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Tech how-to: Easy way to set up your own music server

If you’re an audiophile who loves to collect digital albums and songs, you know the struggle that comes with finding a media server that you like and trust enough to use for storing your music. That struggle becomes even more real when you find a free service you like, but it suddenly starts charging for using the server, leaving you in a lurch.

That was the dilemma faced by one of Kim’s callers recently. The listener owned thousands of digital song copies but didn’t want to store them on one of the free services — only to have to move them again if and when the service started charging.

So, Kim advised him to set up a NAS with Plex instead. Plex is a popular, user-friendly media server software option, and you can set it up pretty easily to help store your music files. Here’s how.

What is a NAS? Or Plex?

Before we get started, let’s talk about what a NAS is. A NAS, or network-attached storage, is an intelligent storage device that you connect to your home or office network to store files. You can use it to store documents, images, videos, or — you guessed it — music, which is what we’re using it for in this scenario.

Related: The best streaming music services compared

That may sound a lot like a USB drive, but the NAS is different than your typical USB because you can use a web browser or mobile apps to access files and use certain services provided by the NAS via the Internet. In other words, it can be just like Spotify, except you’re running it with your own media — not a streaming service.

Plex, on the other hand, is the media server that you’ll use to stream the music that you store on your NAS. Plex stores all your media — podcasts, music, web shows, etc. — and makes it easy to access your files on any device.

You’ll need Plex to set up and run your own personal media server — which is where you’ll house all of your own stuff. There are a ton of different NAS devices available for sale, but not all of them will support Plex. However, if you want to stream and store your audio files, this component is essential.

Which NAS should I buy?

In order to use the NAS with Plex, you’ll have to invest in one of the supported Plex NAS devices, which you can purchase from a ton of different sites, including Amazon.

If you want to run your server on the NAS itself, you’ll need to choose a NAS that meets a few basic criteria. It will need to:

  • Be a brand and model with an x86 CPU and have a CPU fast enough to transcode the type of media you want to watch, on the types of clients you want to watch it on, or
  • Be a supported ARM model

There are tons of different devices available for purchase, but if you’re looking for a top of the line NAS that can be purchased online, we recommend the Western Digital My Cloud or the Netgear ReadyNAS.

The Western Digital My Cloud makes it easy to store all of your media files and you can access them from virtually anywhere via the MyCloud app. What’s cool about this device is that it plugs directly into your Wi-Fi router, so you can upload, share, or access your music and other audio files from anywhere that you have an Internet connection.

The Netgear ReadyNAS, on the other hand, is super easy to use and access, comes with five levels of data protection, all-inclusive data backup and recovery, and it allows you to create your own cloud to securely store and access your files.

The Asustor AS6404T is another solid option. This NAS device comes with 1.5GHz Quad-Core processor and 8GB DDR3 RAM, and the Asustor EZ-Connect allows you to connect to your NAS remotely from any computer or mobile phone. Plus, the Asustor EZ-Sync turns your NAS into a real-time file syncing personal cloud space, and the automatic backup means you won’t lose your files if you crash.

Related: Download thousands of free songs legally

How to set up your music server

If you have the NAS device in hand, you’ll need to follow the instructions on your NAS device to plug it in or connect to the right place.

Once that’s done, you can basically use any machine running Windows 10 or Mac OSX to run the media server as is, but if you want to stream your files to your mobile device, you’ll have to pay for Plex, which can be purchased in annual, monthly, or lifetime subscriptions.

It’s probably wise to start out with a monthly subscription to see how you like it. If you end up a fan of Plex, you can always switch over to the lifetime plan.

From there, you’ll need to install Plex Media Server on your device to use it. To install the Plex Media Server:

  1. Download and run the installer on the computer (or compatible NAS device or NVIDIA SHIELD) where all your media is stored and managed in movies, TV shows, home videos, music and photo libraries.
  2. The very first time the server runs, it should launch a browser to sign you in (or create a new account) and start the Setup Wizard.
  3. Once the Plex server is fully installed on your device, you’ll have the option to scan your PC or NAS directories for your media. You can add media libraries by type of content and let Plex do the rest — cataloging, adding artwork and info — it’s all automatic. You won’t have to worry about configuring your firewall or anything, as plex takes care of that on the back end.
  4. From there, install and open the Plex app on virtually any device — smartphone, tablet, smart TV, streaming device, game console, personal computer, or any browser. (You may also need to download the apps that work with your device specifically.)

From there, you can press play, sit back, and enjoy your media as it streams from the Plex Media Server to your device. It’s a great way to enjoy all of your favorite music on your own terms.

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