Before and After Plex

Services like Spotify, or Pandora are great for access to a wide variety of music. Over the years, I’ve built up a decent collection of music (At last count 256 different albums), and I tend ti like listening to my own music when given the chance. The convenience of streaming is hard to beat however, so I tried a couple different services that would allow me to stream my own music. The most obvious choice was Google Play Music, which allows users to upload 50,000 songs to their servers for no cost. I used this for a while but eventually wanted to rely on Google’s services less. This led me to evaluate tools like Emby and Plex. I liked Emby’s more open source model, but whenever I tried to use the mobile app I experienced pretty unusable lag. So that left me with Plex.

There was quite a bit I wasn’t so keen on with Plex. The fact that the login server wasn’t local, and that the product was continually adding features that didn’t fit in with the original goal of hosting my own media. The latest of these additions was Tidal which felt silly because I wouldn’t be hosting a music server on my own hardware if I just wanted to stream music from the cloud. To be fair they did offer options for “disabling” these features, which really just meant partially hiding them in the user interface. Setting up Plex was also surprisingly difficult for setting it up in a containerized environment. Alas, for the most part the service performed well once set up and ran without much maintenance. Adding new music was simple. I just would place the files in the correct folder and re-sync through the UI.

This lasted for around a year. Recently however I started experiencing Plex just spinning when trying to load the next song after the display on my phone had been turned off for 10-15 minutes. This was especially frustrating in the car where it wasn’t super feasible to just unlock the phone again. I tried searching around online and it seemed like my phone could have had some power saving settings that would cause this, but when I checked they had all been turned off (That and I haven’t received an update on my phone for at least a year). This put me back on the search for another personal media server.

During my initial search, I had thought I would be hosting more video files. As it turns out the only movie I ever uploaded was Argo (One of my favorite movies). This time around I was more open to using a service that was focused more strictly on audio. This led me to Subsonic which, if you look on their feature list, does support streaming video in addition to audio. However the reviews I could find suggested it wasn’t as nice of an experience as something like Plex. Subsonic was super easy to setup on my cluster compared to Plex. Within a couple of minutes I had it configured and streaming audio. For the most part, the interface is just a slightly less pretty version of Plex’s, although I have really been enjoying the “Random” home screen which shows a random list of my albums when I navigate to the page. I’ve definitely been listening to more songs that I had forgotten that I own. The login server is also self contained, so if the internet goes out I can still access my music (Plex does support bypassing auth for local addresses).

There have been a few hiccups, namely there seem to be some interesting security issues like passwords not being stored securely on the backend although since I use a password manager I’m not too worried about a malicious user only being able to access my media. Additionally, I occasionally notice a half second pause a couple of minutes into a listening session, but it doesn’t happen more than once, and the music does pick back up again.

It’s only been about a week since I’ve made the switch, but things have been working out well so far. It’s definitely nice to not have to think about whether or not the music will cut out while merging onto the highway.