September 25, 2004

SqueezeBox by SlimDevices

Cool gadgets

Today I decided to go out and buy a Squeezebox, a superb device that allows you to play over WiFi your entire music collection that's stored on a computer. Since the company was only minutes away from where I work, I just drove by their office.

The device itself is nothing else than a small wireless computer that's able to hook up in a network (wired or wireless). It connects to a server that streams the music to it. It has audio output connectors for connecting it to an amplifier. The nice thing about it is that you access the device with a plain remote, much like a CD player or any other audio system. You can browse your entire music collection and play it on the squeezebox instead of your computer.

In terms of installation, I had no problems to hook it up in the wired network. I did have issues connecting it in the wireless network. I use WEP with 128bit keys, and my wireless router (an older 3Com AirConnect) does not advertise the name of the network. The squeezebox would display a bogus linksys network, even with no such network in range. Manually entering the name of the network would not do any good: after entering the WEP key, the device would still search for the linksys network, and completely forget about the network I entered. To make it work, I had to modify the settings of wireless router to have it advertise the name of the network. Only then the squeezebox remember my network name and connected to it. After this worked, I reset the wireless router back to its original settings. What a pain though, especially since it took a while to figure it out.

The server is a piece of software that receives commands either from the device or via a Web interface, and streams the music to the device(s) connected to it. I couldn't find any authoritative answer to this, but it appears the server does all the work of decoding the various formats, and encodes the music in a simple protocol for the device to consume. I'm not sure I entirely agree with this approach, as it puts the load on the server, rather than on the box.

You can also use the web interface to control the squeezebox. It feels weird though and much slower to use than the regular iTunes interface I use - which is normal with web applications. Managing playlists tends to be quite painful, especially if you want to play only one song rather than a whole album.

The server software is free software, however the one running on the device is not, as well as the one running on the device (except for a bootloader, for which I haven't seen the source code). I was hoping I could remote login into the device to play around with things, but all the ports seem to be blocked on the device. But this is normal though, this is where slimdevices' bread-and-butter is. There is no need to login on the device, the server side maintains all the updates; very ingenious! It suffices to update the bits on the server side, and the squeezebox picks them up. All the menu navigation and squeezebox functions are written in Perl.

Overall I'm impressed, even if the usability is a bit rough around the edges. If you're tired of carrying your computer or iPod with you in the living room, squeezebox is highly recommended!

Posted by ovidiu at September 25, 2004 12:05 AM |

I use mine on wired Ethernet to minimize jitter (specially since all my iTunes music is now ripped with Apple's lossless codec). The Crystal CD4334 DAC on this unit is quite good, and was in fact used by some audiophile CD transport/DAC separates, and I hooked it to a headphone amp in my bedroom.

Posted by: Fazal Majid on September 24, 2004 11:07 PM
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