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Editors' Note: This review has been updated to reflect the addition of Sirius Internet Radio support, which was added to the Squeezebox Duet via a firmware upgrade in April 2008.
Digital audio is great--especially if you've got a multigigabyte music collection sitting on your computer, or you subscribe to an "all you can eat" music service like Rhapsody. The problem, for a lot of people, is that they're stuck listening to all that great music on the tinny speakers of their computer--or perhaps patching the laptop into their living room stereo system. Dedicated audio streamers have helped somewhat, but they have tiny little screens, which--like docked iPods--aren't very useful if you're sitting on a sofa across the room. And the best solution to date--the excellent Sonos Digital Music System--costs a pricey $1,000 for a two-room bundle. Enter Logitech's Squeezebox Duet: the $400 network digital audio streamer employs a winning handheld remote with a brilliant color screen (not unlike an iPod) that lets you navigate your entire music collection--including several online services and the majority of free Internet radio stations--from the palm of your hand, while you hear the music from the big speakers of your home stereo.
The Duet is so named because it's a two-part system: the Squeezebox Receiver base station and the Squeezebox Controller remote. The base station is a nondescript black brick that pulls audio from a networked PC (Windows, Mac, or Linux) or the Internet via your Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet home network. The single button on the front of the base station is used to manually sync it to the network during setup. In addition to the Ethernet jack, the rear panel boasts both analog stereo (red and white RCA jacks) and digital (coaxial or optical) jacks. That means you can output your music to pretty much anything you want--be it a high-end AV receiver, a lowly boombox, or a pair of PC speakers--so long as it has an auxiliary input jack. There's no power button, but you can shut it off via your computer (more on that later) or the remote.
Speaking of the remote--the "Squeezebox Controller," that is--it's the real innovation here. Beyond the 10 buttons controlling standard functions (volume, play/pause, track forward/reverse), it features an iPod-like scroll wheel and a brilliant 2.4-inch color LCD screen (240x320 resolution, 256,000 colors). That puts the song navigation where it belongs: in your hand, instead of a small LCD readout halfway across the room. In addition to the wheel, the menu navigation is also largely iPod-like, so anybody who's familiar with Apple's ubiquitous music player should be able to pick up and use the Squeezebox Duet with no trouble. That said, the Controller's scroll wheel isn't quite as good as the Apple version: it's an actual wheel, not the solid-state touch-sensitive version on the iPod, and it lacks the iPod's speed-sensitive ability to quickly jump up and down through long lists.
The Controller includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (it's removable, too, so you can replace it a few years down the line when it eventually expires). The included charging station is heavy and metallic, so the remote won't be tipping over when docked. Interestingly, the Controller also includes an SD slot behind the battery compartment, a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, an IR transmitter, a small speaker (for menu clicks and other feedback), and a three-axis accelerometer (a la the Wii controllers). Few of those features have even been tapped yet, but they show how much room the controller has to grow with future firmware upgrades, both from Logitech and the avid developer community that's been active in developing past Squeezebox products. (Both the Receiver and Controller are firmware upgradable--just choose the "update" option on the controller menu for an automatic download.)
The Squeezebox Duet is an expandable system, so the two components are also available separately: add additional Receivers for $150 each and additional Controller remotes for $300 (thus, you're saving $50 by buying the Duet bundle). Moreover, the Duet system has been designed to be backward compatible with earlier Squeezebox models. That means that the Squeezebox "Classic" and the high-end Transporter can double as receivers within a home network, and the Controller remote can interact with those models as well. Logitech recommends not exceeding six to eight Squeezebox nodes (Controllers and Receivers total), after which the bandwidth constraints are likely to overwhelm most home networks. But if you're going for a home music system larger than that, you probably should already be considering stepping up to the Sonos Digital Music System anyway.
The Squeezebox Duet can draw audio from two main sources: the Internet or a networked PC--Windows, Mac, or Linux. The breadth of the online sources is impressive and varied:
Online music services: If you like online music services, chances are you'll love the Squeezebox Duet. Thus far, supported services include Rhapsody, Sirius, Last.fm, Slacker, MP3tunes, Pandora, Live365, RadioIO, and RadioTime. (These are mostly premium services, but all of them offer a free trial period.) Also available is the complete catalog of the Live Music Archive, a free resource that includes thousands of live concert recordings.
Internet radio: Prefer free online music? The full panoply of online radio is available. Either access Shoutcast servers (divided by region or genre), or add your own bookmarked favorites through the SqueezeNetwork interface (see below).
Podcasts: As with the Internet radio bookmarks, you can add the feeds for your favorite podcasts on the SqueezeNetwork home page.
You'd think that controlling access to that wide range of online music sources would be a challenge, but Logitech and Slim Devices couldn't have made things simpler. All of the online music sources are aggregated under a single online location called SqueezeNetwork. Set up a free account (it takes about 30 seconds, and you don't need to give more than your e-mail address), and the SqueezeNetwork service provides a single location to coordinate everything: all of your account information for any of the premium online services to which you're subscribed. (The Squeezebox generates a unique PIN code during setup that you input to the SqueezeNetwork page, linking the two together.) The SqueezeNetwork home page is also where you add your Internet radio favorites and podcast RSS feeds (just cut and paste the appropriate URLs). You can even add text RSS feeds, for viewing Web clips on the Squeezebox Controller's screen.