PSP + Airtunes + Coverbuddy = Dance Party Software Setup

Not able to afford an additional $2500 investment in remote music server hi-fi equipment I had to make due with music server components I already owned: Airport Express, Mac Mini, Onkyo TX-DS989 AV Receiver and a Rogue Audio Magnum 99 Preamp. With some additional software on my Mac Mini I could remote control the music served to the remote system in my listening room with my Sony PSP.

I bought the Airport Express to serve music to my listening room. I tried this once just to make sure it worked (it did). I never used Airtunes since because of the inconvenience and inability control the song playing. The Airport Express instead served the purpose of wireless extender for my Xbox.

The Goal: My Mac Mini, in the upstairs office, serves the music wirelessly to my Airport Express in the listening room through Airtunes. The Airport Express feeds a digital signal to my Onkyo TX-DS989’s DAC. The Onkyo passes the processed analog signal to my Rogue Audio Magnum 99 Preamp. With PSP in hand, family in toe—hi-fi dance party.

Airtunes Set-up: Setting up Airtunes connectivity between the Mac Mini and my Airport Express in the listening room is as simple as designating a name for the remote speaker location on the Airport Express. iTunes detects the Airtunes remote location and displays a drop down menu with the choice of your remote speakers or computer speakers or both. This set up can be complicated by your wireless network’s security level and multi-brand router compatibility.

A Linksys WRT54G wireless router connects the whole network to the internet. The Mac Mini is in the same armoire in the office so it is connected through ethernet. Running a wireless G only network increases overall network speed. To accommodate the PSP’s B only wireless I had to set a mixed wireless network, slowing everything down. This slow down does not effect the relatively low bandwidth music serving.

Remote Control iTunes Software Set Up: My Mac Mini and the attached 300 GB USB 2.0 hard drive are upstairs in my office. My home theater/hi-fi room is downstairs. The two rooms are connected through my Linksys wi-fi router and the Airport Express downstairs. Unlike a Squeezebox 3, the Airport Express has no included remote or visual feedback of the song playing. I don’t want to run upstairs to the Mac Mini every time I feel like skipping a song, changing albums or playlists.

I remembered that last year Sony PSP fans figured a way to remote control iTunes through the PSP’s web browser. The hack involved setting up Apache on your Mac, enabling PHP, setting up DNS and then sending commands through the Sony PSP web browser’s URL field. I figured someone must have thought of a simpler solution by now.

Coverbuddy is a separate iTunes companion application that lets you control iTunes through a web browser. Coverbuddy has a special browser interface sized for the PSP screen. It lets you select albums and songs through an alphabetical list and play, pause and skip songs. It also will display cover art for whatever song is playing on the PSP Screen.

Coverbuddy does not automatically download album art from the internet. You can manually search for the art of the song playing through an Amazon menu item. My iTunes library contains maybe two or three album covers because of the time and effort it takes to find the art. Coverbuddy only appeals to me for the nice interface with album art next to selectable songs.

Luckily, Coverbuddy suggests Synergy for automatic cover art downloading. Each time a song without art plays Synergy queries Amazon and downloads the art based on the file ID3 tags. Synergy works 90% of the time. I have albums it can’t find (Amazon must not sell them). Worse it will pull down the wrong album art—it keeps downloading Pink Floyd’s Dark SIde of the Moon for Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica.

Coverbuddy is not perfect. It doesn’t automatically import Synergy’s cover downloads (it’s supposed to). Once Synergy downloads art I drag and drop it onto the album in Coverbuddy’s window. Coverbuddy crashed once and randomly lost one or two pieces of cover art after a restart. Its worst offense is getting stuck on a dialog box asking to rebuild its iTunes catalog, locking out your remote web enabled remote until you can click OK.

Once all the software was running I could venture to my listening room, PSP in hand. Before I could seriously listen (and dance with the wife and kid) I had to optimize the Airport Express’s audio output for my hi-fi rig.

Next: rewiring your hi-fi set up for a music server.

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