Roku SoundBridge review:

Roku SoundBridge

Windows Media Connect is the only server application that enables streaming protected WMA files from your computer's hard drive to the SoundBridge. (To clarify, the SoundBridge's Plays For Sure certification covers both sides of the DRM fence: you can stream individual songs purchased from online retailers, as well as those "rented" on all-you-can-eat subscription plans, such as Napster To Go.) Like all but Apple's own network media products (such as the AirPort Express, the SoundBridge cannot play DRM songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store--but it will play the non-DRM "iTunes Plus" purchases.

The SoundBridge provides robust access to free and fee-based Internet music, including the Yahoo and Rhapsody subscriptions services (though you'll need to keep those applications running on your PC). The SoundBridge can also tune hundreds of free Internet radio stations listed in the iTunes interface. The unit can stream any MP3, WMA, or Shoutcast stream. Up to 10 Internet radio station presets can be programmed into the SoundBridge's memory to facilitate playing the stations without powering up the computer.

If you like what the SoundBridge offers but are looking for something with built-in speakers, check out the Roku SoundBridge Radio R1000. It costs $100 more, but packs the SoundBridge experience into the form factor of an upscale clock radio, and it adds a standard AM/FM radio to boot.

Setting up the Roku SoundBridge M1001 is exceptionally straightforward. After downloading, configuring, and installing the server application(s) of your choice, you connect the unit to your home stereo, power it on, then follow onscreen prompts to complete device configuration and connection with your wireless network (or simply plug in an Ethernet cable for a wired connection). The printed user guide that shipped with my review sample was significantly outdated, but Roku's Web site contains an up-to-date version.

During testing, we were able to simultaneously run the Apple iTunes, Windows Media Connect, and Rhapsody server applications on my 2.1GHz Pentium 4 PC. The SoundBridge displayed respectable stability when used with all three of the aforementioned server applications, though we did once have to reboot the server PC and the SoundBridge to reactivate a dead iTunes communication link. But glitches were much more the exception than the rule; overall, the SoundBridge exhibited excellent stability, with wireless connections delivering solid, drop-free performance. Sound quality was equally impressive. With the SoundBridge passing digital bits to our A/V receiver's coaxial input, the sound was every bit as good as the source material. The same was true of analog hook-ups--tracks such as Buena Vista Social Club's "Chan Chan" sounded crisp and clear. Navigating the onscreen menu was a bit challenging at first, but we were soon be able to zip in and out of the menus with relative ease using the comfortable remote.

What you'll pay

    Visit manufacturer site for details.

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