Sunday, June 27, 2010

Subsonic and iSub

- After the implosion of Simplify Media (google bought them out) I was looking for a good audio streaming solution for my iPhone. I did NOT want to have to use Orb except as a last resort. Luckily I found subsonic which is an open source project.
- Subsonic is the open source server piece which lets you stream your audio to any computer through it’s very nice and clean web interface (much faster than orb’s). It also supports several mobile phone clients for iPhone and android. For iPhone there are 2 options: z-subsonic and iSub. I chose iSub.
- The licensing is kind of odd in that it requires a "donation" to use it beyond 30 days with the mobile clients. It's always free forever if you just want to use the web interface for playback. I have issues with using the word donation. I don't mind paying the $15 or so license fee but please don't call it a donation if it is required.

Subsonic (server side)
- Installation is a snap, indexing music is super fast, service is lite weight and uses very little resources.
- Artist view really is just a folder director structure view. I'm not sure why they call it artist since it's not dependent on id3 tag information. Actually, I prefer browsing by folders.
- First thing after you install you might need to change the port from double clicking the tray icon. I had a conflict so I moved it some unused port. After that you fire up the browser interface where you can manage all your settings.
- Go into Network settings and here you can create an easy to use sub domain for to get to your server over the internet. It's one nice feature you get with your donation. I don't use it since I already have my own domain and use Also, I chose to manually setup my port forward.
- One of the cool features of subsonic is transcoding. Not only is it good for transconding wav, flac, wma, etc to mp3 on the fly but you can also use it to down sample existing mp3's to a lower bitrate. This is great when you are streaming to your iphone and you want to restrict the amount of precious upstream bandwidth it uses. You can restrict bitrates on a player or user basis (so say on a browser you want a higher bitrate but on your iphone you want a lower bitrate). I just kept it simple and did it by user. I restricted max bitrate to 128kbps which I think is a good compromise of quality vs bandwidth.
- Next, you'll want to setup your music folders. Add as many as you want and each path will show up as a subdirectory off of root.
- There are a ton of other options to explorer. It even has a built in podcatcher but ummm yeah I use rcFeedMe for that. Status gives you a nice graph of who is streaming what and at what bitrate. About has a detailed log useful for troubleshooting.

iSub (iphone client)
- iSub is $5.
- Artist (folder) view is super fast for updating and browsing. Album/song view takes longer since the meta data has to be downloaded initially. I usually just stick to artist view since I have all my music nicely organized into a clean directory structure.
- Seems to handle 25,000+ files without issue.
- Buffering works really well already with quick music start up, scrubbing, and very little drops/stops. There is even a handy buffer status screen which shows you how full the buffer is currently. Note: the now playing info screen shows the bitrate of the mp3 file NOT the current rate it is streaming at. To check that look at the status screen in subsonic through a web browser.
- You can create on the fly playlists or pull the ones created on the server side in subsonic.
- The standard repeat/shuffle options are there.
- Music nicely resumes exactly where you left off if you were interrupted or switch to another app during playback. Background playback is already implemented but that version hasn't been released yet.
- There is an occasional crash bug here and there but it happens so infrequently it really doesn't bother me. The next version is almost a complete rewrite so it should be even better.
- Album art works nicely (either as a separate image file or embedded into the id3 tag).
- One great thing is how well supported and responsive the developer is. He is even implementing one of my features requests: bookmarks. I have missed bookmarks ever since I stopped using rockbox on my sansa e280. Bookmarks should allow me to save my place in different files if I happen to be listening to a podcast or audio book on my commute and then music while at work.
- The developer monitors this thread pretty closely:

Hands down subsonic + iSub is the most feature rich, flexible, open, robust music streaming system yet. Highly recommended!!!!!


Anonymous said...

I own both iSub and Z-Subsonic. They both have there strengths (iSub handles albums and album art much better). Streaming can be a major pain, but not with iSub. I have taken my iPad all over downtown Boston and all along the coast - Rock Solid Reception!

My only issue with the review is calling connecting to Subsonic "a snap". Maybe for you. I would strongly suggest that before anyone bought iSub or Z-Subsonic, they first CONNECT TO SUBSONIC.

Subsonic is crazy fast. I have a very large library and Subsonic compiled it in seconds (yes, seconds!). Remember waiting and waiting for Simplify to compile its library. Not with Subsonic.

I love the idea of taking my iPad and having my digital media ready to stream. I have StreamToMe and AirVideo for video and iSub and Z-Subsonic for my audio.

iSub - Just another way to insure that the AT&T all-you-can-eat connection fee for the iPad is well used!

Arrogance said...

I've been using Subsonic to stream music to myself in web browsers when I was on trips for two years, and when I decided to get a smartphone, the Android Subsonic app was the deciding factor a year ago. It's great that both the iPhone and Android crowd are now able to take all of their music with them anywhere they go.