|Slim Devices Squeezebox Network Music Player|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Ken Taraszka, MD|
|Tuesday, 01 August 2006|
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The iPod has heralded a new era in music, allowing us to store our music digitally on computers. But what are we to do when we want to listen to that music on our stereo systems? You can connect your iPod directly to your preamp or home theater controller with a patch cable, but it is difficult to see the screen from further than a few feet away. Many receivers have the ability to control the iPod, but the text on their display is small and/or your receiver may be tucked out of view. Some companies have systems that allow you to use your TV as the screen to interface with your iPod, but then you have to have your display on to listen to music and are still limited by the storage space of the device. Dedicated music servers can access your music and distribute it to various systems throughout your house, but they can be fairly expensive and may require you to re-import all of your music in their own proprietary compression formats, eating up hours if not days of your free time. It seems that if you want an easy way to access all the digital music on your computer or iPod and send it to the various systems in your home, you have to be tolerant of your MP3 player’s limitations.
Enter Slim Device’s third-generation Squeezebox Network Music Player. This 802.11g device is Windows, Macintosh and Linux compatible and can stream any MP3, WAV, FLAC, WMA Lossless, WMA, Apple Lossless, AAC, Ogg Vorbis and AIFF music file on any of your computers to any stereo within your home network’s range. Each device in a multi-unit system can access your entire music library separately or be synced together for whole home audio. You can managed play lists, listen to Internet radio, use it as a network bridge, an alarm clock or even display RSS news feeds. All these features can be controlled directly from the remote and most don’t even require your computer to be on, thanks to the Squeeze Network. All these features come packed in a device the size of a paperback book for $299.
The Squeezebox Network Music Player comes packed in high-density foam and includes the Squeezebox network media player, remote with batteries, power adapter, a six-foot RCA patch cord, manual and a micro fiber cloth for cleaning the face of the player. On the back of the device are both optical and coaxial digital outs, as well as analog stereo RCA outs, a mini jack for headphones or powered speakers, the power port and an Ethernet port.
The squeezebox is just over seven-and-a-half inches wide, three inches deep (including the stand) and three-and-seven-tenths inches tall. It sits slightly tilted back upon soft rubber feet. A large aqua blue LED display sits above the brushed metal lower half of the player, with the back and sides available in black or silver. You can choose three different sizes of text and adjust the brightness of the display from off to night-light-like levels. The Squeezebox uses an interface similar to the iPod that allows one to search or browse by song, title, genre and artist. The remote provides all the access to the device, which itself has no buttons.
This Slim Device doesn’t include any software, and I am glad. When software comes with a new device, it is often an older version and can be problematic. If you are buying a network device such as this, you have Internet access and can download the newest version of software, which Slim prompts you to do as the second step in the manual. Downloading the software and installing it took no time at all. The remainder of the set-up was a breeze. I connected the coaxial and optical digital outputs and stereo analog outputs to the receiver in my bedroom, plugged it in, followed the onscreen cues, entered my wireless network’s encryption code and was up and running in less than five minutes, a huge leap forward for networking devices, which can be fraught with technical difficulties.
The Squeezebox allows you to browse or search your music collections. In the search mode, you can use the up and down buttons on the remote to select each letter or a cell phone text messaging system to enter the names of the items you are looking for. I found this easy and effective, though in a system with a large collection of music, I often had to enter more text than I had expected to find the music I was looking for. This is no fault of the Squeezebox, but rather simply due to the fact that some text was more common than I had anticipated. Browsing a large music collection, such as mine, with the Slim Device was a snap due to its progressively faster scan rate, as you scan and hold the scan or arrow buttons down. All in all, I was able to skim through 650 artists in five seconds. I was comfortable with the text messaging system, so I used this for all my searches.
The remote lacks backlighting and has the transport keys placed just above the direction buttons, making them awkward to use, and I never quite adapted to their position. I programmed my Harmony universal remote to take over and was much happier with the interface.