Of course, many of us have a multigigabyte library of music sitting on our computer's hard drive--and the Squeezebox can access that as well. Download and install the latest version of the SqueezeCenter software (7.0 or later). Thanks to its open-source roots, the software is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux machines (it can even be installed on Infrant NAS drives). During installation, just point the software to the directories holding your music files and playlists, and the SqueezeCenter will make them available to your Squeezebox.
A few things we liked about the software: like the SqueezeNetwork site, the controls are all browser-based, and it's very noninvasive--it doesn't change any of your file preferences or make itself the default music player. In other words, it works in concert with your existing music management software--namely, iTunes, Windows Media Player, and Winamp--so any DRM-free music and playlists you add in those programs will be instantly available to the Squeezebox as well. As a result, iPod users can continue to use iTunes for their music management, and let SqueezeCenter do its thing in the background.
Note that we specified "DRM-free music." If the Squeezebox has one caveat, that's it--by default, it can't stream most files purchased from the iTunes Store, Zune Store, or any service that uses the Windows PlaysForSure DRM scheme. (Rival Sonos and some other products support Zune and PlaysForSure files, but Apple refuses to license its FairPlay DRM--ensuring that only Apple's own Apple TV and AirPort Wireless products can handle stream purchased songs from the iTunes Store that are so encoded.) At this point, that's not a huge knock against the Squeezebox, thanks to the fact that there are plenty of DRM-free music stores online--most notably, Amazon, eMusic, and some songs at the iTunes Store ("iTunes Plus"). The DRM issue notwithstanding, the Squeezebox's file compatibility is otherwise stellar: MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, and Ogg Vorbis files can all be streamed without issue. In other words, if your music files are free of DRM restrictions, there's a good chance the Squeezebox will play them.
Another advantage of the SqueezeCenter software: it's effectively another "remote control" for any Squeezebox on the network. Using the browser interface, you can set preferences on the Squeezebox from afar (change the audio outputs from variable to line-level and back again, for instance), as well as build playlists, access music services, and the like.
If you're an advanced user looking for more elaborate options, the Squeezebox includes a wide range of software plug-ins (again, thanks to its strong support from the open-source community). But you don't have to take our word for any of this: the SqueezeNetwork site and SqueezeCenter software are both completely free, regardless of whether you have a Squeezebox. Feel free to setup an account (SqueezeNetwork) or download the software (SqueezeCenter) and test-drive it yourself.
Also note that the Squeezebox can be controlled by the Squeezebox Controller ($300) from the Squeezebox Duet system. The Squeezebox Controller can be purchased separately to control the Squeezebox, or you can use it with the Duet for multiroom functionality.
Setting up the Squeezebox is a pretty easy task, especially compared with some other network devices we've set up. Simply connect the Squeezebox to an amplifier, stereo, boombox, or anything with speakers, then fire it up and follow the instructions on the screen. After connected to your wired network connection or Wi-Fi network, you'll get a PIN number that can be entered into your SqueezeNetwork account to enable online music services--a much better option than entering all that info using the remote. If you have a computer running the SqueezeCenter software, you'll also be able to access your personal collection of digital music. Once you get past those steps, everything is pretty much set.
In terms of performance, the Squeezebox is a class act. The unit's Burr Brown digital-to-analog converter makes audio sound crisp, clear, and vibrant through the analog outputs, while the digital connections further provide ample flexibility for connecting the unit to just about any A/V receiver or speaker set, for instance. Wireless audio streaming performance was consistently smooth and hiccup-free--same with using a wired Ethernet connection. We did experience one or two occasions where the devices would slow down for a second or two when browsing through menus, but they were rare and only a minor annoyance.
Overall, the Squeezebox is still a solid choice for digital audio enthusiasts, but we definitely recommend that interested buyers check out the newer Squeezebox Duet, which features a unique remote with a color screen that really adds to the Squeezebox experience.