Why virtualise your NAS environment?
Slim Devices Squeezebox Network Music Player
- Flawless streaming, Quality Design, Wide array of file supports, Internet Radio, RSS News Feeds, Alarm Clock, Easy to use, Easy to set up.
- Screen can scratch easily and is hard to keep smudge free
This is the best media streamer on the market at the moment and a pleasurable merge of form and function.
Price$ 499.00 (AUD)
Of the many products that make their way through our test centre, very few have supreme design and also work beautifully. It seems that many companies value one or the other but it is rare to find a seamless combination of form and function. The Squeezebox from SlimDevices is such a device - it looks sexy and performs impeccably.
Media Streamers aren't exactly new, but SlimDevices take them to the next level. Products like the Logitech Wireless Music System can stream music to your AV set up but the Squeezebox does that and so much more.
This is one of the most visually appealing devices we have seen in a long time. The previous Squeezebox models (this is the third iteration) have all been stylish but a little big. The new unit is compact, with a glossy black screen offset against a brushed aluminium facade. The stand is an attractive chrome frame with a black rubber stabilizer. The rear of the device sports the connectors including a headphone jack, RCA audio connectors, an Ethernet connector and SPDIF with optical audio out. These are every type of audio connection you will ever need.
The screen of the Squeezebox blazes neon blue text at the user. We found it very easy to read and customisable. You can choose exactly how much detail you want to see on the screen and the size of the text as it is displayed. Personally, we liked the bold full screen text as it caught the eye when attached to our AV set up and was easy to see from a distance. We did find that the screen itself was rather prone to scratching and seemed very delicate. The piano black finish on the rear was also very easy to get smudged with fingerprints. Thankfully, SlimDevices includes a buffer cloth with the unit to bring it back to its original condition but no amount of buffing will get rid of scratches, so be very careful with this player.
We set up the Squeezebox between our PC and a Pioneer VSX-D512 receiver. Setting up the device was extremely easy. Running a Cat5 cable between the Squeezebox and the PC, we simply loaded the server software on our PC, fired it up and then ran the automated setup. Once the box is assigned an IP address, your music collection is available to listen to. It's that simple.
Before we talk about operating the Squeezebox, it is important to first talk about the server software. The server can be set up to start with windows and since it doesn't chew system resources, you can use it without worrying about slowing down your system. When you first open the server it does a scan of your PC and logs all your audio content in categories based on artist, genre, title, album and the like. From this screen you can control the Squeezebox, create custom play lists, set custom radio presets, and a wide range of other services including setting the volume coming from the device. For fans of This is Spinal Tap, we couldn't help but chuckle when we saw the volume setting maxed out at eleven. We also found it quite exceptional when we would change the song on the server and it would change what we were listening to in the lounge room. While its a very simple feature and most other streamers also have it, it was still a nice touch none the less.
In every function the Squeezebox performs it exudes a laid back and effortless appearance. The menus on the device itself are in plain, almost colloquial English and extremely easy to understand. Using the remote control you can scroll through the menus and play songs grouped as they are on the server (title, genre, artist etc). In addition, you can also access your music based on the folder structure on your PC. This is quite cool as many people tend to have incorrect information in the ID tags of their Mp3 collection and find it very hard to find anything when these groupings are applied. This is a common problem for people who own an iPod or similar device as when they put a file into it, it disappears into the dark recesses of the catalogue.
While the Squeezebox is primarily a music streaming device it also does a few other nifty things. Firstly, it has an alarm clock as well as the ability to read RSS news feeds in ticker tape format. The RSS element has preinstalled links to some of the most popular news sites on the net but is also customisible by entering the URL of your favourite news feeds. Connecting to Squeeze Networks allows you to stream internet radio from hundreds of providers as well as the completely useless but endlessly amusing environmental mood sounds. These mood sounds are things like a babbling brook or a night of chirping crickets which you can play to create ambience in a room. While we found it amusing, it does actually have real world applications too. Imagine having some ambient nature sounds playing in a restaurant rather than generic elevator music.
The audio quality being pumped out of the Squeezebox is rather exceptional. While the audio is obviously dependent on the source file being played, the audio quality can still lose clarity during the transfer with some devices. Thankfully, in this case, we noticed no degradation. In fact, since we were streaming to a Dolby Pro Logic receiver the music was separated into different audio channels and sounded better than ever. We also found that there was little to no lag between the time you choose a song and when it starts playing. The unit doesn't show any delays playing files, even the larger FLAC and WAV formats.
We were looking forward to testing the Squeezebox and trying to work out if there were any file formats it wouldn't play. When a device looks this good and seems to work well there is always one area that it falls down. We figured it might be in the file format support. We were quite amazed that the Squeezebox happy played all the files we threw at it. It even played OGG Vorbis and FLAC files which very few players ever do.
Lastly, the remote control is quite functional, although not as pretty as the box it controls. The remote is very easy to use but we found it curious that it had no Stop button. You can Pause music but can't stop it. This was more a peculiarity though as you can always turn off the unit if you don't want to use it anymore or change the song.
If you are looking for a way to play your music in a room other than the one your PC is in, this is the device for you. It also comes in a wireless version (802.11g) for those with a phobia for blue cables and while it is a little costly, you definitely get what you pay for.
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