Kitchen Music

I guess most people know what Garage Music is, but I reckon I just invented a new category: Kitchen Music. Though the definition is somewhat woolly and vague. Basically, its music that my wife wants to listen to when she's in the kitchen. You could say that it's a user-defined category.

Some time ago I replaced our failed Soundbridge Internet Radio with a Roberts 83i box. It's a neat bit of kit, and is proving reliable (touch wood) and works really well with many Internet radio stations. Though I have to say that there are several stations we'd like to listen to that it can't seem to receive - Planet Rock being a typical example. Unlike the Soundbridge, you can't just enter the URI of a stream. Instead, it uses a pre-defined station list maintained and accessed over the web.

However, it's neat that, after you tune to a station, it carries on receiving that station when you turn it off and back on - just like you'd expect from an ordinary trannie radio. Or you can simply turn it on and hit one of the five preset buttons to tune to another station.

I should probably explain for younger readers that "trannie" means "transistor radio", a left-over from my younger days when we were amazed that you could have a portable radio instead of one of those big mains-powered wooden boxes full of valves.

The only drawback is that we're struggling to find a station that we can live with for long periods. Increasingly, they all seem to have limited playlists - so that you hear the same music over and over again. Or they are full of adverts and chat, when we just want music. I found one US station that plays great classic rock music, but every afternoon has an hour-long chat section and news/weather from somewhere we don't live. Another that plays good music turns out to be in Albania, and the music is interspersed with adverts and chat in Albanian.

So I decided that the answer is to simply stream music from the multiple GBs of ripped CDs stored on the file server in my garage. I looked at buying a fancy soundbar to go on top of the kitchen units, and a wireless receiver to stream the music to it, but the cost and the apparent complexity put me off. It seems to involve a phone app, several remote control handsets, and - from reading reviews on the web - plenty of fiddling with Wi-Fi and other settings.

Ah, but the Roberts Radio can supposedly do media streaming from any UPnP source. So I set up Media Player on the Windows 7 Hyper-V VM in the server cabinet to read music from the file server, turned on media streaming, and created a few playlists of our favourite music. Then tried to connect from the Roberts radio - but no luck. It found the media server but timed out reading the playlists. However, after a day or so I discovered that it had read them. It seems it does network discovery, and it just takes a while to get comfortable with what it finds.

So now we can get Kitchen Music with no chat, no adverts, and even choose the songs we want to hear. I used the Auto-playlist function in Media Player to set up a few "all rock" and other playlists, some including hundreds of songs, and the Roberts box seems to play them fine. The sound quality is, if not Hi-Fi, quite good as well. You can even set up auto-repeat and auto-shuffle. So it seems like a perfect solution.

However, here's the rub. It forgets what it was doing when you turn it off and back on again. Unless you leave it turned on all the time with the volume at nothing, you have to go through about eight menu options just to start the music playing again. And if you can't be bothered, pressing the Internet Radio presets to get back to a radio station doesn't work either unless you first go through three menu options to get back to Internet Radio mode.

So it looks much like we'll be back to listening to the same limited set of songs, interspersed with adverts and chat in an increasing range of foreign langauges, because the effort of restarting the local music stream is just too annoyingly fiddly. Another example of half-hearted user requirements research as design time? Probably, just like all software, the features you really want are always implemented in the new version that you haven't got...

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