I’m in music geek heaven. I’m totally cocooned in music streaming from my PC in another room. It seems to be coming from every corner of the room, and I have complete control over the music from the palm of my hand. I can even see the album art for the Kings of Leon album on the screen of the remote control. I have seen the future of music and it is called Squeezebox.
I’ve had an eye on the Squeezebox devices since way back before Slim Devices was purchased by Logitech. At the most basic level, a Squeezebox takes music from mp3 files on your network, or an Internet audio stream, converts it, and outputs the music to your audio system. I’m lucky enough to have review versions of both the Squeezebox Boom and Squeezebox Duet. The latest version – the Squeezebox Boom – includes a nice set of integrated speakers, providing a completely self-contained music player. The Duet includes a basic receiver and full colour wireless remote.
The ability to play streaming music is neither new, nor unique to Squeezebox. The Squeezebox devices do however stand apart from the competition on the design front. Sure, the physical aesthetic is not in the same league as Apple, but the experience is unique. Right from the excellent packaging, through the user interface, and even including small details like the magnetised remote for the Boom that stops it from sliding off the top of the device (or allows you to stick the remote to your fridge).
Read on for in-depth reviews of the Squeezebox Boom and Duet.
All Squeezeboxes cater for most forms of digital audio, and bring them all together into a consistent user interface. A Squeezebox can consume:
- Audio files from a PC or network share. File formats covered include MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, and Ogg Vorbis files. The major omission however is DRM. Squeezebox won’t play DRM protected files from iTunes, Zune, or other music stores. Thankfully DRM is on the way out, with most music stores (including Vodafone’s vmusic) offering DRM-free files.
- Free online audio services including Pandora, Last.fm, Slacker, Live Music Archive, Live365, Shoutcast, RadioIO, and RadioTime. All of these services provide free music streaming, with Shoutcast especially providing hundreds (if not thousands) of genre-specific streams, from classical guitar to hardcore Belgian trance.
- Internet radio: if your favourite station has a “listen online” link on their web page, chances are you can add it to your Squeezebox. I’ve personally had no problem setting up Auckland radio stations including GeorgeFM, bFM, More, ZM, National Radio and Newstalk ZB
- Podcasts: you can add any standard RSS podcast feed to your settings, and stream the episodes at will.
All of the above are set up using the SqueezeCenter or SqueezeNetwork software on a PC or laptop. I’m not entirely sure why Logitech went with the two separate connection options, but to explain:
- SqueezeCenter is installed on a computer, and can be used to manage all the settings of your Squeezebox, and also deals with sharing any music files on your computer to the Squeezebox.
- SqueezeNetwork is an online-only configuration utility, requiring no installation, and no ability to share the music files on your computer.
So, if you only want to listen to online music sources, and don’t have your own music library, you can use SqueezeNetwork. Otherwise you need to install SqueezeCenter. Both options are equally intuitive, and allow a high degree of control over your devices. You can configure everything from custom radio stations and streams, through to the items available in the on-screen menus. In my example, I saw little point in the ‘Slimtris’ tetris game, so I removed the option from the menus.
With SqueezeCenter, you also provide the location of your local music files, and the software will scan the location for all compatible files and make them available to the Squeezebox. Everything is accessible via web-based configuration, and the whole shooting match is open source, with an active developer base providing plugins and upgrades regularly.
If you have more than one Squeezebox device, the software provides the ability to select between devices, configure them differently, and even synchronise the music on more than one device. It was this synchronisation feature that resulted in my ‘sound cocoon’, with the Boom filling one room with music, and the Duet piping identical music through the audio system in my lounge.
The Boom, as I mentioned previously, has built-in speakers. This is the key difference from previous devices, that were designed to work with a separate audio system. The sound is perfectly adequate for the size of the device, with nice bass and good high-end tones. Apart from the speakers, the device does everything that any other Squeezebox can do. The user interface is very similar to the original Squeezebox, with a big tactile click-wheel for navigation, and buttons for selection, volume control, and playback. I did of course try to control the volume with the click-wheel, but quickly learnt that the separate volume buttons are the only way to do so.
Setup is extremely straightforward. Provide power to the device, then either plug in network cable, or select your wifi network (802.11g is supported) and your wifi password. From there, you are provided with a PIN code to enter into the SqueezeCenter/Network software so that you can manage the device. All done.
The vacuum fluorescent display is easy to view, and has a multitude of customisations, screensavers, and also the ability to display customised (I seem to keep using that word!) RSS feeds, whether playing music or not.
The Boom supports multiple alarms, specified by time and day of week. Each alarm can play any audio source – including the built-in ‘environmental’ sounds like babbling brooks, birdsong, or crashing waves. The Boom also has a top-mounted snooze button for those lazy mornings.
One surprising feature of the Boom is that it can act as a WiFi to Ethernet bridge. For example if you have the Squeezebox Boom sitting next to your XBox game console, you can plug the XBox into the Boom and have it access your network using the Boom’s WiFi connection. Very nice.
Overall I love the understated look of the device, and it looks equally in place as a bedside radio or a benchtop radio for kitchen or dining rooms.
The Duet is an entirely different proposition to the Boom, and I’d argue that it’s a must-have device if you are planning on using more than one Squeezebox in your house. The Duet is made up of (surprise!) two components: a receiver and a wireless remote.
The receiver is entirely nondescript, about the size of a paperback book, with a single lit-up button on the front, and connections on the back for power, ethernet, and both stereo and digital audio. All you need to do is provide power via the included AC adapter, and connect one of the audio outputs to your amplifier.
The remote is less nondescript (making it presumably somewhat descript?), with a nice 2.4 inch LCD display, jog wheel, and various other buttons. The screen on the remote is very nice, with context-sensitive layout including display of album art when playing music from your library. The jog wheel is intuitive, providing a simple way to scroll through lists of music, change volume, or scan through a long song.
Setup of the Duet is equally as simple as the Boom. Power up both the remote and receiver, and the remote will prompt you for a wireless network and password, then provide you with a PIN to enter into the SqueezeCenter software.
From there, you use the Duet’s remote to control the receiver, and have it play back your selection of music. With good visual feedback, the Duet is more intuitive to use than the Boom’s interface, which would make it a better choice for less tech-savvy individuals.
As I said, if you have more than one Squeezebox, this is where the Duet really starts to shine. Because I had already configured the Boom, the Duet remote showed both the new receiver and the Boom as available devices to control. I could set the song, volume, and behaviour of each device separately through the remote from anywhere in the house. It was all very seamless and natural. I could imagine having a Boom in the baby’s room, and remotely starting up some quiet lullabies in the event of a disturbance.
Overall I’m seriously impressed. The devices aren’t cheap, but nor is the experience. You’re rewarded from the moment you open the box, and there is no part of the experience that is particularly grating or poorly executed.
If I were pushed, I’d suggest that the physical interface of the Boom needs some more thought, with the transport controls strangely on the opposite side to the play button (see image at right), but this is minor, and I found myself using the remote a lot more than the device controls.
Please post any questions below and I’ll endeavour to answer them.