Sit back and listen to the tunes

We have in previous columns ‘fessed up that we are music junkies. We put on music when we get up, drive, start work, stop work, cook . . . pretty much all the time. Thus it is not surprising that when we heard about the Voyetra Turtle Beach Inc.’s AudioTron, we had to get our hands on it.

The AudioTron might be thought of as a music router: it finds and accesses network shares that have MP3, WAV and Windows Media files, retrieves them and outputs their content to your amplifier. While the AudioTron can be controlled from its front panel, it also presents a Web interface.

The AudioTron is a black-finished, 19-inch, rack-compatible unit with a large front-panel display, a rotary selector and a number of buttons. There’s also an infrared remote control included.

Setup is simple: plug in power; connect to Category 5 Ethernet or HomePNA connection; connect audio output to stereo (either via the standard stereo RCA jack output connectors or via the S/PDIF digital output TOSlink FiberOptic connector); and switch it on. You also can have multiple AudioTrons on the same network.

By default, the AudioTron looks for a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server, gets its network configuration settings, then scans the network looking for shares that contain music files, and builds a catalogue to index them.

This can take a while if you are blessed with music as we are (14,483 music files – that takes about 20 minutes to index).

Once the catalogue is complete, the display offers a menu of artist, album and so on, so you can select what you want to hear using the front-panel rotary switch. You can configure the system and control volume, bass and treble boost.

The AudioTron comes with setup software that can test the system and create indexes in each directory where music files are to be shared. These indexes speed up the AudioTron’s startup, as it no longer has to run a complete scan.

The problem is that the setup software doesn’t seem to do a good job of indexing. Fortunately, there’s a pretty enthusiastic and active third-party developer community surrounding the AudioTron. We downloaded a utility called AudioTron TOC Generator, which did a far better job. Scan time dropped to perhaps 10 seconds!

The built-in Web server (GoAhead Software Inc.’s open source GoAhead Embedded WebServer) provides more control over the AudioTron than the front-panel interface and you can set all sorts of parameters, including exactly which shares the AudioTron uses to search for music files.

The output quality is great and we didn’t see any playback problems such as the music stuttering until we heavily loaded the network. Even then, the buffering done by the AudioTron will comfortably handle brief congestion problems without the playback faltering.

Playing music files isn’t all the AudioTron can do. It also can find and play Internet radio station streams.

The AudioTron has two Web content layouts – one for regular Web browsers and a “thin” version for browsers running on PDAs. So we accessed the AudioTron Web interface from the 802.11b-equipped Zaurus we reviewed a couple of weeks ago, and by golly, it worked just fine and looked good too!

An AudioTron can be front-ended by applications that manage the Web interface. A good example of this is Alternatron, which is available for both the Mac and Windows.

Alternatron manages the AudioTron’s interface and downloads all the track data that any AudioTron knows about to find, queue and play tracks very fast. It also can integrate with the CD database to retrieve additional track and album information and can import cover art to be displayed as the album plays. As if that isn’t enough, it can create the table of content which ensures that AudiTron starts fast.

Another front end is JavaTron written (need we say?) in Java that has the benefit of not needing a browser and loading fast.

The AudioTron is quite amazing although a little pricey at US$300. On the other hand, when you get one in your system we think you’ll love it. We award the Turtle Beach AudioTron nine gearteeth out of 10.

Gibbs is a contributing editor at Network World (U.S.). Sound off to him at [email protected].

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