Friday, 31 July 2020

A satisfactory solution to the demise of Google Play Music

For generations before music streaming every record on earth became a thing, there have been music lovers known as collectors. Discerning music lovers who will audition, listen, share, and ultimately 'collect' albums to add to their ever growing library. People who would selectively spend their money on supporting artists they loved, by buying albums instead of paying subscriptions to global corporations who are known to pay a pittance to artists
Collectors total album count are their badge of honour, their knowledge of each artist and history, their passion. In the 1970s Vinyl was the collectors medium of choice. For portability in the early 80's Cassette's become almost as popular (although not for the true audiophiles). Then in the mid 80's the Compact Disc became the long term winner for many millions of collectors and in the late 90's MP3 made it's first appearance. With low bandwidth and small hard disk drive sizes, the best we could realistically hope to convert our collections to would use 128kbps, which didn't cut the mustard for sound quality when compared to a CD. Many turned their backs on the technology then, but some of us persevered and started to enjoy FLAC or MP3's at 320kpbs, which for our ageing ears, is perfectly adequate and on a good piece of kit delightful to listen to. 
The sound quality argument will rage on and many CD adopters, through nostalgia or other reasons have even reverted back to Vinyl. From people close to me, that seems to be the over 50's, but perhaps that's just a coincidence?
For those of us who are happy with the sound quality and convenience of current digital formats, our  collections have become monsters and playing back these files with our HiFi systems, a black art. Keeping it simple, perhaps CD collections have remained the most 'convenient', but having 600 albums in the palm of your hand, wherever you are, is irresistible to geeks like myself. 

Although many Amplifiers now have built in Bluetooth, the limitations are obvious for even the least discerning listener. Bluetooth is ok for portable speakers and perhaps low end headphones, but the compression compared to streaming over WiFi should be obvious, music just lacks cohesiveness and joy when compared to listening over WiFi devices. The Chromecast Audio with it's 320kbps digital output is clearly higher quality than any bluetooth device I've heard. 
For many, many years Google Play music (a free cloud service) coupled with Chromecast devices has been a godsend. But, Google have pulled the rug from under our feet and unless we're now prepared to pay for a YouTube Music subscription, we've been well and truly shafted, in a number of ways;
  • Casting Audio to Chromecast devices is not supported on mobile devices without a subscription to YouTube Music.
  • Quality is limited to 128kbps for non subscribers.
  • The interface is geared towards their library (a mixture of audio and video files for albums) not our music collections. Indeed finding and playing music is downright difficult. 
There's more besides, but there's enough here to make YouTube music a service that needs ditching. This is very disheartening, especially seeing as this is the service that we used, in order to use the devices, that we purchased... from Google! It's arguable that we've been mis-sold these Google devices that are no longer freely supported by Google. 
But, technology has moved on and for a little time and effort, and a new way of thinking, we digital 'collectors' can sate our needs. For years, streaming music from a central library on a Mac or Windows PC using Airplay to an Apple TV has been an option, so you could use that route, but if you've invested in Chromecast audio devices and use an Android phone, the best solution is to bring everything back 'in house'. 
Step one acquire a large capacity, fast micro SD card. The beauty of this happening now is that a 128Gb SD card can be bought for around £20. (linked; the one I bought). 
Step two - transfer your entire music collection to SD card. You can either download your music from Google Play, which can take days, or if you have a local backup, (and you really ought to) then you can transfer that. I have 30Gb which I transferred on to the card in less than 20 minutes. I put it into a folder on the card called 'Music'. 
Step Three - swap out your older low capacity card, if you have a card in your phone, copy the files to the new card, but ensure that there isn't another folder with the same name. You don't want to replace your full 'Music' folder, with an empty one. 
Step Four - put the new card in your phone and find a decent music player that supports streaming. 
HiFi Cast

There are dozens of options for step four, but I have chosen an app called Hi-Fi cast. This fab little app has a very easy to use interface, places no restrictions on music quality playback and spots all of my Chrome devices without any tinkering. Sound quality is exceptional, and it comes highly recommended. The free version has ads, but they're not played in between songs, like Spotify and YouTube music, they're discreet banners on the playback screen. You can remove these adverts and support the developers by buying a one time licence for less than 1 months YouTube Music subscription. It's relatively light on my battery and I thank the developers for their work. 

Currently, I'm in my office typing this listening to Pink Floyd and Aldous Harding. Through my Chromecast TV. Like I might have been using the Google Play App. 

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