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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Interfacing to the LX Reproducing Piano

I have been promising to write an article on a digital audio file serving system that can be built for very little money and that produces excellent quality audio. I have gotten sidetracked because a simplified version of the same system makes an excellent interface for the LX piano. It can also work for the Yamaha Disklavier, Pianodisc and Pianomation systems.

All of these pianos can be operated with specially coded audio files by connecting an audio source to their appropriate inputs. Each system has its own requirements, some accept audio from an MP3 file while others use decoding systems that do not work well with MP3.

Fortunately, the LX piano works perfectly with MP3 files. Although the system to be described here works with WAV and FLAC, MP3 is the most convenient for those who like to perfect the metadata displayed in libraries and playlists.

Previously I used Itunes and an Airport Express to send data to the LX piano. This worked fairly well but there were problems. My intermediate method switched to WinAmp and finally to Media Monkey still using the Airport but the new method does not require an Airport and its associated problems.

The new system allows the piano to be controlled from any computer in the house (or on the internet for that matter) as well as from an Ipod, Iphone, or I pad. The key to the system is a small dedicated computer connected to the piano with an audio cable and a few very reasonably priced and free programs.

The computer can be almost anything. It can be a notebook, a small form factor computer or just about any old piece of junk that you can hide somewhere. It is even possible to set it up without a monitor or mouse. The computer can even be configured to boot to the necessary programs without having to see anything on a monitor. It is necessary to have a small keyboard hidden somewhere as the computer will not boot without one. Some computer bios will allow you to boot in spite of a keyboard error so it may be possible to eliminate even the keyboard. If you have room for them you might as well have a small monitor and keyboard for maximum flexibility. Just want to cover the various options.

The key to the system is a media playing program called "Media Monkey". It costs less than $50 and is by far the best program of its kind. There are many plugins and extensions that allow you to do amazing things with it. One of them is an Iphone/Ipod application that lets you control the program remotely. I do not have an Ipod but borrowed one and tested the app. It works!!! IN the future, I will blog about some of my favorites plugins for "Media Monkey". Some day, I might even keep my promise to explain how to use MM as the basis for an excellent digital audio file server.

"Media Monkey" can be used to rip original LX cds to MP3 files which are added to the library. MM can also play files from shared network locations including a shared network drive. When ripping files from LX, and other piano CDs,no metadata is imported as it would be with audio CDs. This is because the data is not available on the internet sources such as FreeDBD. You have to add the data to the MP3 files yourself. I have written a utility that makes this easy to do from a tab delimited text file. It is available from the LX tools page of my web site. I have a ready made listings for all of the CDs available from "Live Performance" which are also available from the LX tools page of my web site.

In order to lay the piano from any other computer in the house or the world, you can set up a remote desktop connection between the dedicated computer and any other one. This is why you do not even need a monitor on the piano's computer. The computer can set up to boot to the remote desktop application with "Media Monkey" also running. Then you view it from any remotely connected computer.

A remote desktop configuration would be very complicated and unreliable using Microsoft's "remote desktop". In addition, you need to buy a professional version of Windows just to use remote desktop. "Remote Assistance" can be used but it is a royal pain to set up and use. Fortunately, there is a program that is free for personal use. "Team Viewer" is very easy to set up, is well documented and works flawlessly. No need to worry about firewalls, proxies, encryption, security etc., "Team Viewer" handles it all. It does depend on an internet connection for each computer in the shared configuration so you may want to set up the dedicated computer to run on its own if you have frequent internet outages.

"Team Viewer" is also available as an Iphone/Ipod app in case you prefer this to the "Media Monkey" Iphone/Ipod app. It is also available for the Mac so you can "run" "Media Monkey" on the Mac but you do need a PC connected to the piano to actually run the program. Many people are hoping for a Mac version of "Media Monkey" but it might not happen since most Mac users "like" Itunes for some reason.

Please contact me via blog comments or through the e-mail link on my web site if you think I should write a complete document on how to set up this system. My web site is linked on this blog but here it is link for the LX tools page. and the LX Music page