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First off, I hope I'm posting this in the right place. I have a HTPC that I am using to play DVD's (obviously) and serve my MP3's to my Receiver. I would also like to use this PC to serve Internet Radio as well. I tried out XM's internet cast and Live365, but I was not impressed. Can someone reccomend a good Internet Radio provider? A lot of place advertise "CD-quality sound," and, granted hardly anyone will actually have "CD-quality" due to compression, but does any place provide a reasonable facsimile? Thanks in advance.
 

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This is a big, complex subject that can't really be addressed in a single post, but I have some observations that may point you in a direction that will please your ears.


There are thousands of "internet radio stations" on the net. Most of them serve niche or "narrowcast" markets, which actually is good because you can usually find at least one outlet of whatever type music you like at an acceptable bitrate. I happen to love Hawaiian music and am listening as I type to the "The Breeze of Hawaii" (web site: http://www.breezeofhawaii.com/ ) which streams a 64kb signal I find very acceptable, although it is probably shy of CD quality. It is available as a Live365 offering, but I play their stream URL directly in my media player, bypassing all the Live365 fluff and ad come-ons. (Some "aggregators" of streams like Live365 and Shoutcast will lead you to a specific subset of streamers that are their "customers" but you can usually do better by loading the URL of the stream, once you find out what it is, directly into your player, and then make bookmarks for favorite stations.)


I would suggest to start exploring, open a media player of your choice such as Real Player or Windows Media Player, click on the "Radio" tab, navigate to the "all stations" area, and then do a sort by BANDWITH and start with the highest bitrate stations that have a format you like. There are a few, mostly from Europe, that are streamed at 256kb or better and are in my opinion "perfect" CD quality. There are quite a few more at 192kb that are really excellent, even for difficult, demanding music such as classical. Far and away, most "broadband" streamers use 128kb as this happens to match a popular bit rate for MP3 compression (indeed, most of the streaming bitcasters are in fact using some flavor of MP3 encoding). Then there are lower rates, including quite a few at 64kb that are very listenable but if you are an audiophile you will only want them for "background" listening, and at the bottom of the scale there are really low bitrate 'casters (56k, 40k, 32k and even lower) intended for dialup listeners.


It goes without saying that you need a broadband internet connection to really take advantage of the higher bitrate streams! There is even some modest internet "TV" out there starting at around 128k, but that is another whole thread topic.


One piece of advice: the current free versions of Real Player, Windows Media and the like are bloated PC hogs that force ads down your throat, and strew spyware around too. If you can find an earlier "legacy" version of a media player you like, use it; most streams are backward compatible with older players. I personally use an older version of WinAmp (version 2.91) that is an almost perfect media player. It doesn't pop up any ads, has a vey tiny on-screen presence, scrolls the title and artist info if the metadata is present on the stream, has its own "media library" function that will search out up to 500 radio streams for you, and then sort them by genre, bitrate, etc.


This subject is like a whole hobby within another hobby, and a lot of fun. I hope you find some streamers that play the genres you like, at a bitrate your ears can appreciate, and that you find a media player you like to access them.


Good luck, and let us know how you make out!
 
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