit like this when you could simply get a server with plenty of drive bays, or with hardware RAID, and install Linux or Windows Storage Server? The two reasons are first, simplicity of operation, and second, low power consumption.

The distinction is not as sharp as it first appears, since a Synology device like this is in fact a server. If you require maximum flexibility and do not care about energy use, a generic server is probably better. If you require only simple network attached storage, such as a large shared folder on the network, a unit like the 415+ is overkill; just get a DS414j or some other brand. On the other hand, if you expect to install and use several apps, the extra for a DS415+ buys you a substantially more capable server.

Another way of looking at this is that the processing power in the DS415+, while still modest compared to a modern desktop PC, is sufficient for some real work, such as running web applications or even a media server with software transcoding.

Setup

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Unpack the box, and you find the NAS unit, power supply and a couple of ethernet cables. Unclip the front cover and you can see the four drive bays, with caddies which can easily be removed for drive installation.

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The drive caddies are screwless for 3.5″ drives; just remove the side panels, insert the drive, and replace the side panels to secure.

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You can also install 2.5″ drives with four screws through holes in the caddy base.

At the rear of the unit, there are dual fans, two Ethernet ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, eSata port, and the power connector.

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I fitted four 3TB Western Digital Red drives – currently £89.36 on Amazon – attached the device to the network and powered up. You can than access the NAS management UI with any web browser. Normally, entering diskstation:5000 will find it. The initial setup downloads and installs the latest version of DSM, and offers an instant configuration which is a single large network folder backed by Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR).

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I accepted this just to try it, and then blew it away in favour of a more flexible configuration.

Diskstation Manager

Synology DSM is a version of Linux. You can access the OS via SSH, or use the browser-based GUI. The GUI is rather well done, and presents a desktop-like environment with a windowing system.

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The button at top right open a kind of Start menu:

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Applications are installed and removed through the Package Center:

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Generally, you should use only the Package Center to manage applications, though terminal access can be useful for troubleshooting, cleanup, or tweaking settings if you know what you are doing.

Since packages are only available from Synology, you are limited to those applications which are supported, unless you do a manual install:

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Even a manual install has to be in the Synology package format (an archive with appropriate metadata). Some packages, such as the Plex media server, are available for download as manual installs, though may need tweaking to install correctly.

Third party developers can create packages, free or paid, and submit them to Synology for approval.

If an application is updated, it can take a while before the Synology package is updated. This could be a problem if, for example, a critical security bug is found in an application running on a Synology device exposed to the internet. There are not a huge number of packages available. I counted 63 in the DS415+ Package Center. However, this does include everything you need for a basic business server, including a mail server, DNS Server, LDAP Directory Server, Drupal CMS, SugarCRM, web server with PHP and MySQL, Tomcat application server, and more.

On the multimedia side, there are applications for serving audio and video, a DLNA media server, and Logitech Media Server (also known as Squeezebox Server).

There are several backup applications, including one for Amazon’s Glacier service (low-cost cloud storage).

Storage management

The primary role of a Synology device is for storage of course, and this is configured through the Storage Manager. Configuration begins with Disk Groups, which represent one or more physical drives in a RAID configuration.

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There are several supported RAID configurations:

SHR: Synology Hybrid RAID with 1- or 2- disk fault tolerance. You need at least 4 drives for 2-disk tolerance.

RAID 0: disk striping, no fault tolerance

RAID 1: drive mirroring

RAID 5: 1-disk fault tolerance

RAID 6: 2-disk fault tolerance

RAID 10: RAID 0 across mirrored drives, 1-disk fault tolerance with high performance.

What is SHR? There is an explanation here. The high-level story is that SHR is more efficient with drives of varying capacity, and more flexible when adding new drives. It is not proprietary and apparently data can be recovered if necessary by mounting SHR drives in a Linux PC (provided no more than one drive has failed).

You set the RAID level when you create a disk group. Once you have a disk group, you can create volumes or iSCSI targets on that group.

I was interested in trying iSCSI. I have a desktop PC that is running out of space. I created a 1500GB iSCSI target and mounted it on the PC using the iSCSI initiator in Control Panel. It worked perfectly, and a new drive appeared in Disk Management.

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Is this sensible, or should you just use a network folder which is more flexible, since it is shared storage? An iSCSI target behaves like a local drive, which can be an advantage, but iSCSI is mostly used for servers where centralising storage is convenient. You should also use a dedicated network for iSCSI, so it is probably not a great idea for a desktop PC.

I compared performance. On simple tests, such as time taken to copy a file, there was little advantage; in fact, my iSCSI drive was slightly slower: 61.2 MB/s vs 76.4 MB/s for a shared folder.

I tried ODX, copying a file from one iSCSI drive to another. Capturing the copy thermometer was a challenge, as it was near-instant:

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In general, I have been very happy with the performance of the NAS.

Folder permissions

My local network uses Active Directory (AD), so I was keen to set up permissions on the NAS using AD. Connecting a Linux server to AD can be a problem, and at first the Synology would not play. I connected it, seemingly successfully, but it would not see any users. There are threads on the Synology forums showing users with similar problems. The fix for me was to enter my Domain Controllers as IP numbers rather then FQDNs (fully qualified domain names). Since then it has worked perfectly, though DSM shows the Domain Server Type as “NT4 Domain”, puzzling when my DCs are on Server 2012 R2.

Once connected, you can set folder permissions using the Synology File Station package. First, create the shared folder, then right-click the folder and choose Permissions.

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Apps and Applications

Aside from the storage services, the main application I run on the Synology is Logitech Media Server (LMS). This used to run on a Windows server, and actually runs much better on the Synology. Search is quicker, the server is more responsive, and it is more reliable.

I tried the Synology audio and video applications, and the media server. There are various companion mobile apps, such as DS Audio and DS Video, for media playback.

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The apps I tried worked well for me, though I am sticking with LMS for home music streaming.

Final words

I have no complaints about the DS415+, which has performed well so far. Browsing through the user forums though, I have noticed some areas of difficulty. One is that the Cloud Station service, which synchs files between your NAS, computers and mobile devices, is notorious for consuming disk space. Users find their drives filling up even though the total size of their files is much less than the available space. Currently, the best advice seems to be not to use Cloud Station.

The general issue with a system like this is that the friendly GUI is great while everything is working, but if something goes wrong and you have to dive into Linux, the ease of use disappears. That is worth noting if you plan to use this as the main server in a small business (beyond storage), unless someone there has the necessary troubleshooting skills.

The device does tick a lot of boxes though: resilient storage, excellent performance, low power consumption, flexible configuration, AD integration, and enough power to run something like Logitech Media Server without blinking.

Recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope for Squeezebox as Raspberry Pi becomes a streaming player

Now that Logitech has near-abandoned the Squeezebox (the one remaining player is the UE Smart Radio, and even that is not quite a Squeezebox client unless you download different firmware), existing users may be concerned for the future of the system.

Squeezebox consists of free server software which runs on a PC or NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, while the players are supplied by Logitech and controlled by a web app or smartphone/tablet app. Although more fiddly to set up than rivals like Sonos, Squeezebox is a strong choice for multi-room audio at a modest choice, and its community has come up with solutions such as support for high-resolution audio.

The latest community innovation is a project to make a Raspberry Pi into a Squeezebox client. piCorePlayer is delivered as an image file which you can write to an SD card. Pop the card into a Raspberry Pi, supply power, and it is ready to go – meaning that you need no longer worry about getting hold of a Squeezebox player.

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The OS is the MicroCore version of Tiny Core Linux, and the player is Triode’s Squeezelite.

I gave this a try. It was almost very easy: my Pi booted successfully from the piCorePlayer image and was immediately recognised by my Logitech Media Server. The player supports output to the built-in audio jack, or HDMI, or a USB DAC, or an add-on DAC for the Raspberry Pi called HifiBerry.

I am using a USB DAC (Teac UD-H01) which requires a little extra configuration. I logged in to the piCorePlayer using Putty, and typed picoreplayer to display the configuration menu:

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Configuring a USB DAC is a matter of getting a list of available ALSA devices and setting the output accordingly.

It worked, but oddly I found that FLAC in 16/44.1 format played with crackling and distortion. 24-bit files played perfectly.

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The only solution I have found (though it sounds counter-intuitive) is to force output to 16-bit by adding –a 40::16 to the Squeezelite arguments. Everything now plays nicely, though limited to 16-bit – you are unlikely to notice much difference but it is a compromise.

If you try piCorePlayer, here are a few tips.

Log in with user: tc pwd: nosoup4u

The Squeezelite executable is stored at:

/mnt/mmcblk0p2/tce

and the settings scripts are in

/usr/local/sbin/settings_menu.sh

If you need to edit the configuration without the script, you can use vi, which is the only pre-installed editor I have found. Quick start with vi:

  • Type i to enter edit mode
  • Press ESC to enter command mode
  • Quit without saving by typing :q!
  • Save and quit by typing :wq

There are plenty of vi tutorials out there if you need to know more!

Finally, note that this version of Linux runs in RAM. If you make changes they will not persist unless you create a “backup” with

/usr/bin/filetool.sh –b

This is also an option in the picoreplayer menu, and must be used if you want your changes to survive.

Async USB audio streaming at 24-bit 192Khz with Logitech Squeezebox Touch

The discontinued Logitech Squeezebox Touch is a fine product for multi-room audio streaming, though sadly discontinued. The Touch is limited to a maximum audio resolution of 24-bit and 96Khz – or is it? While this is true of the internal DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter), an audio enthusiast known as Triode set about modifying the firmware to output higher resolutions.

Another aspect of his work was to enable use of the USB port on the Touch, which was originally designed for attaching storage, to support an asynchronous USB DAC. The idea of async USB audio is that the clock which controls the decoding is in the DAC and independent of the source. There is an explanation by Vincent Kars here:

In this mode an external clock is used to clock the data out of the buffer and a feedback stream is setup to tell the host how much data to send.

A control circuit monitors the status of the buffer and tells the host to increase the amount of data if the buffer is getting too empty or to decrease if it’s getting too full.
Since the readout clock is not dependent on anything going on with the bus, it can be fed directly from a low jitter oscillator, no PLL need apply.

Is async USB audio really necessary? Is any resolution above 16/44 necessary for playback? I am sceptical, but after getting hold of a Teac UD-H01 which supports both async USB and resolutions up to 24/192 I thought it would be fun to try it. 

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I followed the steps here which worked perfectly. They involve installing a Squeezebox app called Enhanced Digital Output, and installing a modified Linux kernel (the Touch runs Linux). The modifications are reversible, which is reassuring.

I then tried one of the the few Flac-encoded music files I have in 24/192 format. I still cannot tell you whether either the format or the asynchronous aspect makes a difference; but I can say that the sound is exceptionally good, though it also sounds excellent with well-mastered 16/44 sources.

Subjectively it improves on the internal DAC in the Touch, with deeper bass, a more spacious sound, better separation between instruments, more natural vocals, and all the usual hi-fi clichés.

Leaving that aside though, kudos to Triode for his achievement.

Farewell to the Squeezebox

It looks as if Logitech has discontinued the Squeezebox, a range of devices for playing music streamed from the free Logitech Media Server. Logitech also runs a streaming service on the internet, Mysqueezebox.com, which supports internet radio, Spotify integration and more.

The Squeezebox devices are no longer on sale on Logitech’s web site, and a press release announces the Logitech UE range. This includes wireless speakers which play music via Bluetooth, a Smart Radio that connects to internet streaming radio and other services, earphones and headphones.

But what of Squeezebox? Here is the nearest I can find to an official announcement:

We’ve just announced our new brand, Logitech UE, and with it merging the design/engineering capability of Logitech and the Squeezebox product with the music know how of Ultimate Ears. We are positioning this new brand to serve music lovers across a wide range of music listening device, and amongst them the Logitech® UE Smart Radio.

Important for you to know, The UE Smart Radio can play alongside your Logitech Squeezebox products, but will operate and be controlled separately and will no longer receive updates. The team is working hard on releasing in a few weeks an optional software update for existing Squeezebox Radio users. This update will allow Squeezebox Radios to upgrade to the new Logitech UE Smart Radio experience.

Rest assured that the Squeezebox platform you’ve been enjoying over the years will continue to provide you access to a rich world of music and we’ll continue to address any questions or troubleshooting on our Logitech.com support page.

The news is sad but not surprising. Logitech is struggling with declining revenue and losses, and there are various reasons why the Squeezebox system no longer looks strategic. It works alongside iTunes but does not fit all that well with Apple products, it has always been a little bit too techie, and the era of filling huge hard drives at home with your music is probably in decline, thanks to internet streaming. I have been meaning to post about the good results I get from Google Music on the Nexus tablet, and of course there is Spotify.

I still love Squeezebox. If you want the uncompromised quality of lossless audio combined with multi-room support, where each player can play something different, it is a fantastic and cost-effective system. The Squeezebox Touch, reviewed here, is appreciated by audiophiles for its high quality audio.

Squeezebox might still be a viable for a company like Slim Devices, the original creator of the system, but makes less sense for a mass market company like Logitech, which acquired Slim Devices in 2006.

My thanks to the Squeezebox team for transforming audio at home for me and thousands of others.

Update: if you are wondering what is the future for Logitech Media Server (LMS) see this thread which has comment from a Logitech engineer. There is a new media server called UE Music Library (UEML) which is simplified compared to LMS and has no player control: the UE Radio can simply select music from the library and play it. No random play in UEML. UE Radio will not play music from LMS as far as I can tell. LMS is not going to receive major updates but will be supported with maintenance fixes for the time being.

Squeezebox server gets DLNA support: play FLAC on iPad

Logitech has released an update to its Squeezebox server, now called Logitech Media Server (LMS), and now at version 7.7.

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One of its new features is DLNA support. DLNA is a standard for serving and playing media across devices. Note though that although LMS is now a DLNA server, it does not transcode, so if for example you store music in FLAC format, a Sony PlayStation 3 will not be able to play it. Many other DLNA servers do support transcoding, so for example Illustrate’s Asset UPnP will stream FLAC as MP3 so that a PS3 will play it correctly.

This is still an interesting new feature for LMS, particularly as you can store images and videos as well as music.

One thing I have been gently investigating for some time is the best way to get a Squeezebox FLAC library playing on an Apple iPad or iPhone. I have had success with Asset UPnP but only with transcoding. After installing LMS 7.7 I tried the 8player lite DLNA client and was pleased with the results.

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I selected the Logitech Media Server and was soon enjoying music through the remarkable-considering-the-size iPad speaker:

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8player lite has a working free version or you can purchase for a modest price and get full features. There are some other DLNA clients you can try, but they do not all support FLAC. SmartStor Fusion works well with Asset PnP.

Logitech’s Squeezebox app for iPhone and iPad: nice to have but a missed opportunity

Logitech has released a Squeezebox control app for iPhone and iPad, to match an existing app for Android.

I am a Squeezebox fan. The system is excellent for multi-room – just put a Squeezebox player in any room where you want music, put it on your home network (usually wifi), and it finds your music collection. You can get a player like the Touch, which I reviewed here, or an all-in-one unit like the Boom, which I reviewed here. I rip CDs to FLAC using dbPowerAmp. Squeezebox does multi-room properly, in that each player can play something different, and the sound quality is generally excellent. Internet radio is also available, and there is no need to have a separate tuner.

That said, the appeal of Squeezebox is limited by the techie nature of the product, especially the software. When Logitech acquired Slimdevices in 2006, I thought we might see a new focus on ease of use, but it has not really happened. Apple does this better, making it hard for Squeezebox to compete with iTunes and Airport Express or Apple TV, even though the Squeezebox system is more open and superior in some ways.

There are multiple ways to control a Squeezebox player. You can use a remote to navigate the display on the player, whether the simple but bold display on a Classic, or the graphical colour display on a Touch. You can use touch control on a Touch screen. You can use a web browser on a PC, Mac or any machine on the network. Or you use an app such as SqueezePlay on a PC, or third party apps like iPeng on iOS, or Squeezepad on an iPad.

All these methods work, but in general the web browser is the most feature-rich and good if you are sitting at a desk, while the apps are better if you have a suitable device like an iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone. The remotes work, but you need to be close enough to read the display and navigation can be fiddly.

An iPhone app is ideal though, so it is great news that Logitech has now released an official app for the iPhone. It is free, and unless you already have iPeng a must-have for Squeezebox users who have an iPhone. Apps are better than a remote for all sorts of reasons:

  • No need to point at an infra-red receptor
  • No need to read a distant display
  • Album artwork on the remote
  • More features conveniently available

I downloaded the new app and ran it. The first thing you have to do is to log into Mysqueezebox.com, Logitech’s internet service. In fact, the impression you get is that you cannot use the app without logging on. I am not sure if there is any way round this, but it seems odd to me. Presuming you are using a local Squeezebox server, why require log-on to an internet service?

I already have a Mysqueezebox account though, so I logged on, whereupon the various players we have around the house appeared for selection. Once selected, I get a menu similar to that on a physical player or on SqueezePlay:

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If I click My Music, I can navigate using the usual range of options, including Artists, Albums, Genres, New Music (which means recently added) or my favourite, Random Mix. Just selected an album is not enough to play it, but shows the tracks; tapping the first track starts it playing. Eventually you will get the Now Playing screen, which you can also access by pressing the musical note icon on the Home screen.

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Perhaps I am fussy, but I am not happy with this screen. As you can see, the album artwork is overlaid with text and controls, and although a progress bar can be shown or hidden by tapping, the other controls seem immoveable, which means you cannot see the full artwork.

My other complaint is that the user interface, while familiar to those who already know Squeezebox, lacks the usability you expect from an iPhone app. Operating it takes too many taps. Take search, for example. You want to find a different song, so you tap Back to get the Home screen, then Search. Type something in, then click Search. The next screen then asks whether you want to search in My Music or Internet Radio. You tap My Music, and still get no results, just a list that says Artists, Albums, Songs, Playlists. You tap Songs, and now you finally get a results list. Tap a song to play.

Personally I think search is such a critical function that it should be available directly from the Now Playing screen; and that it should be smart enough to look for matches anywhere it can and present some top matches immediately.

Another annoyance is that you cannot actually play a song through the iPhone itself. This is such an obvious feature that I cannot understand why Logitech has not implemented it; it would enable your Squeezebox music collection for personal listening on a device. Perhaps Logitech imagines that it is protecting sales of its players, when in fact it is just undermining the appeal of the system.

Well, it is free, I like the Squeezebox system, and the app is useful, so perhaps I am complaining too much. It is frustrating though, because with a little investment in software Logitech could bring its excellent features to a broader group of users.

Spotify everywhere: now on Logitech Squeezebox as well as Sonos, Smartphones

Spotify, the music streaming service, has announced a partnership with Logitech to enable subscribers to play music via Squeezebox. Logitech already has a partnership with Napster for a similar service, but Spotify is winning in terms of usability, ubiquity and mind share.

It follows a similar agreement last September between Spotify and Sonos, a Squeezbox rival. The company has also announced support for Windows Phone 7, which joins Apple iPhone/iPad, Google Android, and Nokia Symbian among supported smartphones.

Spotify is available for free on a PC or Mac, but supported by advertising, making it like a commercial radio station where you choose the music. However only paying subscribers get the benefit of using the service from these other platforms.

In my view streaming is the future of mainstream music distribution, so I see this as significant. Why pay for downloads, when you can choose from a vast catalogue and play what you want when you want?

The main snag with Spotify is that some artists are not available on the service, and some countries (including the USA) cannot get Spotify. Still, if it builds a big enough customer base, the music industry may find it cannot do without the service.