Technology Tuesdays: Subsonic Allows You To Bring Your Tunes Everywhere

Differences From Other Options

Subsonic offers you the ability to stream to a web browser, a mobile app, an Adobe Air client or other desktop clients – virtually any music file you own with absolutely no limit on the amount of tracks that it can handle. If your library is 2TB and 150,000 tracks of both MP3s and lossless FLAC files, that is no problem for Subsonic.

Subsonic offers a different approach to listening to your own music from other options like Google Music Beta, Amazon Cloud Drive or Spotify. While these three options have their merits, they all have major drawbacks. Google Music is limited to 20,000 tracks. The worst part is, you can’t pick WHICH 20,000 tracks out of your library to sync with Google. If you have 50,000 tracks, you’ll need to move specific tracks out of your library before initiating upload (which can be a time consuming process lasting up to several weeks). While Google Music is free now, that is expected to be limited to the trial period. Amazon Cloud Drive offers a measly 5GB of free storage unless you buy the tracks from Amazon in which case it will not cost against your total storage. Spotify does not yet offer lossless tracks and the feature of syncing to mobile is a premium feature requiring a monthly subscription. Additionally, you are limited to how much free space you have on your device with how much music you can transfer from your music library.

Without the tech geek knowledge of building a do-it-yourself server and once the demise of the wonderful Simplify Media Player (which was purchased by Google and summarily shuttered) happened, many people found themselves out of luck in the music streaming department.

So Then What Is This Subsonic Thing?

In a nutshell, Subsonic is a music and video streaming solution which requires no uploads and operates through a web interface or stand alone applications on Mac, PC, Linux and Unix. Additionally, there are clients for iPad, iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7. As long as Subsonic is running on the machine that holds your music and is connected to the internet, you’ll be able to use a web interface, desktop apps or mobile apps to listen to your music instantly. It’s just like carrying 500GB of music in a 16GB iPhone!

Great! How do I get started?

  1. Go to www.subsonic.org and download the appropriate client. There are options for Windows, MAC, Linux, Ubuntu and even standalone cross-platform options using Java.
  2. Log into Subsonic with user name and password “Admin” (Change it immediately after logging in)
  3. Set up music folders
  4. Configure network settings to enable streaming elsewhere when away from home

Changing network settings, with most modern routers is a breeze. You’ll simply select the “Automatically Configure Your Router” option. If your router is enabled for using UPnP or NAT-PMP port forwarding, you are done!

For those unfamiliar with Port Forwarding, let’s take a moment and explain that. Your router, which connects you to the internet, needs to know how to handle or even IF to handle incoming data from an external computer. Since each port can only handle one application at a time, Port Forwarding rules determine which port will be open to the internet for each application and whether or not to accept these incoming data streams. If your router is UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) capable, nothing further is required other than checking the box. If your router is not UPnP capable, you’ll need to manually set port forwarding rules which you may have already done for games, torrenting, video cameras or other chat applications. A handy resource is Portforward.com which has guides for practically every make and model of router.

Tip: If you get frustrated with port forwarding, don’t give up! Simply call your Internet Service Provider. They will be intimately familiar with their routers and are more than happy to help you port forward! Simply tell them you need to Port Forward, Port #80. It only takes a minute!

Network Setup Configuration Page

Cool! I’ve added all the locations that contain music & forwarded my ports: Now how do I listen to them?

You have the option of listening to your music from practically any computer you want, and any phone you want.

The easiest way is to access the web player from http://username.subsonic.org*

Once you log in with your user name and password, you’ll be presented with a player interface that looks like this:

Web interface

Here, I have selected my Neil Young directory. So on the left side of the player, all 75 of my Neil Young albums are listed. Unfortunately, as you can see, the column width is narrow cutting some of the names off. This necessitates having to hover over the album to see the full name. While it is possible to increase that width, you’ll take it away from the main part of the player and you’ll need to fiddle with system files. Also note that Subsonic sorts by folder structure rather than embedded album names within your ID tags.  Once an album is selected, you can play it in its entirety, add it to a playlist, listen to individual tracks or even download to the machine you are currently on!

If you find the default web interface not pleasing, there are many skins available and can be customized for each user. For example, I can be running “Groove” while I can create a guest user account that uses another theme.

Groove Theme

And if you’d prefer not using a web interface at all, there are standalone apps for Mac, Windows and Linux that more closely resemble an iTunes environment. While many of the available apps are free*, Thumper, available from the Mac App store is $9.99.

Thumper for Mac

Subair. Adobe Air client for PC, Mac & Linux

How About Mobile?

Absolutely, there are mobile clients for Android, Windows Phone 7 and iPhone/iPad/iTouch. A list of all the available clients can be found on Subsonic’s website. The mobile players become very much like any player that you would use to play music already on your device. The response is snappy and tracks play seemingly instantaneously after being selected. Unlike the web client, the mobile versions offer an equalizer if you are interested. You can set up multiple instances of Subsonic servers so if you have a server hosting your music both with your home library, as well as a laptop, and a guest account on a friend’s server, you will easily be able to toggle between the different libraries.

Sample screenshot from Android Subsonic

I Knew There Was A Catch…What’s With The * ?

There’s always a catch isn’t there? While Subsonic is free, there is a voluntary “donation” which enables premium features. In addition to enabling mobile streaming apps after 30 days of use, you’ll continue to be able to use your personal server address (musicfan.subsonic.org) rather than your hard to remember IP address. Ads in the right column of the web interface will also disappear. Although Subsonic says “any donation” is accepted and suggests 20 Euros, there are only donation buttons for 10 – 50 Euros. Not clear how it is possible to donate just 1 Euro and enable the premium features. However, it is clear that 10 Euros (approximately $14) will do the trick.

So to recap: Subsonic client, the web interface, as well as several third party clients are all free. Some Mac clients and iPhone clients cost money. Without a donation, you will not be able to use the named server address that you created during setup after 30 days and you will not be able to stream to mobile devices.

So This Seems So Cool! Is It The Only Service Like It?

Not at all. There are many other options for listening to your own music outside of your local network and on your mobile device. In addition to the previously mentioned Google Music Beta (invite only now), Amazon Cloud Player and Spotify, another popular option which offers substantially the same experience to Subsonic is Audiogalaxy. While the basic options and experience are similar, Audiogalaxy has a much more limited feature set and options,  does not offer caching (so if you lose signal for a split second your track stops) and does not allow you to browse your music by directory structure. Nevertheless, even with these drawbacks, Audiogalaxy is a viable option.

Likewise, Orb has great music & video streaming capabilities that are similar to Subsonic. However, with Orb there’s a hardware component. This necessitates spending money on components, although they are reasonably priced. And for those that are technologically advanced, there are certainly plenty of do-it-yourself options like running jukebox software after turning your machine into an Apache server.

What are some other cool features of Subsonic?

  • Full video support- stream your movies too
  • Scrobble to Last.FM
  • Podcast receiver built-in
  • Lyric finder for currently playing song
  • Can run multiple instances simultaneosly: you can listen in the car with your iPhone while someone else listens on PC
  • Can create user accounts with no administrative abilities: in essence sharing just access to listen to your music with as many people as you want
  • Throttling for limited bandwidth situations: automatically transcode music to lower bitrates

So are there are drawbacks to Subsonic?

Of course. Nothing is perfect. The aforementioned “donation” to enable mobile clients and register Subsonic server name makes this more crippleware than “Freeware.” Likewise, the iPhone app costs a hefty $4.99 even after you have donated. (The Android App is free). I’m certain that with the vagueness of the “donation” features, many people have come to the end of their 30-day trial period and been surprised that their name server is not working and they are unable to stream to their iPhone anymore.

For audiophiles looking for advanced tone control and equalizer, Subsonic is not the answer as it does not offer these features. Likewise, gapless playback is not yet built into the player. This means that when listening to sequential tracks of a live album or classical music, there will be the millisecond gap between the tracks which was of course common before gapless playback began to emerge a few years ago.

While setup is relatively easy, and takes less than five minutes, for those unfamiliar with port forwarding and without a uPnP router, the setup could potentially be frustrating and time consuming.

The web interface, while it contains a lot of information, is not as well organized or laid out as it could be.

So there you have it…

A brief overview of Subsonic: a music streaming solution allowing you to listen to all of your music, regardless of library size, on any mobile device and any computer from anywhere in the world. While sort-of “Free,” several key components will require a “donation”.

Have you used Subsonic? Is there a better solution? Questions about Subsonic? Do you prefer Audiogalaxy? Or Orb? Did you build your own server? With the advent of the likes of rdio, MOG & Spotify are you not interested in listening to your library remotely anymore? Does your iPhone or iPod already hold all the music you are interested in listening to? Leave your music streaming thoughts in the comments below.

Hidden Track Technology Tuesday
email: [email protected]
twitter: @tmwsiy
voice-mail:  (781) 285-8696

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11 Responses

  1. Interesting stuff. I am going to try this out tonight. If it works and I can get get it set-up properly, seems like a decent value even with the “donation”. One time price of $15 and a $5 iPhone app = $20 for a lifetime of being able to share my music with anyone and listen away from the house? Not a bad deal in my book.

  2. I, too, was disheartened when Simplify went away. However, I have been using Audiogalaxy very successfully for a while now. I’m pleased with Audiogalaxy as it works well over wifi and 3g and there is no cost. There are no limits in using Audiogalaxy in regards to library size or streaming times. While the author mentions “caching” as a shortfall of Audiogalaxy, I have only experienced interruptions in the most remote areas with limited connectivity. In my experience, the main limitation of Audiogalaxy is the inability to share music, as was possible with Simplify.

    My recommendation is to keep your money and get Audiogalaxy. But I love that there are more apps entering the marketplace to serve this purpose.

  3. I also recommend checking out Plex Media Server. It’s the same idea, except a bit more robust, FREE, and acts as a media server for all types (video, pictures, etc). I use it to drive my home theater, but also use the $4.99 iPhone app to listen to music and watch movies/TV shows wherever I go.

  4. Matt: I need to check out Plex, I have never used it but have heard good things about it, thanks for the suggestion and head’s up on that.

    Ira: Totally agree, Audiogalaxy is great too, especially if you want to avoid the “donation”. Another drawback though, is if you want to run multiple servers (desktop, laptop, friend’s music, etc) as there is no practical way to switch between different libraries with AG as there is with SS.

    I did more research on the “donate any amount you want”. Turns out, according to developer, he had to remove the “Wildcard” amount as too many people were donating $.01. So the 10 Euro amount is indeed the minimum. He claims too that rewording from “donation” to “premium features” is on the to-do list. (apparently translating to 22 languages is a big deal or something).

    Anyway, thanks for the feedback!

  5. Been a Subsonic user for a while and wanted to chime in that it kicks some serious ass. It works flawlessly on the mobile. Frankly, a one time donation of $25 to access my local media anywhere I want on my mobile is a pretty low price to pay. I also dig that it is open source and the Android app seems to get updated pretty frequently. Subsonic + Spotify = Bliss

  6. Callahan also gave us some hard-to-deny Smog tunes, even taking requests from the crowd, with that “Say Valley Maker” probably being my personal favorite

  7. Hatch! So great to hear from you- just sent you an email to the address that you used to comment on. Hope it makes it to you.

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