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Appeared on: Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Squeezebox Slim Devices


1. Introduction

logoOnce or twice a year I get to review something that is truly groundbreaking - almost revolutionary in what it can do. Last year, that product was the Slingbox which has gone on to capture virtually every major award for innovation (and you saw one of the first reviews right here!!)

Placeshifting - taking our media from one locale and moving to another within our wireless homes has become all the buzz. Apple just introduced iTV and Sling Media is preparing the Sling Catcher. All this is well and good for our video and TV content - but what about our music?

This, my friends, is where the Squeezebox comes in. My prediction is that the Squeezebox will do for music what the Slingbox has done for TV. The Squeezebox takes your music from your computer and de-compresses it and plays it through your home audio system. iPod playlists, MP3's and Internet radio, Pandora, Rhapsody and more. This is one amazing product. Check your bank account, make sure you have enough money and then read on for my full review.

The Squeezebox comes from Slim Devices. I like everything about this company - their Web site is easy to navigate, they have open source development allowing users to create all sorts of add ons, their instruction manuals are wonderfully put together and their product is top notch - here is what they say about themselves on their web site:

About Slim Devices

Our sole goal is to provide everyone access to their digital music collection, from any room in the home. We deliver pure digital sound without the hassle of shuffling through CDs.

It sounds like a simple goal, but it requires the combination of skills rarely integrated even in large companies.

Squeezebox will revolutionize the way you listen by freeing you and your music. Its convenient and stylish form makes it ideal for placing in any room, whether connected to an existing hifi system or simply powered speakers. By utilizing true 802.11g wireless networking and dual internal antennas, your listening is no longer restricted by cables and connectors.

Squeezebox offers you the widest choice of listening options beyond your music collection. The product includes a directory of thousands of internet radio stations and features Pandora's personalized music service and Rhapsody's 2 million song collection. All internet streaming services are even available when your computer is turned off.

Here are the Technical Specs of the Squeezebox:

Audio Outputs

Audio outputs (general)

  • Digital and analog outputs
  • All RCA connectors are gold-plated
  • Volume control is provided for all outputs
  • Multiple outputs may be used at the same time

Analog RCA outputs

  • High fidelity Burr-Brown™ 24-bit DAC
  • Two dedicated linear power regulators for DAC and line-out stages
  • Full 6.0Vpp line-level signals
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: over 100dB
  • Total harmonic distortion: less than -93.5dB (0.002%)

Digital S/PDIF outputs

  • Optical and coax digital connections
  • Dedicated high-precision crystal oscillators (no PLL, no resampling)
  • Standard IEC-958 (S/PDIF) encoding
  • Optical connector: TOSLINK 660nm
  • Coax connector: RCA, 500mVpp into 75 ohms
  • Sample rates: 44.1Khz, 48Khz
  • Audio format: linear PCM, 16 or 24 bits per sample
  • Intrinsic jitter: less than 50ps (standard deviation)

Headphone output

  • Standard 1/8" jack also functions as an IR blaster
  • Minimum headphone impedance: 16 ohms
  • Total harmonic distortion: less than 0.03%
  • Left/right crosstalk attenuation: 92dB
Audio Formats

Audio formats

  • Lossless Formats (Apple Lossless, FLAC, WMA Lossless)
    • "Bit-perfect" CD audio streaming, with reduced storage and bandwidth usage.
    • Approximately 2:1 compression ratio
  • Uncompressed formats (AIFF, WAV, PCM)
    • Supports raw pass-through of uncompressed PCM audio formats
    • Digital passthrough to S/PDIF for DTS
  • Compressed formats (MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, MP2, MusePack, WMA)
    • MPEG decoding uses MAD software, widely regarded as the most accurate, most compatible MP3 decoder.
    • High accuracy 24-bit synthesis
    • Supports all MP3 data rates and sample rates, including VBR
    • May be streamed in PCM (raw), MP3 (transcoded), or FLAC (transcoded) formats
    • Sound Check and Replay Gain support for automatic volume control.
    • Some formats may require additional software installation (e.g. Quicktime), depending on platform.

Internet Radio

  • "Always-on" Internet Radio, powered by SqueezeNetwork, lets you tune in to Internet Radio streams even when the home PC is switched off.
  • Quick selection from hundreds of Internet Radio streams offered by Slim Devices' partners.
  • Internet Radio favorites can be saved in a playlist for easy access.
  • Displays song title information during playback
  • Support for MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and WMA formatted Internet Radio streams

Tech Notes

Firmware

  • Flash upgradeable firmware
  • Network settings are stored in non-volatile memory
  • Auto-configuration for most networks
  • Easy setup for wireless networks

Architecture

  • 250 MHz 8-way multithreaded RISC processor
  • "Pure software" SlimDSP™ architecture
  • Field-upgradeable Xilinx CPLD
  • 64Mb high-speed RAM
  • 16Mb program flash
  • Low-power design, all solid-state, fanless

Network

Wireless Interface

  • True 802.11g wireless networking
  • Bridging capability allows Ethernet devices to connect to the network through Squeezebox Wireless
  • Throughput up to 54Mbps, high speed PCI interface to radio module
  • Dual antennas for improved range and throughput
  • Supports all 802.11b and 802.11g access points
  • Internal antennas: planar inverted-F antenna
  • Automatically detects available networks for quick setup
  • Supports both WPA Personal, WPA2-AES and 64/128-bit WEP encryption

Ethernet Interface

  • True 100Mbps throughput
  • Shielded CAT5 RJ-45 connector
  • Connects to any 100Mbps or 10Mbps network
  • Auto-detects full duplex and half duplex modes
  • Automatic receive polarity correction
  • Maximum cable length: 100 meters (328 feet)

Power

Power input

  • 5.0V DC, regulated
  • Center positive, sleeve ground
  • Connector: 2.5mm ID, 5.5mm OD, 11mm long
  • Min supply rating: 1000mA

Power supply

  • Switching power supply included
  • Input voltage range and plug style specific to shipping destination
  • Power supplies are small, efficient, and do not get hot
  • One of four styles is included depending on country

2. Design and Operation, Conclusion

Basics

What's included:

  • Squeezebox Network Music Player
  • AC Power adaptor (appropriate plug by region)
  • User's manual
  • SlimServer software (requires download)
  • Custom infrared remote, 2 AAA batteries included
  • 6-foot gold plated RCA patch cord

System requirements:

  • All systems: 256MB RAM, ethernet or wireless network, and 20MB hard disk space
  • Macintosh: Mac OS X 10.3 or later
  • Windows: 733Mhz Pentium running Windows NT/2000/XP
  • Linux/BSD/Solaris/Other: Perl 5.8.3 or later

Physical

General

  • Dimensions: 7.6"W x 3.7"H x 3.1"D (192mm x 93mm x 80mm) including stand
  • Finish: choice of high gloss white or black

Display

  • Large, high-resolution vacuum fluorescent display
  • 320x32 greyscale pixels
  • Beautiful high-speed, full-screen visualizers
  • Bitmapped graphics, multiple fonts, animation, and images
  • Brightness control

Infrared remote

  • Standard 38Khz IR
  • Hand-held remote, 30 buttons
  • Durable black or white finish
  • Includes "SmartScroll" algorithms to quickly access favorite songs within large lists
  • Custom codes do not conflict with other devices
  • Data format fully compatible with most programmable and universal remotes
  • Templates available for Pronto and other remotes
  • Supports discrete on/off and other "shortcut" codes

SlimServer Software

Slim Devices introduces SlimServer 6.5.1, our powerful and free Open Source software. Not only will it power any Squeezebox or Transporter, but also any software MP3 player on your network. SlimServer 6.5.1 runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD and Solaris.

This robust Open Source software includes contributions from a worldwide community of developers who are driven by the desire to work on exciting projects. The efforts of Slim Devices' Open Source community results in rapid development and a rich set of features, evolving in response to user feedback.

OK, that's all the technical stuff - let's get on with the review!

Design:

The Squeezebox is a very attractive unit (my test unit was in all Black) that is 7.6"W x 3.7"H x 3.1"D. There are no buttons on the front of the device - just a very large and readable green LED screen. On the back are the audio inputs/outputs. The Squeezebox has both analog Audio outputs and Digital Optical and Digital Coax jacks. There is also a Headphone jack in the back and the power switch and Ethernet jack.

There are two models of the Squeezebox - one has built in 80211.g wireless and one has just the ethernet jack. My test unit has the built in wireless feature which was great.

The Squeezebox comes with a remote that is very intuitive and easy to use and controls all the features necessary for streaming you entire music library (and then some) to the Squeezebox.

How it Works:

Well, it is kind of like magic - but you want a more technical explanation. Once you download the free software called SlimServer and start it up on your PC, you just configure the Squeezebox (detailed below) and power it up. Over your wireless network, via the SlimServer software, the Squeezebox sucks out all your music - directly from iTunes with all your playlists, Windows Media Playlists, assorted MP3 files - in short - whatever format you use to organize and store your music. You control all of your music from the Squeezebox and all songs, artists and playlists now show up on the big bright screen. Just amazing.

Configuring the Squeezebox:

When I saw how easy it was to set up the Squeezebox I was a little nervous that the software configuration must be complicated - I was happily mistaken. First, I just plugged the audio jacks to my stereo and plugged in the power cord.

Next, I installed the free software (downloaded from www.slimdevices.com/download) and set it up according to the instructions.

The first thing to configure was the networking on the Squeezebox - it found my wireless network, the SSID appeared on the screen, I put in my WPA encryption password with the remote, let it obtain an IP address and that was it - I was connected. I only had to do this one time and from then on each time I started the Slimserver software on the computer, I just turned on the Squeezebox and was connected to my music.

Using the Squeezebox:

The Squeezebox uses a menu system on the screen via the remote. The arrow keys on the remote either move you to the next option via the up an down keys, or into the next menu by selecting the forward key.

The first thing to do is connect to Slimserver (which the Squeezebox does as soon as you turn on the power.) You navigate your music with the remote and can have it organized (just like iTunes) by Genre, artist, album, song, Playlist (yes, your playlists are completely accessible) or folders.

Press "Browse" and you can browse through your entire music library. What is amazing is that you can have Slimserver running on two separate computers and you can navigate to music on either computer (if your music is in multiple places.) You can shuffle songs, albums, playlists - whatever you want.

Using SqueezeNetwork:

But wait, there is more. If having access to all your music wirelessly without having to plug in your iPod is not enough - the Squeezebox also can connect to various Internet Radio stations via their proprietary squeezenetwork. I just set up an account (free) on www.squeezenetwork.com and put in the PIN from my Squeezebox and I had access to thousands of internet radio stations and the ability to connect to On demand music from Rhapsody, Pandora and more. It should be noted that you get a 90 day free subscription to Pandora with the Squeezebox. There are also hundreds of "Natural Sounds" that you can broadcast through your stereo to wake up your kids sleeping on the couch (the Thunder Storm and Freight Train sounds were great for that) or to just provide some natural ambiance.

Squeezenetwork can be controlled via the computer or the Squeezebox - which was very cool. I could navigate to a great internet radio station from France on the computer, push play, and the music came through my stereo.

In short, there are more options for streaming both your local as well as internet content, than you will most likely ever use.

If that isn't enough, you can also program wireless RSS news feeds to stream across the screen.

Sound Quality:

The Sound quality was simply amazing. For testing purposes, I plugged my iPod into one jack on the stereo and the Squeezebox into the other and played the same songs. The Squeezebox was so much clearer, fuller and sounded way less "compressed" than the audio on the iPod. The difference was stunning. I have virtually eliminated the need to use my iPod for home listening, parties or background music in the house.

Overall Conclusions:

This is an amazing device - a technological marvel - a revolutionary product. At this point in the year, I would say that this is the "must have" innovation of the year. It is easy to configure, simple to use, incredibly powerful and one of those things that I now can't imagine being without. The sound quality is great, the freedom to listen to all your music as well as internet radio and On Demand radio creates limitless possibilities for liberating your digital music. No more CD's, No more iPods - just control all your music from the Squeezebox. If you are a music lover and love gadgets - run and get yourself a Squeezebox.

Pros:

Cons:

The Squeezebox is available from Slim Devices and can be purchased at their web site: www.slimdevices.com for US$249.00 and US$299.00. It is also available from many retailers.



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