Recommended Products: Mac Mini, Samsung T5 SSD
By now, you’ve probably moved most of your music listening over to your streaming service of choice. Their near-ubiquity on almost any device you could ask for, plus the ability to play any song your heart desires in just a few taps, makes it the easiest way to get a good tune going.
These services aren’t without their shortcomings, though. The cost of monthly subscriptions can quickly add up, services may be missing an album or two from your catalog, frequent interface changes and feature shifts can be frustrating, there are issues with paying artists, and there are the potential privacy and environmental concerns. Whatever your qualms with music streaming may be, it’s worth noting that you have options. Among them, if you have an old computer like a Mac Mini lying around, is to turn it into a self-hosted Plex server and stream your own library.
If you’ve never heard of Plex, it’s a media server client that makes it easy to host all your movies, TV shows, songs, audiobooks, and photos for access across your network, and there’s even a premium plan that can turn your server into a personal streaming service you can access from anywhere with an internet connection. Just run it from any computer that meets the minimum specs, and you’ll have all your favorite media at your fingertips in no time.
Setup is pretty easy, too. Start by downloading Plex Media Server from the company’s website, and be sure to move the app to the Applications folder on your Mac (you should get a prompt to do this automatically, but just in case). Once it’s up and running, go to the Plex logo on the right side of your menu bar, and click on “Open at Login” to make sure your server stays up and running in case of a random reboot or power outage.
From there, you have to add your media to your Plex library, which I recommend keeping on an external SSD like this one from Samsung, which you can hang onto as an on-the-go drive if your Plex adventure doesn’t pan out.
After you’ve got your library nice and tidy, the last step is to get the Plex apps onto any other devices you want to stream your media to. There are apps for Android, iOS, pretty much any streaming box you could hope for, plus Xbox and PlayStation, so you’ll be able to access your media from nearly anything with a screen. I’m also fond of this third-party app, Prologue, which is designed to play audiobook files from your Plex server, with features like voice boost, sleep timer, bookmarking, and the ability to speed up your audio.
The only downside is that without Plex’s $5/month subscription, you won’t be able to download any media for offline usage, but you’ll still be able to stream everything just fine. If you do pounce on that subscription, though, you’ll be able to record live TV, stream in 4K, and get $1 off a Tidal subscription. Sure, you might be doing this all to invest in your own streaming library, but if you want to take an album for a spin before smashing that buy button, the discount might help.
While setting up your own Plex server is a simple endeavor, and it won’t cost you too much if you’ve already got a spare computer that’s been gathering dust, there are still some caveats. Unlike streaming, you’ll have to pay for each album, audiobook, movie, or TV show you want to toss onto your server. That adds up over time, but if you’re cutting back on streaming services, that money could go into buying an album or movie a month to get things rolling. As long as you’re up for that journey, the self-hosted lifestyle frees you from the woes of streaming subscriptions, and Plex makes doing so an easy weekend project.