Digital music is becoming a larger part of our lives. By this point most of us have used iTunes to play music on our computers while we’re working or relaxing at home. Let’s face it, iTunes is a pretty nifty app that is (at least in my humble opinion) just as good as any other music player out there.
Ever since iTunes was first released, there have been people who’ve been working on integrating it with their home stereo systems. Apple’s introduction of the AirPort Express made this a lot easier. But that method has two minor drawbacks: the $130 price tag and the fact you have to have your computer on and/or conveniently located to use it.
In the OWC Tech Department, we wanted to have some background music playing, but didn’t like most of what the local radio stations offered. For a while, each of us played music off our individual machines via iTunes, but it wound up in a small “stereo wars” situation: each of us started turning up our music to drown out the others’.
We finally decided that we should pool all our music into one central repository and play it from there. We had an old iMac to use as the central unit and we had enough speakers and wire to run a speaker to each person’s desk, so we could control the volume individually. It took about a month’s worth of lunch hours working on thing, but it finally got up and running the way we wanted it. There have been some tweaks over time, and now the Tech Jukebox is a thing of wonder here at OWC. We in Tech are quite proud of it.
This series of articles describes the method we used to build our jukebox. It does not go into the details of how to do each step, as much of it is specific for the computer itself or the personal tastes of the user. However, if you have decent knowledge of how to perform upgrades on your machine, this method should help get your own jukebox up and running.
The first part of this series is going to be mostly hardware-oriented - Getting your old computer up and running as a bare-bones music player. The next article will discuss some of the customization options to make your jukebox more automated, customized, and overall drool-worthy.
A spare computer and display - This is one of those things you either have or don’t have. Some people are fortunate enough to have a spare Mac sitting in their attic, basement or other storage space gathering dust. Others have been able to find great deals online or at rummage sales. For our jukebox, we used an original iMac. In truth, though, you can really use any Mac with a G3 processor or later. If you are using MP3s or Apple AAC files, like we do, you can get away with a Beige G3 or original iMac. Some of the other codecs may require a zippier processor.
A large storage device - Audio files take up space, and the higher-quality they are, the more space they take up. You either want a large internal drive(in older machines, you’re going to max out at 120GB drive, unless you add an ATA card) or an external drive, such as our OWC Mercury Elite or OWC Neptune drives. For our project, we used a 20GB internal drive, as we had an extra one laying in a drawer, though as our library grows, we will likely need a larger drive..
Some decent speakers- You can play the music through your Mac’s built-in speaker, but, let’s face it, the built-in speaker is not exactly the pinnacle of audio reproduction. If you have a set of nice computer speakers, go ahead and use them. If you’re running it into your home sound system, all you need is a simple, inexpensive 1/8” Stereo minijack to RCA adapter cable.
A network connection - While this is mostly optional, having a network connection enables a lot of options that you wouldn’t have otherwise, including auto-download of album art, system updates, access to the CDDB, and remote control.
OS X - the latest versions of iTunes require OS X. We generally recommend the latest version your computer can run. (If you’re using a Beige G3, you can use XPostFacto to install 10.3.x, which will get you the latest version of QuickTime, as well).
Now that we have all the parts we need, we can get started.
Step 1: Get the lastest version of your software installed.
Step 2: Set Up iTunes.
Step 3: Connect your computer to the speakers.
Step 4: Enjoy your new jukebox!
You can now play music from your iTunes music library, just like any other stereo component. For long playlists, the Party Shuffle feature works quite nicely. Impress your friends!
At this point you have a nicely functional jukebox to play your music. However, as it sits right now, it is little more than just a really large, not-very-portable iPod. In the next installment, we will go over customization options ranging from the fairly simple to “darn near insane”, all for little-to-no cost over your initial investment.
Continued in Part 2 here.