New Toys

I just love listening to music in bed, right before going to sleep. You can close your eyes and focus, experiencing the music like a movie and less like the background noise music is often degraded to during the day. After moving my home office to a different floor, however, my bedroom is no longer close enough to my PC to do this (I used a rather quirky solution, using a game pad to remote-control WinAmp and later shut down my PC :D).

This put me on a quest for a replacement. Because I ripped my entire CD library as FLAC and stored it on my home server (running Gentoo Linux and serving the music files as a network share via Samba), I was looking for a player that supported FLAC and, ideally, would play music from a standard network share. This is what I ultimately decided on:

Logitech Squeezebox, a black rectangular box with speakers on both sides and a green display in the middle

That’s a Logitech Squeezebox Boom.

I admit that I half expected this category of devices to not exist at all, because a “normal” person doesn’t have a home server or a PC that’s always on. And when I found something I expected some half baked showpiece hardware, but was yet again positively surprised. Read on for my personal review of this brilliant device!

Choice

After some googling I found out that what I wanted it called a “network music player”. That market is basically divided between three major devices: The high-end Sonos ZonePlayer and ZoneController, the Logitech Squeezebox and the Philips Streamium.

The Sonos cost more than I was wiling to spend and the Streamium had a nice color touchscreen but, well, was made by Philips. This is a personal thing of mine, but I have developed a deep mistrust for some of the big name electronics manufacturers.

{Just one example: I own a Siemens Gigaset TV streamer. Often, you turn it on (which takes about 65 seconds), then it tells you that it didn’t shut down cleanly last time (only visible if you have a TV connected to it, which I haven’t – there’S no OSD on the video streamed to your PC). Confirming that message shuts it down again (which takes another 50 seconds). Then you can turn it on once more (once more, 65 seconds). After that, the PC software (which hasn’t been updated in 3 years) will launch VLC with invalid parameters (causing the current VLC release to remain invisible and have 99% CPU load). It will then stream TV (until failing after a random time, forcing you to switch channels back and forth once) with some terrible audio and video hickups every 15 minutes and only so long as no network share is configured for its VCR feature (in which case the terrible audio and video hickups are permanent). Brilliant engineering!}

So it didn’t take any more convincing than reading in a forum that the Squeezebox is more responsive to win me over to Logitech’s device.

Squeezebox Server

As I discovered, the Squeezebox can not stream music directly from a network share – to stream your own music, you require a PC running the Squeezebox Server, which is written in Perl and available for all major platforms.

The Squeezebox Server interface with a list of albums on the left and my playlist on the right

At first, I was a bit put off by this, but it turned out to be a very convenient design after all: I can edit my playlists and manage alarm in my web browser. They could have built this thing into the Squeezebox itself, but my home server is running anyway – not an issue for me.

If I had multiple Squeezeboxes, I could manage them all through a single instance of the Squeezebox Servers and even ensure synchronized playback of music in multiple rooms. There also exists a software Squeezebox player that turns any ordinary PC into a Squeezebox-ish player 🙂

Headphone Jack

I wasn’t able to attach my headphones to the Squeezebox because it only had this tiny 3.5 mm stereo connector whereas my headphones require a 6.35 mm (1/4 inch) one, forcing me to use one of these:

Photo of a 6.35 mm female to 3.5 mm male stereo adaptor with the opening towards the camera

I do own a pair of extremely cheap headphones with a 3.5 mm stereo connector, so maybe this 6.35 mm jack is an audiophile thing only? On the other hand, my SoundBlaster X-Fi only comes with the 6.35 jack in the drive bay unit. Hrm…

Quality

The Squeezebox looks pretty plain (almost like a normal alarm clock), but it’s very well made. The buttons are individually lit, easy to press and have clearly defined ‘down’ positions which can be held easily and don’t push the device from the table.

Its display automatically senses the level of light in the room and dims accordingly. You can even customize the minimum and maximum light levels and when it should regulate brightness automatically. The menus on the screen are easy to follow and completely smooth – you can quickly step through your entire music library, change settings and modify playlists without the slightest hint of a slowdown.

There’s a small remote control that can be placed into a magnetized depression on top of the Squeezebox. It’s very convenient to use even in total darkness.

Sound quality is pretty good. I’d say its not as great as my X-Fi, but it certainly beats any other alarm clock 🙂

In addition to wireless LAN, it also features a plain RJ-45 connector, which is great because I don’t want to expose my network to neighbors and the world through WLAN.

After several days of use, I keep noticing a lot of attention to detail: when the Squeezebox is powered off, only the power button is lit. If you have a headphone plugged in and use the alarm feature to wake you up, the alarm will still play through the speakers, even if you use a song as your alarm. There’s virtually no boot-up delay: press the power button and after showing the Squeezebox logo for 1/2 a second, it’s ready. You can even change settings in Squeezebox Server while it is powered off. If you set your network bandwidth very low, the Squeezebox server can transparently re-encode the music it streams to the Squeezebox to MP3.

I’m extremely happy with my Squeezebox and it’s exactly what I wanted, and precisely how I like it: instead of flashy gimmicks for the marketing department, it has a clearly defined purpose and serves it very well, thought through to the very end. Most electronic gadgets have little issues here and there that you simply learn to live with – no so here: zero issues for the Squeezebox so far!

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