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Streaming services via DLNA: everything you need to know

Streaming services via DLNA: everything you need to know
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You have an old hi-fi device without support for AirPlay, Chromecast or other modern streaming technologies. Or a set of active speakers with limited support for streaming services. Throw away? Don't, because with a DLNA app on your smartphone you might still be able to play music via a streaming service.

Audio and video streaming via DLNA

With the rise of Chromecast AirPlay 2 Roon and other new streaming options seem like streaming over UPnP / DLNA seems completely out of date. Because yes, you can safely call DLNA the dinosaur under the streaming technologies. It is very old and even the underlying organization (with members such as Intel, LG and Samsung) has been discontinued. DLNA was developed at the beginning of 2000, at a time when playing a media file over the network was still quite challenging. There was then no question of streaming services. You consumed music (or video) in the form of your own files. It is a long time ago, but DLNA or UPnP fits into that spirit of the times.

So it is a technology designed to play a file that was somewhere on your network (for example on a NAS) on another device (an audio device) or television, for example). Determining which specific media file you are playing is done by an app called the controller. Often that function is immediately embedded as a function in the device on which the media would play. Controller and player are then united in one place. This is the case, for example, with televisions or AV receivers. On your TV you navigate to your NAS and choose your media, after which it plays on your TV screen.

Separate controller on your phone

But it doesn't have to be that way either. You can perfectly use a DLNA-compatible player app on your phone to play a file on a NAS on another device, such as wireless speakers. The threefold nature – server, controller, player – may seem incredibly complex today. Compare it with Chromecast, AirPlay or Spotify Connect, three newer streaming techniques that automatically detect speakers and make it very easy to play music elsewhere. With DLNA it is more complicated, because you have to indicate a source and the 'destination' on which the music plays.

But the more complex nature of DNLA does create an opening to abuse the technology so that you can still play music from streaming services. on devices without support for those services. So don't just throw that old, yet good-sounding audio device on the garbage dump because it only supports DLNA and not casting roughly Tidal or Qobuz. Invest a few euros in the right app and it is possible. In this workshop we look at one app for Android devices (BubblePnP) and one app for iPhones / iPads (MConnect) with which you can stream streaming services over DLNA.

This way of streaming over DLNA is not only relevant for old hi-fi devices. There are also new products that may not support your favorite service. For a KEF LS50 Wireless or LSX for example, the apps below can also be useful for playing your music via Qobuz – a service that is not present in the KEF app.

Android: BubblePnP [19659003] BubblePnP is one of the best known media player apps for Android and also one of the oldest. The developer behind the app is very active and regularly adds new functions. That makes this app really a Swiss army knife in terms of media playback. It is also able to cast your own files to Chromecast adapters and Android TV devices for example, which can be useful. It also plays smoothly to Sonos speakers. In addition, it is packed with functions that are quite practical. For example, the app makes it very easy to send videos that were made with your smartphone to a TV or to present photos that are in Google Photos on the big screen. Finally, you can supplement the app on your mobile device with a server app on your computer. This is interesting if you have media in formats that are not compatible with your audio device or TV. The BubbleUPnP server will then transcode it to a form that your player likes.

Streaming …

One of the most interesting functions of BubbleUPnP can be found in the settings, under Local and Cloud. Under this screen you discover a series of services that the app can log into. The first three are immediately intriguing: Qobuz, Tidal and Google Music. Enter your account details and in the main BubbleUPnP screen you will see the name of the chosen service appear. Just tapping on it is enough to end up in the offer of the relevant service. At Qobuz, for example, you will be presented with My Music, with your favorite albums, tracks and more, and of course your purchased music at the French service. A Discover list appears below with the new releases per genre, the most listened artists, award-winning music and playlists compiled by Qobuz. If noses through lists makes you nervous, you can simply tap on the magnifying glass and search. Pretty cool is that you can tap the microphone icon to record a search term. Thanks to Google's speech recognition, chances are that it will be interpreted correctly.

… and the cloud

The same list contains many more services. An unusual – and perhaps not really useful option – is that you can also play media directly from a cloud storage service. Is your music collection not on a NAS but with Dropbox? Then the BubbleUPnP app can stream it directly from the cloud. There is support for Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and Microsoft OneDrive.

Listening to music

How do you play a song or playlist? Simply tap the cast icon in the Now Playing screen or at the bottom of the menu that appears on the left when you tap More at the bottom of the app. A list of compatible players appears, ranging from smart TVs to music devices. Select the desired device and you can enjoy your music. Handy to know: the BubbleUPnP interface looks sober at first glance, but you do have access to many options. For example, you can tap the three dots on the playback screen to discover all kinds of options. For example how the music will be played or to add it to a playlist. But you can also request other albums from the same artist or even view the lyrics (for this you need to install the free musicXmatch app.)

iOS: mConnect Player

Just like with BubbleUPnP you have to invest a few euros to get started with all the functions of mConnect Player. A big investment is not 6.99 euros, especially since you can then install that app on an unlimited number of devices. mConnect has been around for a while and has improved considerably over time. For example, some attention has been paid to the interface, making it also nice on a large iPad Pro screen. Browsing through the offer of a streaming service is therefore a lot more pleasant. A disadvantage though: you can only use it with the tablet in portrait orientation. That is typical for apps developed for smartphones, but you would expect that after all those millions of iPads sold, the developer would have adjusted his app by now. There are alternatives that look better than mConnect Player, such as the handsome Glider app, but they lack the streaming service / cloud functions of mConnect Player.

AirPlay, UPnP / DLNA and Google Cast

With mConnect you can stream music to different types of audio devices. Support for AirPlay is not really a surprise, because that is simply ingrained in the iOS operating system itself. You do not actually need a separate app to send music via AirPlay from a streaming service, you can do that from the app of the service itself. You can also cast music via mConnect Player to a Google Cast device (such as a soundbar) or a Chromecast adapter and of course send music to a DLNA-compatible player. Sonos speakers are also on the list.

The app also has support for gapless playback over DLNA, although we notice in practice that not every audio device consumes that function well. Gapless is a must-have if you like live recordings and classical symphony works.

Qobuz, Tidal and more

It cannot be denied: iOS users get fewer options in this app than Android owners via BubbleUPnP. But the essence is there. By tapping the radar icon at the top left, you can display a number of services in the app via Cloud Setup. In terms of streaming services, these are Qobuz and Tidal, the two who, in our opinion, also offer the best sound quality. If you have stored music somewhere in the cloud, you can also play it. A connection between the app and Dropbox, OneDrive and Apple's iCloud Drive is possible. Confusingly enough, you do not enter this screen, but when you first try to play music through a service.

You do that by tapping Browser at the bottom of the mConnect Player main screen. Here you will find the list of services; You can switch off unnecessary items so that the list remains clear. As mentioned, there is nothing wrong with the presentation of the music content. It is very pleasant to browse through the many lists of Qobuz, for example, and you can also find all possible layouts at Tidal. If you use Tidal in addition to Qobuz, then you will notice that the menus for both services are different. You can do this by tapping the icon with the three horizontal lines (top left if you are in the Browser screen) and then choosing Settings. Here you can indicate in which quality you want to stream, to be chosen separately if you surf via the mobile network or via WiFi. By default it is set to MP3, with a WiFi connection (which makes sense, given the DLNA scenario) we would recommend a Hires option.

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