Editors' Note: As of October 2009, Logitech has released the >Logitech Squeezebox Radio. It's similar to the Squeezebox Boom reviewed here, but offers a color screen, smaller form factor, and more affordable price.
One of our favorite streaming-audio products in recent years is the Logitech Squeezebox Duet. That unit makes it fairly simple to access a wide range of Internet- and PC-based digital audio sources, and listen to them in any room of your home. But the Duet is a two-part product--a base station, plus an iPod-like remote control--the former of which needs to be hooked up to an amplifier of some sort to actually hear any music. Wouldn't it be great if you could just shrink all that down into a single all-in-one device?
That, in a nutshell, is exactly what the Logitech Squeezebox Boom is. The Boom crams all of the network streaming functionality of earlier Squeezebox models into a compact, tabletop audio system (boom box--get it?). Just envision one of Logitech's own Pure-Fi systems with integrated Squeezebox functionality. Stereo speakers are built-in, so there's nothing else to hook up. Just plug it in, connect it to your home network (Wi-Fi or Ethernet), and link it to a server--either Logitech's PC-based SqueezeCenter software or its online SqueezeNetwork system, which aggregates a wide variety of Internet radio, music services, and podcast feeds in one convenient place. You'll need to invest a bit of time and effort into getting things up and running the first time, but from then on, it's smooth sailing. The Boom places the bulk of the digital-audio world at your fingertips--with the notable caveat of DRM downloads. With the exception of a few very minor quibbles, we found the Logitech Squeezebox Boom to be the best overall Wi-Fi radio we've used to date, and well worth its $300 pricetag. This should be at the top of the list for nearly anyone who's looking for an all-in-one digital audio player.
The Logitech Squeezebox Boom is a fairly compact tabletop unit: 5-inches high by 13-inches wide by 5-inches deep. The front face is angled back a bit, so you can see the screen even if you're standing up in front of it. Otherwise, the design is straightforward and simple: speakers on each side flank a centered control panel and screen. The unit's topside has a wide button that doubles as a snooze bar or sleep toggle (15-90 minutes).
The readout screen is a vacuum-fluorescent display that looks all but identical to the one on the Squeezebox Classic. The blue-green readout is great--it's very easy to see, even from a distance, and the brightness auto-adjusts to ambient light. The screen defaults to a clock when not in use, and everything displayed can be meticulously customized using the browser-based controls from your PC (more on that later). For instance, we loved the VU meter visualizer--it gave a nice retro feel to our music listening sessions.
Not surprisingly, the controls are pretty much identical to those found on the remote of the Squeezebox Duet--albeit laid out differently. A nice fat tactile click wheel is in the middle--it'll be your primary interaction with the menu system on the screen above; scroll to a choice, click to drill down, or use a separate back button to revert to a previous menu. There are also transport controls (play, pause, rewind, forward), add (for creating playlists), power, and a volume rocker. Right below the screen are six presets for one-touch access to favorite Internet-radio stations. All of the keys are gently backlit for using in the dark.
We were a bit skeptical of the controls--a dedicated volume knob would've been nice, and the layout of the keys isn't quite as intuitive as we'd like. For instance, we would've put the volume rocker on the left, and the transport controls on the right, so they'd be grouped under the play and add buttons. That said, we quickly became accustomed to navigating with the main click wheel knob in just a matter of minutes. (And, in fact, if you tap the volume keys, you can also use the knob to adjust loudness.)
If you'd prefer to access the Squeezebox Boom from afar, there's also a little remote control. It's got most of the same keys, with the exception of a four-way D-pad in place of the wheel/back button. We loved the fact that it has real buttons and a bit of thickness--it's not the normal cheapie credit-card-style remote that most companies throw in with such products. It's also magnetized, so it can snap to the top of the Boom, or onto any other metallic surface (such as a refrigerator door).
The Boom connects to your home network via 802.11g wireless or wired Ethernet. (Impressively, it can also double as a wireless-to-Ethernet bridge. We used it to provide network access to our Xbox 360.) Besides the network port, the back panel has two 3.5mm jacks: one auxiliary input (use the Boom as a speaker for any audio source, such as an iPod) and one audio output (you can toggle it as headphone/line-out or subwoofer output). There is no digital output (as mentioned on some early spec sheets), but we don't consider its omission to be a big deal--get the Squeezebox Duet if digital out is important to you.
Our biggest gripes with the Boom's design? The exterior surface--shiny, reflective black plastic--was a magnet for fingerprints. Likewise, the rubberized control surfaces got smudgy and dirty within minutes, and it's not very easy to clean. Also, the AC adapter is one of the bigger wall warts we've seen--it'll take up some major wall outlet or power-strip real estate. And we would've liked to see a battery option, so the Squeezebox could go truly wireless (like the Sony Vaio VGF-WA1).
The Squeezebox Boom can draw audio from two main sources: the Internet or a networked PC--Windows, Mac, or Linux. The breadth of the audio sources is impressive and varied:
Online music services: If you like online music services, chances are you'll love the Squeezebox Boom. Thus far, supported services include Pandora, Last.fm, Slacker, Live Music Archive, Live365, Shoutcast, RadioIO, and RadioTime. (Note: Last.fm and CNET are both properties of CBS Interactive.) Some of these require registration, others index popular online or terrestrial radio streams--but all of them are completely free.
The Squeezebox Boom also delivers full access to popular premium (paid) subscription services such as Rhapsody and Sirius Internet Radio. It also works with MP3tunes, an online "music locker" service that lets you access your personal digital-music collection online.
Internet radio: In addition to the radio-centric music services listed above, the full panoply of online radio is available. That means anything that's not already covered by RadioIO, RadioTime, Shoutcast, et al., can be manually accessed on the Squeezebox Boom as well--just bookmark the URLs of your own favorites through the SqueezeCenter/SqueezeNetwork interface (see below).
Podcasts: As with the Internet-radio bookmarks, you can add the feeds for your favorite podcasts on the SqueezeCenter/SqueezeNetwork home page. Just dial up the podcast menu, and you'll get a selection of the last 6-10 episodes for each show.
PC-based audio files: 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, thanks to a near-universal file format compatibility: MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, and Ogg Vorbis files can all be streamed without issue. There's one big exception, though: DRM. Songs purchased from the iTunes Store, Zune Store, or any service that uses the Windows Plays For Sure DRM scheme won't work on the Boom. 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").