It’s here! Logitech’s acquisition of Slim Devices and their SqueezeBox (released around 3 years ago) has finally resulted in their new, revamped SqueezeBox Duet.
This review has been made possible thanks to Hi-Fi Trader in Newtown (I like ‘em a lot, and they didn’t pay me to say that) and my buddy Colin, who works there and needed to get up to speed with the system. He brought it over to my place, we drank beer, and played music.
About the SqueezeBox
The concept of the SqueezeBox is that it’s basically a bridge between your digital music collection and your standard, living room soundsystem. I’m going to cover the old as well as the new, for a few reasons – mainly because the old may well live up to your needs and they’ll now be going pretty cheap on eBay.
The SqueezeBox operates through a wi-fi connection to a server application called SqueezeCenter that gets installed on a PC on your network. The server software is open source and is regularly updated – it has a lot of functionality and a great web-based front-end (you can download it now if you’d like to play with it)
So just to be clear: both of the SqueezeBoxes described below run on the same server software. Really, they’re just different front-ends for the same thing, so this is something to keep in mind if you’re working out which is ideal for you.
Sonically, both SqueezeBox units have high quality DACs – the SqueezeBox Classic boasts a (superior) Burr-Brown 24-bit DAC and the newer Duet with a Wolfson 24-bit DAC. In other words, they sound great and you should expect sound quality on par with a good CD player, providing you encode your music at a high enough bit-rate!
About the test environment
We set this up on my NAD C372 amplifier running into Jamo E875 speakers. The server was running on Windows Vista, and my wireless network is 802.11g. Internet connection is ADSL2+.
Squeezy mk i
Before I jump into talking about the latest unit, here’s the older SqueezeBox Classic:
As you can see, SqueezeBox Classic offers a simple single-colour text display which reports the currently playing track being handled by SqueezeCenter. it provides a selection interface via the included IR remote, which is pretty basic – a telephone style digit keypad (for searching and track selection) and start/stop/next/previous buttons.
Setup was painless – we connected it to my wireless network and away we went, playing music within minutes: it does exactly what’s advertised, in a no-frills, bare-bones manner.
I wasn’t so excited about the relatively garish presentation, which is a little stark and stands out when sitting on top of your system – but if you have an alternative means of controlling it (i.e. a wi-fi enabled mobile device/PDA) you can probably even hide this and just use it purely as an audio interface.
Squeezy mk ii
SqueezeBox Duet is essentially an aesthetic upgrade. The audio interface is tiny – a simple, anonymous black unit that reports on device status through a glowing light on the front panel.
All display functions are instead moved to the handheld remote, which is itself wi-fi enabled – which means you can control music from anywhere in the house.
Basically, you control the Duet with an iPod/remote hybrid:
Navigation is handled through a click-wheel clone, which is pretty intuitive. It has an iPod-esque menu system which allows you to get a much better sense of what the system has to offer than the Classic. It has numerous cute perks like web-service enabled plugins – e.g. you can use your Flickr account as your screensaver.
Data entry is slightly more cumbersome than on the Classic – needing to use the clickwheel can be a bit of a chore compared to entering text with a keypad, but I found I got up to speed with it quickly.
- Digital music on your lounge room stereo
At the risk of sounding obvious, I’ve found it increasingly clumsy to plug an iPod or a computer in to access music that I only own in digital form. This is a really lounge-room friendly option that looks nice and sounds great.
- Last.fm support
- Plugin architecture
The system is extensible and offers all kinds of potential thanks to a growing library of plugins, and the option to develop your own.
- Rhapsody access
Thanks to Colin’s workplace having an account, we were able to test the Rhapsody support on the unit. Rhapsody is a subscription service that offers streaming access to a large catalogue of music for around US$15 per month. My dad asked me if I’d heard any Stephen Stills, to which we fired up Rhapsody and had an album playing within seconds. A great resource for music discovery!
- Internet radio
The unit has a large repository of Internet radio streams, which I thought was pretty tidy and functioned nicely.
- Full access to eTree
If you haven’t seen this amazing archive of live concert recordings (bootlegs), check it out now. It’s completely accessible from your remote – we were able to play 9 years worth of Elliott Smith concerts from our remote at will.
- Use any controller you like
Given the server uses completely standard technologies, you can use anything you want instead of a remote. We had someone with an iPhone who was quickly able to control the system using an interface designed specifically for his device.
- It’s really cheap
With an RRP of AU$600 (and an eBay price of around $400), the Duet is a pretty cheap option for a lot of functionality
- It’s even cheaper
The SqueezeBox Classic these days can be found for around $250. If you own an iPhone or any other wi-fi enabled device, this might well be a sufficient option for you.
What’s not cool
- No support for DRM (or: iTunes Music Store purchases will not work)
But you shouldn’t have been buying DRM encrypted music anyway, so I feel no pity for you if this is a problem
- Click wheel is a bit clunky
Compared to the smoothness of the iPod’s click wheel, the Duet remote’s mechanical alternative feels a little on the awkward side. It doesn’t take too long to get used to however.
Really, these are petty gripes in contrast to the amazing functionality you get offered to you out of the box.
I’m getting one – pure and simple.