Sounds from home, internet music and radio

Nowadays, very few of us "spin a disc" or "chuck a cassette" in the tape deck. The music industry has been revolutionised, with the maturing of the internet and the development of digitised encoding.

Digitised encoding enables songs to be re-encoded on a PC or Mac into a file format so that they can be played on an ever-increasing number of devices. One of the earlier and more common formats was an MP3; today these can be bought online and downloaded directly to be played on car entertainment systems, TVs, mobile phones and media players.

Radio and internet radio

Accessing music and radio today can be a bit confusing, further complicated by living in a foreign country. There are radio stations available as a supplement to Satellite TV so if you have a dish tuned in to, say, the UK Satellite Astra 2, it’s possible to get UK radio over the same system. Other national radio stations can also be obtained through satellite.

The ease of broadcasting over the net has given rise to millions of online radio stations around the world, with a number of advantages over traditional “over-the-air” stations including the “listen again” option and podcasts.

Still, there are a few caveats to be aware of: some broadcasters only have rights to copyrighted material within a geographical region and will block certain content to meet these copyright conditions. For example, the transmission of BBC Radio 4 was restricted during the 2012 Olympic Games, affecting not just news and sports, but general programmes as well.

You may want to consider purchasing an internet radio, which you can tune into the vast array of stations globally plus most of these can also act as media players on your network. The media player functionality would allow you to play the music you have stored locally on your network. This can be done with a standard PC or Mac, but the best option is to have a dedicated streaming device in the form of a NAS (Network Attached Storage), which stores your music and makes it available across your network.

There are a number of reputable brands of internet radio with varying functionalities: Revo (pictured), Pure, and Logitech all have similar feature sets but you need to compare to make sure they support what is important to you.

The alternative is to sign up with the new streaming sites and have access to millions of songs for a monthly fee so no local storage is needed.

Revo RadioGood network connectivity in every room is needed to have online radio throughout the home.
Photo: Revo

Music: downloading and streaming

There are many websites that provide access to online music, by purchase and download, live streaming, stream-on-demand, or just recommendations to a community, although availability can change from country to country.

iTunes of course was the first on the scene and their model was simple: buy music online at a competitive price, and download it to a media player, likely an iPod. Apple provided easily manageable content to play on their iPods and other devices but content was protected by DRM (Digital Rights Management) which limited the number of devices the music could be played on. This was a move to protect the revenue streams of the artists and Apple, but if the device that downloaded the content was lost or broken, there was a risk of music purchases going AWOL along with it. These limitations have since been relaxed and now DRM allows for copies to multiple devices.

Competitors for the online market, like Amazon MP3 and Google Play, started with the services portal and added the device: Kindle.

Today though there is a whole new way to get access to your favourite songs and that is to pay a monthly fee to be able to stream content on a regular basis. For a more extensive list of music online stores, see http://goo.gl/Zh9qg

There are websites that allow listening access to libraries of music for “free” or by a paid-for subscription. The French site Deezer, Spotify, Grooveshark and Pandora are a few examples but there are many others. Free accounts are limited as the artist has to be paid either by advertising or subscription.

This is a relatively new concept and reports from the music press indicate that not all musicians are entirely satisfied as to how much their work earns.

The paid-for accounts offer exceptionally good value to the consumer – in some cases making available over 20 million songs.

A few of these services, due to licensing issues, now restrict their services to a specific geographical region. For example, Pandora and Heart Radio are not available outside the US; Grooveshark is not available in Denmark and Germany.

Thanks to the internet, we no longer have to stay tuned to a particular radio station to hear our favourite tune, nor do we have to purchase a whole album just for one particular track. The problem isn't a lack of choice but rather too much.

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