Network Attached Storage (NAS). Part 1. Intro.

An Introduction to NAS
This is the first part of an ongoing series that will cover the ins and outs of Network Attached Storage (NAS) with a focus on how to use a NAS device as a music server. I've created a rough outline for the series and it goes something like this:
1. An Introduction to NAS
2. Glossary of Relevant Terms
3. Configurations & Topologies
4. Recommendations
5. Basic Setup & Software
This list may change some as we go along but that's the plan for now.

NAS and You
Network Attached Storage allows you to put your digital music library on one device while providing network access to it via Ethernet or a wireless connection. A NAS device is completely agnostic in terms of music-related technology—it will accept any file format at any resolution so you can consider a NAS device more or less future-proof.

Since you talk to your NAS through a router via Ethernet, the Ethernet standards apply which allow for cable runs of up to 100 meters (330 ft). So you can run an Ethernet cable from your router to most any room in your home unless its truly a castle. And bulk Ethernet cable is relatively inexpensive so you can wire up multiple rooms for less than the cost of a moderately priced interconnect. You can also connect to your NAS wirelessly as long as you have a reliable wireless network (although a wired connection is usually preferable but we'll get into that in Part 3). And perhaps best of all, NAS devices come in all shapes and sizes from single drive units to multi-drive, multi-terabyte RAID-arrayed behemoths.

In order to get your NAS set up and working you need a few other things first. In order of importance you need a router with an available Ethernet port to plug in your NAS device, media server software running on your NAS, and you'll want a broadband Internet connection for many reasons like keeping your software and firmware up-to-date as well as for learning about all the music you need to buy to put on your new NAS. You can think of a NAS device as a network-attached jukebox unless you're wondering what a jukebox is in which case just think of NAS as NAS.

You also need to decide what device(s) you'd like to use to access and play your NAS-resident music. We'll dig into the available options in Part 3 from computers to streamers as well as getting into some step by step setups in Part 4. The main thing to keep in mind is any network-attached computer and any network-ready audio device, essentially any audio component with an Ethernet port or wireless LAN capability can theoretically play music from any Network Attached Storage device running UPnP media server software (UPnP stands for Universal Plug and Play but we'll learn that this does not necessarily mean all UPnP devices are plug and play universally). But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

I should also mention that you can turn most any computer into a NAS device and there are a number of open source (free) software options available for doing so. That said, I'm going to focus on commercial NAS products and plug and play solutions to keep things simple this go around.

In Part 2 we'll define the relevant terms you'll need to know in order to feel comfortable knowing why NAS is so cool (think way cool) and how it may be the answer to your computer audio prayers. And if you have any NAS-specific questions, feel free to send me an email and I'll do my best to cover them.

The NAS Series
Part 1. Introduction
Part 2. Glossary
Part 3. Configurations & Topologies
Part 4. Recommendations
Part 5. Basic Setup & Software

deckeda's picture


... but scrapped them all, as each one seems dependent on the others. I view NAS as a decision that determines other criteria, not as an independent choice merely done to get storage off your desk, say. How are you at Venn diagrams ...



+1 for the Seeburg graphic :)

Pablo's picture

Using this pluged to the network and a usb hardrive wouldn't work just as a NAS ?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

A NAS is a NAS is a NAS (how many times and in how many ways has poor Gertrude been co-opted?).

A NAS is a purpose-built device meant to live on a network and serve multiple users. There are also various hardware configurations available for NAS devices including multi-drive RAID arrays (which I recommend) and the option of connecting an external hard drive off of a USB port for backup (which I recommend).

I'd also imagine that hanging a USB drive off of a network hub would not offer the same level of performance as a NAS.  Belkin, among many others, offers a device like this (F5L009 Wireless Network USB Hub) and I’ve read a lot of complaints but one major issue is only one user can connect to an attached USB drive at a time…

Actually some routers come with a USB “share” port that provides access to it for anyone on the network. I have one and the main issue with this setup is its painfully slow and makes accessing a large music library nearly impossible.  

sg60's picture

This is an excellent topic to cover as I've gone through this issue myself. I use a NAS device and find it to be an excellent solution.

I've gone through a couple of iterations, first using a Windows Home Server and then moving to a Synology DS410J, a four drive unit,  with it's own proprietary software. I was using Media Monkey on an attached notebook PC as my playing software. This setup worked fairly well but I found the Synology DS410J to be too slow. It was a single processor unit with only 512K. The proprietary software is very good in both features and user friendliness.

About six months ago I upgraded my NAS to the Synology DS1511, a dual processor unit with 1GB of RAM expandable to 3GB and five bays for disk drives. In addition it is scalable by linking to additional Synology units. I now use JRMC on my attached HP notebook. This was the winning proposition for me. Plenty of disk space with built in raid redundancy, solid performance and scalable. As an added (perhaps somewhat paranoid) precaution I use my Windows Home Server as a backup for my music files. I also created a backup for storage off-site.

Backups, and ideally backups stored at a aseparate location, are an annoying but necessary step. Anyone who's taken the time to digitize a large music collection would never want to have to repeat the process in the event of data loss or some sort of catastrophe like a fire. Equipment can be replaced but the data can be a different matter.

I have a fairly large collection of music currently approaching 2TB and growing. The beauty of the NAS solution is that users can reap all of the benefits of a NAS tailored to the size of their collection. I recommend it and am looking forward to the future installments in this series.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Excellent point - Backup, backup, backup. And off-site backup may seem like overkill until you see someone's house burn down (our neighbor's did a few years ago).

PKinSFLA's picture

I really look forward to this series. My plan for 2012 is as follows. My home is wired with cat 5 cable and ports in several rooms.

-NAS with two 1 TB drives.

-500 CDS burned to NAS with Itunes lossless.

--Apple TV in media room with main audio/video.

-Apple Airport express in bedroom and family room. They are hooked to ethernet and send signal to receivers via TOSlink. 

-IPad controls the express and TV with Itunes visual of all stored music being seen on the screen .

The I pad is used to activate the connections and to choose what to play.  Using a NAS beats the hell out of trying to load up the Ipad with music and does not require the main computer to be on.

What I need to look at is what NAS units and drives are good values . I also am confused as to what happens if you use one of the available aftermarket upgrades for Itunes sound quality. Is each song processed and stored that way on the NAS or do you need  to have the main computer you used running ?

Everything will happen in stages with the Ipad coming first after the Ipad  3 launch. My goal is to have all of music and magazine/newspaper subs via an Ipad.  

deckeda's picture

Using a NAS ... does not require the main computer to be on.


While that's central to a NAS' appeal, keep in mind that all those Airport Express and AppleTV boxes will only see content coming from iTunes or "a compatible iTunes server."

The protocol that makes it happen is Apple's proprietary AirPlay (néé AirTunes). The software that runs a typical NAS box might come with an iTunes-equivelant server running as a daemon (a faceless app running in the background), but iTunes it is not, and you'd need to verify it can serve content via AirPlay or your plan won't work.

HP's defunct sorta NAS-ish Windows Home Server PC was compatible with AirPlay but I doubt may NAS makers, already using freeware Linux to run their boxes, would license AirPlay from Apple.

The other iTunes streaming method of [more] interest to listeners with hi res content is Home Sharing. The AppleTV2 and iDevices use it to "see" a locally shared iTunes library, but Home Sharing in this context would be used by an iPad2 to see and stream to a USB DAC in conjunction with Apple's Camera Connection Kit or possibly a standard DAC with Pure i20 or Cambridge Audio iD100 docks.

I can unfortunately confirm than an iPhone 4 or original iPad will only pass to a Pure i20 dock a 16/48 stream.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I also am confused as to what happens if you use one of the available aftermarket upgrades for Itunes sound quality. Is each song processed and stored that way on the NAS or do you need  to have the main computer you used running ?

I think you're asking about something like Amarra or Pure Music? If so, the answer to your question is yes, they are resident on a computer not the NAS. So in order to reap a sonic benefit, you have to play your music back from the computer with this software running on it.

Pablo's picture

If you use mac and you want the most perfect ripping possible don't use itunes, instead use XLD and for Windows  EAC is the way to go.

jazzfan's picture

In addition to EAC( - free) along with a flac encoder ( - free!) one can also use dbPowerAmp, which is an excellent (but not free) program. (

A few other programs I find helpful are:

1) mp3tag for cleaning up file tags ( - free!

2) Renamer for bulk file renaming which is also very useful when dealing with digital photos. ( - free!

3) FastStone Image Viewer for working with cover art and other scanned images, such as booklets and inserts. ( - free!

And don't forget to backup everything, early and often!

Mr. T's picture

I can also recommend the Synology products (I have a DS408 with two mirroring 1.5 TB drives). Just stay away from any Netgear stuff if you don't want to grow a lot of additional gray hair...

ebarberena's picture

What are the advantages/disadvantages between NAS and USB 3.0 external HD attached to a network computer?

I am using a Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit PC running iTunes feeding four different systems: USB/HRT Musicstreamer (computer room/home office), Ethernet/Airport Express/DacMagic (living room), Ethernet/Apple TV/MF VDAC (TV room), wireless/Airport Express analog output (garden). All my current music files are 16/44.1 Apple lossless and reside on an USB 3.0 external HD. I intend to use a Squeezebox Touch on my living room system (Ethernet connection) once I get some meaningful 24/96 music.

I backup using another external USB 3.0 external HD.

Vincent Kars's picture

A NAS is a NAS is a NAS (how many times and in how many ways has poor Gertrude been co-opted?).

And how many times has this been done wrong?

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

Michael Lavorgna's picture

You got me there Vincent. It even looks better when done right.

MADDOG95's picture

Thank you for this series of articles, Michael.

Vincent said, "A NAS is a NAS is a NAS" and a corollary on that is "A Noob is a Noob is a Noob", which fits my level of digital expertise.

These articles, and your most recent responses to my emails, have really helped me understand how to implement a digital audio system. I have just started this process and find myself referring back to your articles on hardware, software and the tips and tricks of making digital music work.

I am really looking forward to the next installment!


nunh's picture

Great series - much needed education (for myself) - lots of grey, misunderstood areas - thank you!

dirtywaterfab's picture

i can't thank you enough for this article. i've been dreaming about a system such as this for some time but had no idea how to proceed. i almost inked a deal recently with a local company to build a tower to provide this functionality, but the information you provided presents a much more attractive (and less expensive) solution. thanks again!