Essentially Brennan - Review of CD Library in a Box
Is this the answer to storage for CDs?
If, like me you have an extensive record collection (I mean CD collection) which has taken decades to collect but mostly now sits on numerous shelves gathering dust year after year, why not re-discover the delights of that music (and memories) of your past. That’s what happened to me when I purchased a Brennan B2.
The Brennan B2 is a way of storing all that music on one nice little box of technology that takes up less space on a shelf than a hard backed book.
Now I know you will be saying, “ but I have an iPod (or iPhone) and iTunes on my computer…” and so do I but this little box is something else. It’s not meant to be carried around with you but it replaces the CD player (and amplifier) that are connect to your home sound system. It’s not just a CD player but also an MP3 player and digital radio all in one neat little box.
You may be asking why I’m so excited about it – well for years my CD collection has been sitting there largely ignored, as has my entire Hi-Fi system and my Bose Acoustimass speakers hanging on the wall asking to be fed sound again. Now I’m discovering excellent sound quality in my home and listening to all those CD I’d pretty much forgotten about.
How does it work?
The B2 has at it’s heart a Raspberry Pi micro-computer and will rip your CD’s to the internal hard drive (comes as 500Mb, 1Tb or 2Tb) as WAV files, and here’s the clever bit – when you’re not using the B2 it silently compresses all the WAV files to FLAC retaining the original CD quality but at the fraction of the space. FLAC stands for ‘free loss-less audio compression’ and works in a similar way to ZIP files. You can of course choose to compress to MP3 files if you prefer, creating even more space on the drive. Using FLAC it is suggested that the 2Tb hard drive will store over 5,000 CD’s. Probably in hind sight I should have plumped for the 1Tb drive which would have been more than adequate enough to hold my present music collection, although there is only a 40GBP difference in the price between the 1Tb and 2Tb drive.
When you have ripped your CD’s to the hard drive you can then play back using either the player itself and control it with the remote supplied or you can control it using the Google Chrome web browser by typing the IP address into the browser on your PC, tablet or iPad or iPhone. Using the Wi-Fi dongle you can also play music from your computer or tablet back through the B2. There are also hundreds of world-wide radio stations available, as well as local stations such as BBC radio which are already programmed in.
There is a neat CD database built in so prior to ripping a disk the B2 will find the correct track details for your CD. Using the web browser interface you can change the disc details at a later date if you prefer.
A few places for improvement
One failing here is that, if you are ripping a music compilation disc it only provides you with the disc name (e.g. Now, That’s What I Call Music) and track name (e.g. Different Corner) and not the associated artist’s names (e.g. George Michael) as it just logs them all as ‘Various’ so here you have to spend some considerable time typing those details in if you want to log the artist’s name along with the track title.
On the plus side, Martin Brennan is constantly updating the software and adding new features so this may come eventually as will the possibility of ripping DVD’s – there is an HDMI connector on the back but at present it’s not operational.
There is also an optional Bluetooth dongle available (for an extra £10) which will allow you to send the music to a pair of Bluetooth speakers or a TV sound bar. It’s a two way street so you can also stream music from a Bluetooth device such as a smartphone to the B2.
Another failing is that there is no OFF button on the box, so it remains constantly in Standby mode until you unplug the box from the mains supply. For the price (and it is a fairly hefty price tag, I paid 529GBP for the 2Tb drive version plus another 10GBP for the Bluetooth dongle) I would have expected a small Power button to be attached somewhere.
The suggested ‘in-line’ power switch obtainable from Amazon (yet another 10GBP) is apparently no longer available.
Sound connections are available on the rear of the unit and consist of a combined Optical digital and 3.5mm jack output to feed an existing hi-fi amplifier. An analogue input to record from a vinyl or tape source. There is also a built in amplifier which can power a couple of speakers attached via the ‘banana jack’ sockets.
Also on the rear of the unit are 3 USB ports – Port 1 for the Wi-Fi dongle and Port 3 for the Bluetooth dongle. Don’t do what I did and plug anything into USB Port 2, if you go for the option with a hard drive installed the drive becomes inactive, the instructions are not very clear on this.
The navigation for the B2 functionality is via a knob on the front which you turn to find the menu you want and then a push takes you to a sub menu and so on. It’s a wee bit fiddly and takes a bit of getting used to.
Transferring music from my iTunes didn’t take as long as I thought it would however I found that many of the tracks I’d purchased from iTunes didn’t transfer over and this was because of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) inherent with Apple iTunes purchased music. So, some of my most recent and cherished music purchases remain exclusively on the iTunes player which is mightily disappointing. I’ve tried various DRM removal programs but save your money, and don’t bother, as they don’t work. This is not pirating music, it’s simply because I wish to play my music on a different medium and DRM won’t allow me to do this, so I will not be buying any more music tracks from iTunes as a result.
Having ripped all my CD’s I can now play an album or create specific playlists of favourite music for special occasions. I can randomly play any tracks from my entire collection or access hundreds of radio stations or stream music from my smartphone to the B2.
In conclusion, I’m excited and disappointed at the same time – excited because it’s brought fresh life to CD’s I’d long since forgotten. It uses my existing hi-fi system which I paid a lot of money for and give it a new life. It keeps all my music in one place, which I will backup to another external drive to safeguard the hours I’ve just spent ripping all my CD’s.
Martin Brennan is adding new exciting features so it’s evolving all the time. Martin is very receptive and will listen and take on-board any suggestion for improvements and will directly answer any problems or questions you might have.
Disappointed because, for the hefty price tag I’d, at least, expect a ‘Power’ button to be installed rather than having to keep removing the mains plug from it’s socket. Some more detailed user instructions to get me started would have saved a lot of time searching for the information, such as not using the USB 2 port. Disappointed in that I can’t move all my iTunes music to the B2, but that’s not a fault with the B2 but an Apple restriction.
Martin Brennan is an innovator like James Dyson or Trevor Baylis, he is enthusiastic and motivated to constantly improve his product – and what’s more both he and his B2 is British!
For more information : www.brennan.co.uk