View Full Version : Are you desperately trying to sync? Maybe this will help :)

2005-06-15, 07:14
Hi all,

Just wanted to throw a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel for those seeking sync, especially for the X Tiger users. :)

I manage an AppleCentre in Sydney, Australia, and I initally found SlimServer and the Squeezeboxes while trying to find a sync'd music solution for these strange, cylindrical network music players we'd just got in. After discovering - they didnt - and the mass of disgust for them and all fingers pointing to this open source (!), free solution called SlimServer, I had to have a look. After lots of trial and error, process of elimination, very patient staff and customers (thanks guys!!) we have a flawless, sync'd, rock solid music experience.

We have our G5 tower (have had a SP 1.8 G5, as of two weeks ago a DP 2.0 G5), which runs SlimServer 6.1 nightly and Softsqueeze 2.0b8 running a set of demo speakers. Connected by boring old CAT5 100mbps LAN, thru 2 switches, patch cable couplers, and surrounded by EFI (hehehe), we have our iMac G5 20" running SS 2.0b8 powering a second speaker set, our iMac 17" running a third set, eMac our fourth set, and iBook 12" our fifth set.

After countless outburts of swearing and total exasperation, here is what may or may not work for you, regarless of platform, but sure as hell worked for me:

If WiFi - 802.11g for all devices is fine, as long as you don't WDS. We had 2 base stations, WDS'd together... does not work well for this application. The drop in bandwidth not so much an issue, but the transmission delays from the half-duplex nature of WDS caused a whole heap of headaches. I guess the packets that say "ok thanks, buffer at 70%" and "on your marks, get set GO!" are quite small, and easily queue-jumped out of the way when music was pouring through the WLAN. If WiFi is your deal... use one base station or use ethernet cable. :) For the multicast rate, always ended up back at 1 for greatest stability and responsiveness.

Use a long lease time if using DHCP or use Static IP's. One of many screaming points was music was good, sync was good, and then stop! for no apparent reason. I'm using static because I'm too lazy to change them back :)

Obviously if SoftSqueeze driven, you gotta run Tiger - Install the Java 1.5 release 1 update!!! Download it from Apple, install, open the Java 1.5 preferences app, tell it to use J2SE 5 as default for everything, save, and repair permissions (cos at time of writing, it buggers out every time you make a change). If your not using Tiger, you wont get sync. No Java 1.5 (J2SE 5) - no sync. You can however use the HTTP interface on 10.3.9 - more in a bit.

Install Softsqueeze 2.0b8+ locally - no Java WebStart. Can't rely on Java 1.5 on Tiger that much as of yet. Less load on everything, the better.

Use the latest version of SlimServer you can. I'm using 6.1 (sorry, not at work so can't remember version, but downloaded latest on Sunday). If something is terribly broken, just got back a few builds until you're good.

If you're first song being sync'd is critical, play a non-sync'd song on each player before creating/joining a sync group. Skip forward a few times, let it settle. Most importantly, before joining one player with another - STOP THE STREAM! :) :) This was the most important thing I learnt. Join the player(s) while stopped, either via HTTP or the remote controls, then start a song... 9 times out of 10, it'll be perfect. For me, only very occasionally will the first song after initial boot will be out of sync... has been two weeks at least.

Initially, skipping backwards seems to throw the toys out of the cot big time. Use the HTTP inteface and click the song, rather than the back-skip button. Not an issue any more. To restart the current song, just press Play while playing.

Initially, when skipping forward songs, wait 3 or 4 seconds between each skip. Used to occasionally cause a bit of the last song to continue playing and would lose sync... no longer a problem.

If you're using WiFi, and your network traffic is moderate/bitrates high... the HTTP interface will almost guarantee to make your music sync all wonky. Use the remote control on the SSqueeze to control the music. (No WDS!! :) ) The player ready messages, player start messages etc seemed to get delayed causing wonky sync. If your network connectivity is good between your SlimServer and players as well as browser and SlimServer- your HTTP interface should be snappy as.

I don't have a bitrate limit on any of the players, because I hate the gap it caused between each song, but I do have LAME installed, and I've set the quality for each player at 3. It sounds crystal clear, doesn't even touch the sides of the DP G5, and means AAC's play.

Make sure you're running the latest OS X and QuickTime. Currently, we're on 10.4.1, with QT 7.0.1. Make sure you've got plenty of RAM free, and have hard-disks set to not spin down. (If the drive was spun down, and a prog caused it to spin up, it made the music stutter for a split second on that player. May or may not be relevant, but remember, it works for me!)

For the ultimate in responsiveness when controlling via HTTP on OS X 10.3.9, use Firefox. Safari (or perhaps browser Java) was terribly latent. 10.4 doesn't seem to suffer the same. Start with the Light theme... no clever coding to possibly cause button-clicking (play, skip etc) to get tangled on the way to the SlimServer unnecessarily. We're using any of the pick of themes now without any major issues (on 10.3.9 and 10.4.1). The heavier Javascript pages can be intermittently laggy on 10.3.9 and require regular manual browser refreshes.

While troubleshooting, keep you're browser cache clean, and REGULARLY manually refresh, especially after any player config changes. However, doing that after a volume adjustment or track skip may cause the action to repeat... The SServer should refresh the page itself.

If the players continually get messed up, reset each SoftSqueeze config, change the ficiticious MAC address of each player, quit each of the players, "forget" each player on the server, stop/start SlimServer/reboot server, start the SoftSqueezes up again, and start again. I don't know how many times I spent far too long trying to figure something out, when doing this fixed it straight away.

If the music refuses to start playing, you've got a player in the sync'd group that's not responding "I'm at 70% buffer, ready when you are!" to the SlimServer. The server waits for all the players in it's group to say this before it waves the flag, and if one doesn't respond, you'll wait forever. Quit and reopen each player, and you'll spot the sleepy one. If you know which player it is and it's been quit for whatever reason and just want the music to start, open the player settings via HTTP and remove it from the sync group. Music should start immediately, otherwise skip forward a song.

It seems like a lot, but these few tips have got us to a point where we have a central music server, adopting the iTunes library of the "Staff" user on the G5 tower, running SoftSqueeze under the "Demo" user which powers the SoundSticks II, an iMac G5 20" powering Altec Lansings, iMac G5 17" powering Creature Speakers, an eMac powering JBL Duets/PABX hold music, and iBook 12" powering another set of Altec L's. All remote controls on the SSqueeze's have been disabled (to stop pimply teenagers from deafening the rest of us hehehe), with all control done via HTTP from any of the demo or Point of Sale machines on the network. Without a word of a lie, it is rock solid, never loses sync, never skips a beat. And in a store the size of approx. 110 square metres, boasting 10 speakers and four subwoofers, the music experience is absolutely to die for... whatever taste in music you have. Before doors open and the moment doors close, the volume goes 2 thirds of capacity and can be heard from the carpark.

It's a fantastic demo of technology and hardware and a priceless sales tool. Now when we demo speakers for a customer, and they see us control the whole store and rather volumous output via a web browser, or PDA, or Salling Clicker on my mobile... our sales, across the board, soar. When not demo'ing and just have store music playing, we have 50% more foot traffic than with only a single set of speakers playing. I prove this regularly to the staff (and to our sister store, with it's quadruple staffing and floor space, who's sales we've beaten every day for the past two weeks!) by shutting the music down. The proof is in the pudding!

Thank you Slim Devices. Thank you Softsqueeze. Thank you this forum. Thank you everyone for your discussions about your experiences. This goes in the top 5 most-ingenious-computer-thing at a close winner.

AppleCentre Manager, Sydney, Australia.

PS - the cylindrical network music players were sent back to the distributor due to lack of interoperability across OS platforms, closed-source attitude, and lack of sync functionality. (grin) I'm dying to sell the SqueezeBox's and will push them like you wouldn't believe when I get the chance to order some in.