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SonicBlue Rio Digital Audio Receiver 109

helloRockview writes: "I've recently purchased a SonicBlue Rio Receiver digital audio receiver, the poor-mans's version of the Turtle Beach Audiotron. It's an interesting piece of hardware and works quite well. I've put together a review of the little silver box and have included some info on its architecture and the communication protocols it uses."
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SonicBlue Rio Digital Audio Receiver

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  • Gotta love that rio800 interface(also on the riovolt sp250). High res + coolness == good interface.
  • Windows (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Karma 50 ( 538274 )
    The software has two purposes in life:

    1. Catalog the digital music files on your computer system.
    2. Communicate with the Digital Audio Player.


    Rio gets all it's track, artist and album info from the ID3 tags embedded in the MP3 file

    So why is a proprietary protocol necessary? Why can't it drag the files down with SMB and/or NFS?

    Easier for them. Easier for us.
    • Re:Windows (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Miguelito ( 13307 )
      Why can't it drag the files down with SMB and/or NFS?

      If that's what you want, then get an Audiotron. Works great getting an IP from my linux box and reads my mp3s via samba, and just plugged right into my existing network. I've got 2, use them both everyday, and think they were worth every penny.
  • I was thinking about getting a JVC CD reciever w/ MP3 playback, but now I'm not too sure what to get, the Rio or the JVC... I've had good experiences w/ JVC in the past, but I haven't tried SonicBlue yet. Any help out there?

    Heh, you've gotta love the slashdot effect.
  • product overview (Score:3, Informative)

    by Shrubbman ( 3807 ) on Sunday November 25, 2001 @03:40PM (#2610744)
    Well since the review and it's mirror are /.ed a quick google search turned up the company's brief product overview here []
  • by Karma 50 ( 538274 ) on Sunday November 25, 2001 @03:42PM (#2610747) Homepage
    Using the Rio Receiver (and other unimportant info)
    Chris Uriarte,
    Last Updated: November 24, 2001
    Warning: I'm a very technical person AND an audiophile. Therefore, is only natural that I'd be very critical on any piece of technology that produces any type of sound. Despite my criticisms, be sure to read my final thoughts and recommendations at the end of this review.

    What is it?
    The RIO receiver is a small devices that allows you to play your digital MP3 and WMA music through any stereo system. It attaches to an Ethernet network or a HPNA (phone line) network, allowing it to access digital music files stored on a Windows PC. It's manufactured and sold by SonicBlue [], the people who bought the Rio [] line of digital music equipment from Diamond. The same device is re-branded and sold by Dell [] as the Dell Digital Audio Receiver The street price for the unit is about US$200. You can find out more about it at its website []. Here's a picture for your viewing enjoyment:

    What are the tech specs?
    Without going into the nitty gritty details, here's some tech specs on the unit:

    Unit measures 9"x9"x3"; contains small LCD screen, a few buttons and a jog dial on the front.
    74MHz ARM7 Cirrus processor
    Runs a tiny version of Debian Linux
    4MB of DRAM
    512KB of flash memory
    CS8900 based 10MB ethernet interface
    Broadcom HPNA interface. HPNA is some ass-backwards networking setup that allows you to run data over your home phone lines - be afraid, be very afraid!
    One set of standard RCA audio output jacks
    One set of standard speaker connectors
    Why buy it?
    The advantage of purchasing the unit is that it gives you access to your digital audio collection through any stereo in your house that's close enough to a phone line or ethernet port on your home network.

    Why I bought it.
    Let me set the stage by saying that I have over 500 CDs and that I am addicted to music. One day, I realized something important: my music collection was taking over my life. It was getting too large to handle and my fickle nature makes me want to listen to many different types of music in a relatively short period of time. CDs tend to get stale very quickly when they are in my CD player. After having, what alcoholics sometimes refer to as, "a moment of clarity", I realized that it was time to get my act together. I discovered that my car contained 70 CDs - it was a $30,000 CD holder that happened to also be able to get me back and forth to work. There were about 100 CDs laying around in my home office and about 30 in my office at work. There were numerous CDs stuck in changers and players and CD holder and travel pouches and attache bags and just about everywhere I could put them. I was out of control. My girlfriend was about to stage an intervention when I told her that I was going to buy a third CaseLogic car visor CD holder - which I somehow thought I could rig into place, despite the fact that my car, like most others, only has two sun visors. It was bad, and I needed help. One day, I had a vision - If I made my music collection digital, I could access it from anywhere - my stereo, my car (through a car MP3 player), on the road (through a portable MP3 player), at the office, etc. I really hated my trusty Sony CD 200-disc changer, which I know has swallowed a number of CDs that I've been looking for the last 5 years. I had a dream about being able to "dial up" my music - without having to know which slot it lived in or figuring whether it was even in my house at all. I thought the Rio Receiver could help me fill these dreams. (I know, It's sad. One day I'll seek professional help.)

    Where to buy it.
    When I was first searching for it (November 2001), the unit was somewhat difficult to find. There were only about five online retailers carrying it, and most were out of stock. I settled on the dependable, but expensive, Crutchfield [], where I purchased it for $179. Note that I have seen street prices as low as $156. Check out CNET's price comparison service [] to try to hunt one down.

    What do you get with it?
    The box it's packaged in is roughly the size of a toaster over. Open it up and you'll find:

    the Digital Audio Receiver itself
    Home PNA adapter card - (Note: It appears that some models do no include the PNA adapter. That's good...avoid it at all costs)
    Remote Control
    2 "AA" batteries
    one 6" RCA stereo patch cord
    one 6'6" telephone cord (probably only included if you get the HPNA card)
    one 12' 6" telephone cord (ditto)
    one 6' 6" AC power cable
    one CD containing the necessary server software installation and owner's manuals
    lots of cardboard, styrofoam, plastic, foam and other things that kill the environment. Crutchfield is also sure to pack the receiver box in a larger box small enough to hold a child - however, the child would never survive after suffocating from the grotesque amount of styrofoam peanuts inside.
    It comes with a "quick start" sheet, which is good enough to actually get it up and running pretty quickly. The full documentation is on the CD-ROM, or available on the Rio website in the Support section. However, the full documentation is scarce on juicy details, although worth a quick read.
    Setting it Up
    Assuming that you already have an Ethernet network in place, all you need to do is the following:

    1. Install the Windows software. Reboot (of course). Run the software and specify drives and directories that contain your MP3 and WMA files. Sit back for a minute and let it catalog your files.
    2. Plug the unit in. Hook up the RCA jacks to your stereo. Plug Ethernet cable in the back. Turn the unit on.

    3. Select your artist/album/playlist from the LCD screen and start playing music.

    The whole setup process literally took me less than 10 minutes, most of which was spent chasing runaway styrofoam peanuts across my hardwood floors.
    What does the Windows Software Do?
    Yes, you must - I repeat - you MUST use the Windows software for this thing to work (see notes on the Linux hack below, however). The software is not exactly what I would call "feature filled". The software has two purposes in life:

    1. Catalog the digital music files on your computer system.
    2. Communicate with the Digital Audio Player.
    That's it. And you don't have options to play with those two either. It is truly as if SonicBlue had a meeting and said, "What is the absolute, minimal amount of work we can do to make this piece of software work?". It then appears that they took that list of minimums and cut it in half. It is barebones, to say the least.
    Those who own other Rio products may be use to getting some type of CD ripping or digital file management software with players. This, however, doesn't include anything like that.

    The Windows software, dubbed the "Audio Receiver Manager", doesn't actually allow you to manage anything. It does manage to discretely sit in your system tray and is loaded when you startup and log into windows. Since I always keep my main computer on and logged in, it's not a big deal to me, however, the audio manager will not start until you log into windows (i.e. enter your username password, if you get prompted for one). I'd like to see this made into a Windows NT/2000 service for the next release.

    Basically, you tell the software where on your system to look for MP3/WMA/M3U files. You have the ability to specify entire drives, which can be very slow, or individual folders. You must update the database every time you want to make new music available to your receiver. During the import process, the Audio Manager must stop playing music - apparently it has difficulty walking and chewing gum at the same time.

    Here's some screenshots of the Windows program:

    (Click for larger images)

    A Note on Image 2 above: The Audio Manager shows that it imported about 1500 tracks and 120 playlists in 16 seconds. This particular import was run on a folder of MP3s that was already imported, so it ran rather quickly. When I first ran the import on this folder, it actually took close to 40 seconds to import all the tracks (not bad at all). However, this was done on a rather speedy Athlon 1.33Ghz with 768MB RAM and 7200 RPM drives. Your mileage may vary. The Rio documentation, for example, shows a screenshot of an import that was smaller, which took a considerably longer amount of time.
    Things that particularly suck about the Windows-based Audio Receiver Manager software:

    It is pretty much un-configurable. Choose your DHCP range and choose your folders to scan, that's it.
    There's no sort of "preferences" available to save your settings, which would be nice. Even though I only search for MP3s under one directory (D:\MP3, for example), it always defaults to search the entire C: and D: drives. I then have to remove and re-select D:\MP3 EVERY TIME. This is maddening.
    Somehow, SonicBlue thought it would be helpful to have this thing search your MusicMatch and RealJukebox playlists - I can certainly see the value to this feature. However, you don't have the ability to disable searching these programs and the internal track lists and playlists are imported from these programs every time you update your database. This causes duplicate track and artist names to appear on your Receiver. For example, if you tell the receiver to search D:\MP3 for your of your tracks and you have previously imported the track names into Real Jukebox, all your tracks will be duplicated when you bring them up on the Receiver's LCD. This is fine if you want to "manage" all your music from RealJukebox, but I don't. Even after removing the tracks and playlists from RealJukebox, there were still dupes....I finally just uninstalled RealJukebox (it's a piece of junk, anyway). If you use MusicMatch, it will only import your MusicMatch playlists, which can be handy at times - but it's all or nothing....if you create playlists in MusicMatch, they will ALL show up on the Receiver, as you don't have any choice to exclude specific playlists.
    As mentioned before, the software sits in the system tray and is launched from your Startup folder. Therefore, if your machine reboots or you log out of Windows 2000/NT/XP, the Audio Manager software is not running - so no music for you.
    Playing your Music From the Receiver
    When it comes down to doing what it is meant to do, the Rio Receiver does a very good job. It's very easy to navigate through your music collection, even if you have a large number of tracks, artists and albums. I have close to 150 albums worth of digital music and I can easily find what I'm looking for in a few seconds.

    Music selection is done using a simple jog-dial knob on the front of the unit. You have the ability to search for music by artist, album, song title, genre or m3U playlist. All this information is determined by the ID3 tags [] contained within your MP3 files - therefore, it's VERY important that all of your MP3 files are embedded with at least the artist, album and song title. (See my "Tips and Tricks" below for details on this). The Rio DOES NOT CARE about the organization of your directory structure - all it wants to know is the contents of your ID3 tags.

    Overall Quality and Performance
    Overall, the sound quality is very good. Of course, sound quality greatly depends on the bitrate used to encode your digital music files. I encode all my MP3s at 192 bits using LAME [] - the quality is excellent. The Receiver just takes a digital stream of the music files over the network and decodes it, so there is no loss in quality due to the network transfer or any weird types of streaming protocols. At 192bits, no one can tell that the music is sourced from am MP3 file.

    The unit has a 10-second buffer, just in case there are any network slowdowns. I wanted to figure out just what it would take to make the thing stop or skip or do whatever it may do if the network gets really busy. So I wrote a simple Perl script to transfer a 200MB file between my Windows box and my Linux box over HTTP using 15 simultaneous threads (i.e. 15 downloads occuring at the same time). This is, of course, way more than what I normally see on my home LAN, which is usually just comprised of me and my girlfriend surfing the web (mostly me, of course). I should note that my home network uses a NetGear 10/100 Hub (not a switch) and a Linksys 10MB in the Living room - so the effective throughput will never exceed 10MB (not including protocol overhead). With 2 Skinny J's The Whammy playing in the background, I started the network torture test. Despite the fact that my Linux box's four-year-old hard drive protested, the Rio Receiver didn't skip a beat (no pun intended). So I think you can be pretty sure that this thing will work well, even in a busier network environment.

    Did you say it runs Linux?
    Yes, it runs Linux. Many people tend to get very aroused about this these days. I am a Linux advocate, as I like to advocate any technology that helps you work or play better, but I'm not a Linux zealot. But for the more curious, the unit has already been hacked, although it appears to be a bit more difficult to do than it should be. Jeff Mock has put together a wonderful collection of information [] related to hacking the Receiver. Even though I was greatly tempted see what you can do with the thing, I figure I bought it to do what it does best - play music. I'm happy with its feature set and don't feel the need to crack it open. If this unit gets more popular and there are a number of good hacks available out there, you may see more people trying ot hack it.

    What Operating Systems Does it Work With? (Do I have to use Windows?)
    The Rio Audio Receiver Manager software officially supports Windows98, 98SE, 2000 and ME. Although not listed, I'm sure it also works on XP, as the application nothing more than simple HTTP and UDP server. It will not run on Windows95 or WindowsNT 4.0.

    There are a few efforts underway to make the unit work with non-Windows servers. The first is a home-grown project put together by Jeff Mock []. Jeff has done an excellent job at reverse engineering the Rio's protocols and has put together a number of scripts that allow you to use a Linux machine as the file server. At this time, his software does not support playlists, but after looking at the code and the protocols, it is probably an easy thing to add. Be aware, though, installation of Jeff's code is not a trivial task - you need to have knowledge about Linux, Apache and Perl and there's not a lot of "HOW-TO" documentation available (who has time to document, anyway?...especially for open-source projects that don't pay the bills?). It took me about 40 minutes, but I got Jeff's scripts running. Again, he did a great job with this.

    Second, there's an open source project called Digital Audio Server [], which I have not tried out. It looks as if it might be a bit more complete and simpler to use than Jeff's solution.

    There's a third project called Jreceiver [], which is open source servlet-based audio server built to support network-based MP3 players like the Rio. However, it appears to be quite immature at this time. It's completely servlet-based, but does not support Tomcat, which is a major drawback, in my opinion.

    Are there competitors?
    Yes, in fact there is one generally-available competitor that I am aware of: The Turtle Beach Audiotron []. I like this particular product a lot. Had it not been for the Rio's attractive $150 street price, I probably would have bought the Audiotron. There are a few major differences in the way that these boxes operates. First, the Audiotron is a full-size (but thin) stereo rack component, so it can blend nicely into your existing system. Second, the Audiotron accesses music over a simple SMB share, so you can simply export a folder from your Windows or UNIX box and make it available to the Audiotron. There's no server-side software required. Third, you can actually READ the LCD display on the Audiotron from a distance greater than 10 inches. Forth, the Audiotron has a TOSLINK optical output, which is nice to have. Last, but not least, the Audiotron comes with a suite of useful software, including a web-based front-end. The street price for the Audiotron, however, is about double the price of the Rio. You can read Rob Malda's review of the Audiotron on Slashdot [ 33].

    Tips, Tricks and Things to Be Aware Of

    Use ID3 Tags - as mentioned before, the Rio gets all it's track, artist and album info from the ID3 tags embedded in the MP3 file, so make sure you ID3 tag your MP3s. The easiest way to ID3 tag your MP3s is to do it when you rip them from the CD using a good ripping program with CDDB/FreeDB integration (Check out Audiograbber []). If have existing MP3s that are not tagged, MusicMatch [] does a good tagging job for no cost. Musicmatch will also identify all the MP3s on your system that are not tagged.
    Use RealJukebox or simple file system management - the Rio Audio Receiver Manager WILL import all tracks and playlists you have setup in RealJukebox and you don't have any say over it. Therefore, you should manage your MP3s through RealJukebox or not use RealJukebox at all. If you search for MP3s on your hard drives AND have a RealJukebox tracklist built, you will get duplicate track entries when you bootup the Rio.
    Listening to Full Albums - There's only one way to listen to full albums the way they were intended to be heard on the CD: create an m3u playlist for the album. If you simply choose "Albums" through the Rio controls, it will list out the unique album names on the system (without the artist name attached to it). If you choose an album, the Rio plays through tracks in the album in alphabetical order - not in the order they appear on the CD. The solution is to create an m3u playlist for each album and then access the album through the "Playlists" option on the Receiver. Again, a good CD ripping program should create these playlists for you when the rip is complete.
    Album Playlists help if they include Artist Names - Some CD ripping programs will create m3u playlists and name the file after the album you just ripped. The Rio displays playlists according to their file system name. Therefore, if you don't have the artist name in the playlist file name, you may have a tough time identifying and finding the album playlist your are looking for. The solution is to name your playlists in some format like "Artist-Album.m3u". Sadly, my favorite software, Audiograbber, does not let you configure the file name format of the playlists. So I wrote a Perl script that goes through your MP3 directories and renames the playlists to "Artist-Album.m3u" format IF you organize your MP3's in the following fashion:


    I think this is the typical way most people organize their MP3's, so the Perl script may be helpful. Also, since I think Playlists are so important, I wrote a Perl script that hunts out any album directories that DO NOT contain playlists and prints them out for you. (BTW, if you didn't know this already, you need to install Perl [] on your machine for these to work).
    The LCD Screen is Small - You need to be pretty close to the unit to read the LCD, so choosing tracks from a distance is impossible. This used to piss me off, but I figured that with the old way, I would have to dig out another CD anyway (and chances were that CD I was looking for was MIA).
    Tiny Gaps Between Songs - the Rio inserts an every-so-tiny gap between small you don't really notice it. I consider this a good thing. For live albums and albums with songs that continue onto the next track without a gap, everything sounds like it did on the CD...the Rio does an excellent job with this. I tested Jerry Seinfeld's I'm Telling You For the Last Time (a live comedy album), 311's Live album (a live concert album) and Rx Bandit's Progress (a traditional studio album where the first 5 tracks flow into the next track) - all of them sounded great.
    Final Thoughts and Impressions
    At $150 street price, this thing is a no-brainer. Despite some of my gripes, it does what its supposed to do and does it well. I highly recommend it. I no longer require a CD player in my den. Everything gets ripped to MP3 and then played on the Rio. If you already have a home network in place and a lot of digital music, it's pretty much just plug-and-play. I've already enjoyed using the Rio for the short time that I've had it and I'm sure that I will get much more enjoyment out of it in the future. Good job, SonicBlue.
    For the tech weenies:

    How does it work? (Warning: very useless technical information may want to stop here.)
    Given my particular background, I was more interested in how the Receiver actually gets music from the central PC. After further analysis, I became convinced that the great Rube Goldberg was the chief architect of Rio. I thought the whole thing could have been made a lot simpler, especially compared with the file-sharing simplicity of the Turtle Beach Audiotron (see "Competitors" above).
    So I set out to determine the protocols used between the Receiver and the Windows server. I figured that if I could reverse engineer these protocols, I could write my own server software to circumvent the lack of features in Rio version - including getting the server to run on Linux. So I started running Etherpeek sniffs of my network and began analyzing the traffic flow between the Receiver and my PC. I was about a half hour into it when I first discovered Jeff Mock's great "Hacking the Rio Receiver" page []. Jeff did a far better job that I did in my first 30 minutes, so I used his notes to compare what I sniffed (btw, Jeff, your 100% right on...awesome work). The result of Jeff's sniffing efforts produced a set of scripts that allow you to run a Linux version of the server software (available for download on his site).

    Basically, the protocol is simple, but there's a lot of little steps to actually get to the point where the music starts playing. Here's a quick overview:

    When the box boots, it sends out a DHCP request ("please, someone give me an IP address"). The Rio Audio Manager software on the PC responds to DHCP requests only for the RIO. This is based totally on MAC address, as I was able to send a spoofed DHCP request using the Rio's MAC from my Linux box. FYI, on the Windows side, I always limit the DHCP IP scope to exactly 1 address, which essentially gives the Rio a static IP. Jeff relies on the OS to do the DHCP stuff - not his server software. You can, however, configure dhcpd to always dish out the same IP to a single MAC address, if you so desire.
    After the Receiver is happy with it's IP address, it sends out an SSDP request on UDP 21075 ("someone please tell me where my server is") with the request string "^upnp:uuid:1D274DB0-F053-11d3-BF72-0050DA689B2F\n {Source MAC Address}\n". The Audio Manager responds with the IP address and port of the Windows server. It tends to use TCP Port 12078 on the server side. It actually sends back an URL to an .xml file (http://serverip:12768/descriptor.xml)...the important part is the port 12768, which will be used as the status port between the receiver and server.
    The receiver actually does an NFS mount of /tftpboot on the server and grabs a basic Linux file system - sort of like an XTerm. It then reboots a second time, this time bootstrapping with the downloaded kernel. Jeff points out something interesting that I initially missed: the Receiver does an NFS mount of /tftpboot - it does NOT use TFTP to download the boot image from /tftpboot, as you would normally see with diskless clients.
    When you first scroll through a list - such as "Artists", the box issues a HTTP query to the app port specified in the SDDP response that looks something like: "GET /query?artist=". The server responds with an HTTP response with a standard HTTP 200 header, Content-type, Content-length, etc. a a response string that looks like "ArtistA.1=61,0,0:ArtistB.1=32,0,0......etc." You can start to see that the software assigns a unique index number to each item in the list, starting with 1, assigned in alphabetical order. Once you select an artist, for example, it will then make a subsequent query for the tracks associated with that artist (" t=Artist" ). The server returns a similar list of tracks, each also having a unique track ID number. Once a track is selected, using its unique ID number, the Receiver asks for the tags associated with the mp3 file ("", for example).
    From that point on, it's time to actually play the music. This accomplished by streaming the data over HTTP, gracefully shooting a flow of TCP PSH's and ACK's across your network. The receiver requests the unique track id over HTTP a la
    While alive and active, the Receiver and the server software start to miss each other and send UDP status packets out to each other about every five seconds. Basically, the server says "State? (What's going down?)" and the receiver replies with it's current state, which includes its MAC address, the current song it's playing and an associated timecode.
    It should be noted that once you sniff the format of these queries, you can simply just insert them into any old web browser to see the results the server sends back. Type in "", for example, and you'll get a list of all the artists in the database. Doing something like "" returns all artists starting with C - this might be useful in building some type of music search engine or something. Doing something like " =Ash" will return all songs associated with the artist Ash. To see all playlists, it sends "" and to view a specific playlist, it sends "", where 5e90 represents the unique playlist ID it was sent when it queried all the playlists. You get the drift....this isn't exactly rocket science. Given this simple protocol, you can easily write a browser-based frontend to the Windows-based Audio manager software.
    I figured that if I wanted to write a web-based front-end for the Audio Manager software, I would need to figure out which port the server is running on. So I created a trivial perl script that mimics the Receiver, sending out a direct SSDP query to the Windows server, which is happy to return the all-important port number that the server software happens to be running on. Once you have that port, you can issue any of the HTTP queries above via a regular web browser or with any piece of code you may just create. Interesting note: by sending out the SSDP request from my Linux box, the Linux box now shows up as a "New Audio Receiver" in the Audio Receiver Software. This causes the server software to send my Linux box a UDP "status" query every five seconds (too bad my Linux box isn't answering).
    Lots more that can be done with this...if you have the time and can think up a good use for it.

    As a side not, if you're looking for a front-end to your MP3 collection and you're using Apache, take a look at Lincoln Steins's Apache::MP3 [], for use with mod_perl. I use it and love it. It gets me access to my entire music collection anywhere that I have an Internet connection.
    • Sure about that? This site [] seems to work fine.
    • Apologies to people who read my previous comments on this topic, but when considering these devices, please also consider the "SliMP3" from Slim Devices [].

      Advantages include :

      • open-source cross-platform server (just a perl script).
      • high quality vacuum-fluorescent display (it's nice)
      • low-noise, low-power, low-heat-output hardware (no fan, no heatsink even!).
      • I have a SliMP3 (number 47 actually) and it rocks, hard.

        It's not in a flasy case, but it looks sweet sitting amid my other AV gear, it doesn't create an noise and I just leave the perl scripts running on my MP3 server and forget about it.

        Plus I can actually read the VFD from the couch.

        Oh yeah, I can also control the music from my web browser when I'm out of remote range. So I can be sitting at my computer with the stereo playing in the living room and I can have total control over it.

        Way to cool!

      • I was wondering why both the Audiotron and the Rio receivers were so large, when nothing that they do requires much hardware.

        It looks like you do have the superior product (no wma support? That's a good thing!), though it would be nice if you could provide spdif (Audiotron does, the Rio doesn't). Best of luck, you will need it!

      • Disadvantages include:

        Not available yet

  • Other reviews (Score:2, Informative)

    by Nevrar ( 65761 )
    I did a bit of a search on google, and came across other reviews.
    The cnet review [] seems pretty comprehensive...
  • SonicBlue is made out of people!
  • These guys [] have a much better product featured in slashdot here [].

    It doesn't have a great big amplifier included so it should be alot less power hungry and won't bottleneck your sound quality. It also has a much better display and open source server software. Too bad it doesn't have digital audio output.

    • by JoeShmoe ( 90109 ) <> on Sunday November 25, 2001 @04:22PM (#2610837)
      Except this devices is hand-made in a garage in lots of a couple hundred each. This isn't meant to disparage the quality, but as such it might not be available when you want it where you live.

      In fact the website says "The SliMP3 is not yet ready for sale. If you would like to receive an e-mail when our first units become available, please submit the form below." so I guess right now it isn't available at all.

      Plus it's about $70 more expensive even though it contains less hardware (price of hand assembly).

      However, both the SliMP3 and SonicBlue suffer from the same fatal flaw...lack of digital output. What is the point in streaming full quality 256Kbps digitally across my house only to lose that quality in the last few feet due to a cheap-as-you-can-mass-produce DAC? I don't care if you use Monster cable, analog just isn't digital and if I'm spending $200+ bucks then shouldn't I get the full solution?

      I think both these devices should be updated to include a TOSlink/coaxial output (preferably both). Most people just run speaker wire across their house so these devices both seem to target power users/audiophiles.

      I'd also like to point out there is a HUGE market for a similar device that can play video files, not just audio files. No one wants to put a computer in their home theater because it is too bulky and noisy. Wouldn't it be awesome to keep all your movies on a server in the computer room and then stream them to some small little elegant and quiet device just like these audio players?

      I'd certainly pay for something like that.

      - JoeShmoe
      • 1) Not everyone has digital inputs on their amps

        2) It all gets turned into analog between the amp and speaker, so who cares? The "quality" difference is going to negligible, especially since you're already compressing it.
      • What is the point in streaming full quality 256Kbps digitally across my house only to lose that quality in the last few feet due to a cheap-as-you-can-mass-produce DAC?

        None. Which is why they used nice Burr-Brown DACs in the reciever. they also built in a 10Wx2 (RMS, not "peak") amplifier, which does an admirable job of driving decent bookshelf speakers.

        I agree that SPDIF would have been nice, but it's more cost for a feature that few people will use. (Besides, I'd argue that the Burr-Brown DACs are better than what's on the other end of the TOSLink for 90% of their customers.)

        Everyone's calling this the "Poor-man"'s Audiotron. I wonder about that, since the UI on my Gateway (admittedly running very old software) is horribly slow, to the point of being unusable. The Rio/Dell boxes I have are reasonably responsive, though not quite as quick as the empeg car. (Same software dev team, btw.)
      • It's true the website implies they're not available yet, however I have one since I wrote to Sean and asked nicely :)

        I believe they have sold the hand-soldered batch and are now getting ready for the first contract manufactured batch. It's possible that will eventually drive the price down.

        Anyway, there's no sign of poor quality in the hand-assembled version, in fact I think it was worth every penny. I now convert my music collection to MP3 at 192kb/s using bladeenc and play it back through my Linn Ninka speakers driven by my 10 year old Pioneer A400 and it sounds almost as good as cds, plus I have hundreds of albums available at the touch of a remote, but no PC-style background noise.


        Chris Morgan

      • In fact the website says "The SliMP3 is not yet ready for sale. If you would like to receive an e-mail when our first units become available, please submit the form below." so I guess right now it isn't available at all.

        FYI, we've scaled up production and we expect our first batch of professionally manufactured players to be available by the end of December.

        Plus it's about $70 more expensive even though it contains less hardware (price of hand assembly).

        It's more expensive because it's better, not because we're making them in smaller qty. We've invested a considerable amount of R&D into custom software [] and hardware [], and most of it is open and hackable [] - this isn't just another embedded PC. Also we're using a high quality 40x2 Vacuum fluorescent display [] instead of a backlit LCD. Most folks think these features are worth the extra $$.

        I think both these devices should be updated to include a TOSlink/coaxial output (preferably both).

        It would be nice, but you have to understand that it's not worth the extra $20 to the 90% of our customers who will never use it. Also, the other 10% will probably realize that the CD player DAC [] is going to sound just as good with MP3 as the one in their receiver.
        • It's more expensive because it's better

          It would be nice, but you have to understand that it's not worth the extra $20


          You want to target the high end consumer...and to that end you make an admittedly more expensive (but better!) unit...but then balk at a $20 feature? Did you ask your sample group if they'd rather have a plain old backlit LCD display but get the digital port? I know I would.

          How long is this device supposed to last? True, maybe there aren't a lot of people right now that have digital inputs on their stereo, but what about in a couple years? Five years? Ten years? The explosive growth of DVD is causing a lot of people to reexamine their home theater systems and upgrade to digital sound.

          One possibility is maybe find a convenient place on the mainboard for an expansion card? My cheap, cheap $50 SBLive didn't come with an optical output (only SPDIF), but i was able to get a $8 daughtercard from a Taiwanese website that gave me me a TOSLink output for my MD player. So maybe you could find a place to put a few pins and then offer customers a digital output option? That way the price increase is minimized and those who want the feature can pay extra for it.

          - JoeShmoe
          • Thanks for the feedback.

            You clipped off the rest of my sentence and took it out of context. What I said re SPDIF was:

            It would be nice, but you have to understand that it's not worth the extra $20 to the 90% of our customers who will never use it.

            Everybody appreciates a high quality display, remote, and UI. Almost nobody would be able to tell the difference between an MP3 played through the player's DAC vs.the one in their receiver.

            I am acknowledging, however, that there is a significant portion of the market that would use the digital output. When you're designing cost-sensitive hardware, you have to make calculated decisions, taking into account what your customers want, what they're willing to pay, mechanical considerations, whether it's feasible to make it an add-on card, etc. Trust me, I researched it very carefully.

            BTW have you ever done a blind test between differenct 44KHz/16-bit DACs? I have reasonably good ears - I can usually tell the difference between CDs and 384K mp3s, but I've never been able to tell the difference between a $10 and a $100 DAC using the same amp/speakers and the same digital source.
      • erm.

        You're streaming 100% digital music that BEEN COMPRESSED, thereby completely removing any possible sound quality advantatage from being digital.

        The only reason for optical would be convenience; you have one cable instead of two to string to your receiver/amp/home theatre processor.

        Since I suspect the mp3 decoding -> analogue is all done on one IC, it probably is a bit of a hassle to add an optical out. And the price for the slimp3 is already up there in the hard-to-justify regions.

        Disparaging flames aside, I think you're spot on about the video tho (and there I could see the digital out for AC-3 sound being useful). The Slimp3 guys seem to have that on their roadmap, as this apparently is only the first incarnation of their all-singing all-dancing multimedia firmware. All that from reading between the lines, so YMMV.
  • So it has:
    * 74MHz ARM7 Cirrus processor
    * Runs a tiny version of Debian Linux
    * 4MB of DRAM
    * 512KB of flash memory
    * CS8900 based 10MB ethernet interface
    but it only does:
    * Catalog the digital music files on your computer system.
    * Communicate with the Digital Audio Player.

    As he said:
    That's it. And you don't have options to play with those two either. It is truly as if SonicBlue had a meeting and said, "What is the absolute, minimal amount of work we can do to make this piece of software work?". It then appears that they took that list of minimums and cut it in half. It is barebones, to say the least.

    It would have been easy to add some decent bells and whistles. I think they really missed the boat with this one.


  • ...The street price for the unit is about US$200. You can find out more about it at its website. Here's a picture for your viewing enjoyment...

    Final Thoughts and Impressions
    At $150 street price, this thing is a no-brainer. Despite some of my gripes, it does what its supposed to do and does it well. I highly recommend it...

    Well which is it, $150 or $200?

  • I'm curious as if he has to tell the software the receiver's MAC address or if its hardcoded into the software. I'm assuming it comes with a "CD-KEY" of sorts that has the MAC addy embedded in it, or else your in for fun if you ever decided to get 2. (Like me, I have a nice system in my living room, and a really nice system in the basement with the big screen)
    • Not sure where the MAC address lives...probably on the board, just like an Ethernet card. However, to address your last question: Yes, you can buy more than one of these units and use them on with a single MP3 server. The software clearly supports this.
    • They probably own an IEEE assigned range (which is the proper way to obtain MAC addresses for Ethernet interfaces see this link []) and their software responds based upon that knowledge.

      So the software really doesn't send a DHCP respond for only one MAC, but a range.

      FYI: Diamond Multimedia owns 00-90-00 (which allows them to have 16,777,216 unique addresses).
  • Why would a person realy want to bother buying the Rio Reciever when you can put togeter an mp3 playing computer for less than a 100$. Meanwile this unit will at least set you back 127.95$ and that is if you buy it at as far as I can tell the unit should cost 300.00 dollars in most cases.

    If a person is looking for a cheap stationary media player there really is no reason to go all out and get this thing. The way I see it you have two options one put together a high end 486or beter with a network card that way you can stream all the mp3's you want from your other computers be they mac's win boxes or 'nixers. Then conect the box to your hi-fi. For 40 dollars you can even throw in the option for a remote controller []. The other option that I came up with is, if your on a buget and you want somthing that plays cds,mp3s and what the hell even mpg video go buy your self a Dreamcast they go for as litle as 70 bucks []. With that you can do what ever you want even play doom.
    • The only reason I see is the box looks like a stereo component and not a computer, so if you can find it for 130 bucks its not bad.

      I agree that it could do much much more then this.. why not have it have a hard drive, wireless ethernet, visulizations for the tv, etc etc.. Ah well though, 130 bucks isn't bad.

    • The other option that I came up with is, if your on a buget and you want somthing that plays cds,mp3s and what the hell even mpg video go buy your self a Dreamcast they go for as litle as 70 bucks []. With that you can do what ever you want even play doom.

      Actually $50, at Toys R Us currently (apparently - I don't live in the US). BUT, you don't get a network adaptor in that, and they are not easy or cheap to find. $100+ is not unusual on E-Bay, for example.

      They are also pretty noisy, compared to the Slimp3 mentioned elsewhere. It would be good fun to code the UI etc... it's a nice system to code for. I'd prefer an on-screen browser over a 2-4 line LCD or VFD, anyday.
    • I don't understand. Does the Dreamcast play MP3s? I didn't know it would do that. That would be pretty cool. Can it read from the drive or do you have to make a linux boot and then read from the network?
  • in his 'review', he mentions:
    Since I always keep my main computer on and logged in, it's not a big deal to me, however, the audio manager will not start until you log into windows (i.e. enter your username password, if you get prompted for one). I'd like to see this made into a Windows NT/2000 service for the next release.

    isn't there a way to set up things like tight VNC, VNC or any number of variants as services under that name as Win2K under the registry?

    also, does anyone know of a good VNC server for the 68K mac? I bought one off of ebay forgetting the specialized adapter required so i'm gonna have to VNC it unless my NEC MultiSync 5FGp will do it...
    • You could do it with Windows Terminal Services; I did something similar with the Cygnion CyberGenie phone system.

      First, install Terminal Server on the 2K box. Then create a user that will run the audio manager software, and install the software under that user. Put a shortcut to the audio manager .exe in the user's startup group.

      Then login to that user using Terminal Services; that'll start up the audio manager. As soon as the software is running, close the Terminal Services window -- the user will still be logged in, and the audio manager will continue to run as long as the machine is up.
    • I've never used the software in question so I dunno if it'd work in this case, but a utility like SRVANY or Invoker might be useful. They simplify the process of making ordinary apps run as background services. If the audio manager software is well behaved and if it doesn't require a user to be logged in for other reasons it might work.
  • Nice review.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by SwedishChef ( 69313 ) <craig@networkess ... t ['ial' in gap]> on Sunday November 25, 2001 @04:13PM (#2610823) Homepage Journal
    but if you want to play your mp3's through a stereo there are cheaper ways to do it... using Linux of course.

    Last year, when I wanted to play music in my computer room, I took an old 486/DX120, installed a SoundBlaster 16 card in it, put an old 3com 3c503 NIC into it, found a cheap 20gb HD, scrounged an old 36X CD player, installed SuSE Linux, and sat it in the corner. Then I trotted down to Goodwill and found a nice Kenwood 75 watt-per-channel stereo amplifier for $29.95 and a pair of bookshelf speakers for $7.95. I then drove over to the Radio Shack store and bought an adapter that allows the audio out from the SB16 to go to the L/R inputs of the amp.

    So, for about $120 I have a complete Linux system with 20gb of music on it. I run it from an rlogin session running mp3blaster but, because it also runs Apache, I can set it up to broadcast music to every computer in the house. And the price INCLUDES the amplifier and speakers!!!

    But wait, it gets better. For that same $120 I can also export an X11 session to listen to internet radio and control it on any X/box. Plus I can set up SMB and NFS shares to allow the machine to be used as a file server AND music server!!!

    Want more? Okay... I can also export a Gnutella and/or Napster client and download music from the 'net. Or do it via a news client and the usenet.

    As a bonus, I can ssh into my firewall, rlogin to the mp3 box, and wake my kids up in time for school from 1,000 miles away!! (I recommend rap for this.)

    The only thing I haven't done yet is make it into a CD burner; I do that on my wife's machine (under, I'm afraid, Windoze). But still, with a little bit of scrounging almost any Linux geek can come up with the same (or better) system for the same (or lower) money.

    The best part is that I'm the first guy on my block to have my kids yell at me, "Dad, will you turn that damn music down?"
    • That's cool. I do something similar. I have an old Pentium 120 with a 6Gig drive as my music server. It sits in my basement, runs RH 7.0 and exports music directory via NFS.

      In my office I hook up my laptop to the stereo and run XMMS to play files from the NFS drive.

      Perhaps the sound quality can be better with a custom player, as opposed to a computer sound card.


    • if you want to play your mp3's through a stereo there are cheaper ways to do it... using Linux of course ... installed a SoundBlaster 16 card
      Yeah. There's nothing quite like the audiophile quality of a solid Soundblaster 16.
      • Oh, like MP3s/Ogg is really audiophile quality..

        • Uhh-huh. And there are no audio devices that support uncompressed WMA or WAVs, either.
        • Oh, like MP3s/Ogg is really audiophile quality..

          Have you really listened to MP3? At higher bitrates (I'm using --dm-preset xtreme, works out to around 220kb/s for most music) it's really very good. I can't tell the difference between it and uncompressed .wav through the same DACs. I can tell the difference between good DACs and soundcards.
    • I have done it a different way using Windows:

      I have 2k server (got it from a friend) with a Linksys wireless network adapter running on a headless system with an AMD K6-2 350 and 256MB RAM (that I also got for free). The system has only a 2-gig hard drive so I can't store the music on that system. What I've done instead is installed VNCserver and Winamp on that system. I then created two shares on my wife's laptop (the system with all the MP3s), one to her MP3 folder and one to her CDROM drive. If she has a CD full of MP3s in the drive she VNCs to the server, opens Winamp, opens the shared CDROM drive, and plays the songs she wants. She then closes VNCviewer and the songs play until she VNCs back in and stops it.
      • I use a similar setup, but much of the stuff I listen to is part of a continous mix and the songs really need to be played with NO pauses in between. I've been unable to get rid of pauses using Winamp on a Win2k box over a 802.11b wireless network. (Mounting drives from a Win2k server) I've tried various crossfading plugins that work wonderfully on a local hard drive or over 100baseT but I still get long pauses over 802.11b. Have you experienced this and have you found a solution?
    • Got a similar setup...but since my TV is right next to my stereo, I picked up an old ATI video card with a TV-Out now I've got mouse sitting on my coffee table, I hit the line-in button on my VCR remote, and I see the display on my TV. Change the input channel on the amp, and now I've got an mp3 player that I can control with a mouse and display on the TV. Much better than that little LCD...all the mp3s are sitting in a directory that gets updated twice a day from my workstation and my roommate's.

      Though his girlfriend spent about 10 minutes grilling me on how I could be watching the "TV play music", and wanting an explanation as to why she didn't get that channel on her TV.
    • What? No finger server?

      Another advantage of your approach is that you can always hack in new features. If your recycled computer is old enough, it has composite output. Connect that to your TV set for Karoake!

      Maybe that's also a disadvantage...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah, that's going to look real nice sitting next to my McIntosh amp and the B&W CDM speakers.

      "*Cool* hifi, but what's this piece of shit in the corner?"
    • im going to do something similar, except with a TV out for visualizations and divx etc. eventually get a TV tuner and its a tivo. also i am looking for nice remotes so i can customize the commands etc. one of those old gateway destination with the track ball could be pretty cool.
    • ok, I want to sit on my couch, pick up a remote and press, on, random,play and have it start playing from a list of everything in a random order, and allow me to skip a song.

      Oh and have no computer in my living room (or something that looks like it.

      That's why I have several audiotrons and 1 dedicated mp3 server (2 40 gig hdd's on a nice small slackware system.)

      I also can listen to net radio without having to touch a computer.

      when will you add an LCD and IR remote? as almost no-one wants to have to boot a pc to select what music they want to listen to.

      BTW, look up CAJUN on the net... they have a step by step, basically turnkey of what you said but with the remote and lcd.

    • Last year, when I wanted to play music in my computer room, I took an old 486/DX120, installed a SoundBlaster 16 card in it, put an old 3com 3c503 NIC into it, found a cheap 20gb HD, scrounged an old 36X CD player, installed SuSE Linux, and sat it in the corner.

      Fine, you now have a box that has two fans, one HD, and one high-speed CD-ROM to make noise while you're trying to listen to music. Oh, and it probably draws ~100W.

      As someone pointed out (while talking up the SliMP3), the Reciever doesn't even have a heatsink. And, with the exception of the sound coming from your speakers, it's silent.
    • Yeah, and I can cut my hair with a butter knife...

      the question is...

      why would I want to do that?

      The RIO reciever is like 8 inches wide, by 6 inches deep, and 3 inches high...

      W/ a PC, I have a wired keyboard and a monitor to deal with...

      Sometimes, people don't want computers in every room of the house.....
  • This got me interested, without lots of bolding, shouting, and italics. Good references, too.

    I like the concept of the device, although something wireless would be easier for my home setup.


    1. Get a stereo-to-rca conversion cable. (or hack one together from some old headfones and a tv cord)
    2. Connect the RCA cables to your high power, brand name receiver
    3. Open WinAmp/XMMS/MacAmp and play your tunes from that enormous playlist you've got there

    Since both the Rio & the Turtle Beach receivers require your computer to stay *on*, and you need to route cables to them anyway, this is a much cheaper, simpler solution..

    oh... and if you're lazy and want to control your tunes with a remote, then X10 [] is your solution.
  • If this is as good as my SonicBlue Rio Volt then it will definately feature prominently on my Christmas list. Were the links (and the mirrors) not slashdotted I would look at the article and post something more relevant. I know that we had an article a few days ago on the subject, but we should have a poll to find out what the top /. Christmas presents should be.
  • I got my audiotron for less that $200.00

    How is it paying more for an item makes it a poor mans item?

    anyone looking on the net can get an audiotron for cheap. only a fool would pay MSRP from turtlebeach.
    • Eh? Where did you get one for less than $200? Cheapest I can find is around $270 new and a little over $200 on ebay. Please enlighten, xmas is coming quickly.
      • I got mine at best buy. on the shelf for $169.95. they had a full stock of them and I bought 2.

        the only problem I have with the audiotron is a design flaw that causes 1 in 5 units to burn out the display. (voltage overdrive) when you get one, turn it on and leave it on for 10 days. this will force it to fail if it will be a failing unit.)
  • Ok, so since this thing runs a slimmed down version of debian, how hard would it be to hack in support for Ogg Vorbis? My whole music collection is Vorbis, and if this player can do vorbis, I'll order one up right now.
    • So, do you know any of the Vorbis developers? If you do, please let them know that they will never see support in embedded devices like this one (or any Audiotron/Rio/Nomad/iPod/whatever) until they have an integer-only decoder.

      Last I looked, (which really was too long ago for me to be as strident as I was above...) there was no integer-only decoder. The ARM chips that everyone uses for these functions don't have FPUs. For most codecs, that's fine. For Vorbis, it isn't. (Wasn't? Here's hoping.)
      • Isn't it possible to build a kernel with Math coprocessor emulation though? Wouldn't this add an emulated FPU?

        Plus, the Iomega Hip Zip supports Vorbis. Not officially yet, but I know that Iomega has it working.
        • Not with the CPU's we're talking about. The Rio Receiver uses the Cirrus Maverick, which is a 74MHz ARM7 core. The iPod is similar. You just don't have enough horsepower to keep up with decoding a Vorbis stream in realtime if you have to emulate the FPU. If Iomega has Vorbis working, they must have an integer decoder, or a chip with an FPU.

          I'd be happy if Iomega could just make Zip drives work, to be honest.
  • I'd like to point out that you can easily get an old pentium 166 laptop (or better) for about $200. This makes a much better mp3 appliance. A 166 runing Linux plays mp3 without any problem. Connect the line out to your stereo and the sound is decent. The screen and interface is much better than you will find on anything like the Rio. If you have a wireless net, you don't need to run any wires. Plus you get the added benifit of being able to surf the web and check your email from your stereo :).
  • Maybe I missed something in the technical description of the SonicBlue Protocol, but wouldn't it be trivial to pick up an instance of the someone's server through a portscan, then start downloading music through HTTP?

    One could even get organized playlists to help you shop for what you would like to swipe...
    • Nope - you didn't miss anything. If you have access to my LAN, you can send out an SSDP request to get the IP and the port the server is running on. Assuming you are familar with the format of the URLs requested by the Rio receiver, you can simply request those same URLs using any web broswer - and yes, it does work.

      You bring up a good point....if you're going to use one of these things, you better make sure it's behind a firewall.

  • The internals of this box on both the hardware and software side are slightly different then the base platform in the Rio-Car, aka empeg-car. The same people built this device, and are prepairing to release a pretty hefty update for it. It's also very hackable, as was somewhat talked about in the article. In no way should this be seen as a poormans WinCE running Audiotron. More info can be found on the RioReciever BBS [].

    Ahh, here we are, the prototype [] player.

  • It's called shielded stereo cable, and it runs from my PCs soundcard, to the hi-fi system's amplifier.

    Really, folks, what's the point of this box, except that it's cool to have something shiny with debian in it? I mean, who gives a fuck when you just don't need it. The calbe costs me 5 bucks, preassembled 10-meter, 3.5 mm stereo plug to RCA. It's actually cheaper than a CAT 5 cable of the same lenght!!! And the PC has a much better "interface" to control my playing list, than this tiny little box.

    If you have money to spend on little amenities, that's OK, but this is simply nonsensical.
  • Now, that I _would_ buy.....
  • Just in case anyone is looking to play MP3's in a car, The Phatnoise Phatbox [] is now shipping. Check and see if your headunit is currently compatible. I'm going to pick one up as soon as I can scrounge the cash. I beleive the software is not currenly linux compatible but the the actual unit does run Linux.
    • Forget the Phatnoise...go for the RioCar [].

      When I first heard of the Phatnoise, I couldn't wait for it to come out. But I did. I waited, and waited, and waited. I have a very popular Pioneer headunit, but they still don't support it, and probably won't for a while. Also, I realized that due to CD Changer limitations, I would only be able to create 99 playlists. That seems like a lot, but I have more than 99 CDs. Furthermore, my headunit doesn't do the best text scrolling, so I wouldn't be able to have the full ID3 tag info.

      With the RioCar, however, I can see Artist, Album, song title...even year. Plus the menu interface COMPLETELY blows away the Phatnoise box. And now that the RioCar has been discontinued, the price for the 10GB dropped to $699. That's cheaper than the Phatnoise. Oh, and don't think that since it's discontinued that you shouldn't buy it. There's a huge underground community [] that is continuing software development.

      Anyways, you should definitely check it out before deciding on the Phatbox.

      And just to help make up your mind, I highly recommend checking out the demo movie here [].

      • The riocar is a really nice product but I want something that is compatible with my BMW headunit so the phatbox is the solution for me. If I was willing to replace my headunit, I would prefer the riocar over the phatbox. I think phatnoise realizes this and that is why they are initially targeting audi and bmw owners.
  • A valuable addition would be playlists refering other streaming mp3 servers on the Internet (shoutcast/icecast). Maybe this could be done
    by hacking the server software?

A commune is where people join together to share their lack of wealth. -- R. Stallman