Tech Rap: Streaming Presets
With more folks staying at home due to the coronavirus, we at Como Audio thought you would appreciate an article detailing one of the features you might wish to explore now that you have more time to spend with your music system. More time at home means more music.
Thanks to a free software update, all of our models are now certified to support the free version of Spotify Connect. Our customers were always able to stream the free version to our models via Bluetooth, but now free Spotify is compatible with the integrated Spotify Connect feature in our models. This means you will be able to see album art and metadata on your Como Audio model’s display which you would not when streaming free Spotify via Bluetooth. The free version includes adverts and offers fewer playback options than the premium service, like limited track skips and not being able to play any song you want, but those are the compromises for getting the service for free. Of course, all of our models continue to support the premium (paid) version of Spotify. If you are not currently a Spotify user and do not plan to become one, I would still encourage you to continue reading to learn about newly added coronavirus news sources as well as the “Buffer Zone” paragraph for some important tips on how to optimize your network reception to get the best performance from your audio system.
Saving Spotify to a Preset
You might know all of that already, but you might not know you can save your favorite Spotify playlist to one of your Como Audio music system’s preset keys in addition to Internet and FM stations, and input sources like Bluetooth and Auxiliary. Just play the Spotify playlist through your music system and press and hold the desired preset key until you see the message on the display confirming it was saved. From then on you can press that preset (even when the unit is in standby) and listen to that playlist. At any point while the music is playing you can repeatedly press the “i” (information) key on the Como Audio remote control to see any available meta data. If you have multiple Como Audio systems grouped, you can play the playlist simultaneously on all of the grouped units to enjoy it throughout your home. There is one important caveat to this preset feature: If the playlist is too lengthy, it cannot be saved. Spotify does not define what “too lengthy” is, but if you press and hold a preset button to save a Spotify playlist and nothing happens, that is confirmation the playlist is too long and you should choose a shorter list.
Additionally, you can save a podcast from Spotify (or podcasts from the Internet radio menu on your Como Audio system) to a preset key. However, the podcast episode cannot automatically update when a new episode becomes available.
Speaking of podcasts, Spotify has coronavirus-related podcasts by CNN, BBC, ABC News, and NPR. Spotify even has coronavirus-inspired Playlists to help keep you entertained while you are stuck at home, featuring appropriately named songs such as Don’t Stand So Close To Me by The Police. As an aside, our Internet station aggregator recently added a new podcast category to our models specifically for the coronavirus to make it easier to get information on the pandemic. The category will show automatically in countries that have confirmed cases. To access these podcasts on your Como Audio system: Station list > Podcasts> COVID-19.
It is also worth pointing out when in Spotify Connect mode, be it the free or paid version, our models take the music, artwork, and meta data directly from Spotify’s servers, not from the Spotify app. This allows you to have your smartphone elsewhere or even switched off and still have the music play, conserving your phone’s battery power. Even without your phone you can execute basic control during Spotify playback using the remote for Track Back/Forward, Play/Pause, Volume/Mute, and even Shuffle and Repeat.
Occasionally, customers run into issues with Spotify, such as the Spotify app being unable to find their Como Audio system. We are not exactly sure why this happens, but since it is random (not happening to all users simultaneously), it is likely linked to the user’s Wi-Fi network. In such cases we suggest you reboot your router/modem, restart your smartphone, and reboot your Como Audio model (System settings > System reboot). Failing that, deleting and uninstalling the Spotify app and reinstalling it should resolve the issue and is what is recommended by Spotify.
Another issue users’ sometimes experience is buffering or other playback anomalies during Spotify and other premium music service playback (Amazon Music, Tidal, etc.). This can also occur when playing high-quality Internet radio stations. Spotify (and the other premium services) streams at very high quality (320 kbps for Spotify) and monopolizes a large amount of bandwidth from your Wi-Fi network. If you have multiple Como Audio units grouped together, grouping requires even more bandwidth, thus taxing your network further, increasing buffering. If you delete the group, unplug all units except for one, and experience little or no buffering, this further confirms there is a network bandwidth problem. Often a simple router/modem reboot (unplug for ten seconds then plug back in) and System reboot (in the System settings menu) of your Como Audio system quickly resolves the issue. If you use a dual band router you could connect your unit to whichever band it is not using. For example, if it is currently connected to your router’s 5G band, try connecting it to the 2.4GHz band. The lesser-used band just might provide them with the extra bandwidth they need. If you use the Como Control app, be sure to also switch your smartphone over to the same band so the app will “see” your Como Audio system(s). Locating your router closer to your Como Audio host unit, or vice versa, should also help. Using my laptop as an example, if I am on my living room sofa with my laptop, my network download speed clocks in at 242.8 Mbps and my upload speed is 425.1 Mbps. Yet if I move my laptop to the dining room table which has a large, solid wooden post between it and the router, my download speed drops by more than half to 91.4 Mbps while the upload speed sinks to 49.6. Jitter is a more practical measurement of your Wi-Fi network’s capability. If your network’s Jitter measures above 15-20ms, your network could be congested (too many devices connected), causing your streaming issues. You should also be sure your software is up to date on all of your Como Audio models by going into the System settings menu> Software update > Check now. This is important because the updates sometimes include improvements by Spotify. One effective experiment to try: If you have multiple Como Audio models grouped, unplug all but one. If the lone unit operates mostly fine, this is a sign your network cannot handle group streaming. If you own a Musica, connect it using an Ethernet cable via its rear port from your router for a more reliable signal. Once connected, remember to go into the System settings menu and change the setting from Wireless to Wired: System settings > Network > Manual settings. A reminder that this method is only available with Musica.
If you continue to experience buffering issues after trying all of these tips, observe the Wi-Fi signal in the lower right corner of your Como Audio system’s display. If you see only one or two “bars”, that is weak. As a last resort, contact your Internet provider and investigate the cost to upgrade your router and/or service. Outdated hardware or an inadequate network plan can play a major role in network performance. I should also like to point out that with more and more people working from home in unprecedented numbers due to the coronavirus, this has put a serious strain on some providers’ networks.
If I may be allowed to stray slightly off topic just for a moment, I am often asked why these issues arise when they are not experienced while using other devices like smartphones or computers that are connected to the same network. First off, smartphones and computers employ multiple internal Wi-Fi antennas, whereas most products like ours do not. Secondly, those devices cannot be grouped together like ours can, and as I remarked earlier, grouping increases the stress on a network. Finally, the Wi-Fi antenna in our models is embedded in a module that includes other competing wireless receivers, all housed inside a beautiful but thick wood box, which is not the case with a mobile phone or a computer. Under most conditions, Wi-Fi reception with our models is quite good, but a weak network makes reception more challenging. Think of it as shutting down two lanes of a four-lane highway during rush hour in the middle of a snow storm with an accident in one of the open lanes.
For the benefit of those who have never used Spotify, here is a basic primer. Spotify is one of the most popular music streaming services and is the most-used premium streaming service amongst our customers. According to a 2018 Forbes article, Spotify has 170 million users, about half of which are paying subscribers. It is supported in nearly eighty countries. Spotify’s premium version costs $9.99 a month, though students can get it for $4.99 a month. There is also a family plan for $14.99 per month that covers up to six users. Occasionally, Spotify runs promotions allowing new users to enjoy three months of premium for free. Of course, there is also the free version as described earlier in this article.
To join in the fun and start using Spotify Connect with your Como Audio music system, begin by downloading the free Spotify app from the Google Play Store (for Android devices) or the App Store (for iOS devices) to your smartphone, tablet, and/or computer.
Once the music is playing you can control playback (Play/Pause, Track Back/Next) using the Spotify app, the free Como Control app (which also allows Volume control, Shuffle, and Repeat), or the Como Audio remote control included with your unit. It is at this point you can save the playlist to a preset key. You can move about with your smartphone or even completely turn it off, yet still have the music play on your Como Audio system. Note you may need to set the volume level differently for Spotify than the level you use for other sources on your music system. You can have the Spotify app on more than one device, but you can only connect and play to one Spotify compatible device at a time. However, if you own more than one Como Audio model you can group them together in the Como Control app and they will all play Spotify without any latency (audio delay). If the above written guide is a little hard to follow, here is a link to my basic Spotify “how-to” video.
Other Spotify Features
Spotify allows you to share whatever music you are playing with others via social media. If you use Spotify on your desktop, the sidebar will display what your friends are listening to, and you can create a collaborative playlist they can add to. In these times of social distancing, this is a welcomed feature.
(Right image) Pressing the icon circled in red above and then selecting your social media app notifies your friends of what you are listening to. In the screenshot above: #ListeningTo Sunset Blvd. – Nils (City Groove) on #ComoControl
Our Social Media Manager and Spotify subscriber, PJ Vecchiarelli, adds, “Spotify also has a lot of great artist and discovery content. They have vertical videos and exclusive Spotify singles – a lot of my favorite artists have recorded acoustic covers that are available only on the Spotify platform. In terms of discovering music, they have a ton of great playlists and update certain ones to your taste, like “Discover” – that makes it easy to find new music. For a new Spotify user, I would suggest “following” your favorite artists and adding your essential tracks to your library so that Spotify can immediately start to understand your taste and improve their recommendations.”
Our Senior Customer Support Rep, Bryce Dort, also weighed in: “One fun thing I always look forward to is “Spotify Wrapped”, which is a year in review they can send you that shows fun stats, like how many hours of listening and what your favorite artists/genres at different times of the year [were]. Then they make a huge playlist out of all your favorites and some new artists they think you’ll like. Very cool and interesting to see, and you get a custom playlist out of it.”
That said, you do not have to immerse yourself in all the features to enjoy Spotify. I am a perfect example of that because I just want to listen to the music and I really have no need for all the accoutrements. All I do is punch up a smooth jazz playlist and let it play through the Musica on my desk. I subscribe to the premium version mainly because I can do without the commercial interruptions. The sound quality is superb, as is the mix of songs, and I can skip over a song I do not like or easily change to a different playlist at any time.
The More the Merrier
The preset feature is not limited just to Spotify, Internet radio, FM, Bluetooth, Aux and Optical in, and CD (Musica only). If you own the Como Audio Musica, you can save the other integrated premium music services (Amazon Music, Deezer, and Napster) to a preset key as well, provided you are a paying member of those services. The big difference there vs. Spotify is you cannot use the corresponding apps for those services, but instead log in via the interface on the Musica’s display and use the Musica’s remote or the Como Control app to control playback. Like Spotify, these services play at very high quality and require a lot of network bandwidth, so if you encounter buffering or other playback issues, please refer to the earlier “Buffer Zone” paragraph.
As always, should you have any questions about using your Como Audio system as it relates to these services, or anything else for that matter, please drop us a line at email@example.com and we will be glad to help. A big virtual hug to those staying at home to help slow the spread of the pandemic. Until next month, please stay safe and healthy, and enjoy the (Spotify) music.
Next month’s Tech Rap: Recommended CDs
General Manger Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio in 2016 as Vice President of Product Development. In addition to Tech Rap, Peter also writes for his own blog, www.RecommendedStations.com. He can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org