The Squeezebox Boom has been our favorite Wi-Fi radio for some time now, but any tabletop radio that costs around $300 is going to have limited appeal. The Logitech Squeezebox Radio ($200) is designed to offer almost everything that's good about Boom in a smaller package and for less money--and it succeeds. Like every Wi-Fi radio, the Squeezebox Radio can stream thousands of Internet radio stations, but it is also adept at handling music stored on a PC, tons of online music services (Pandora, Rhapsody, Slacker, Last.FM to name a few), podcasts, and even photos via Flickr. The Squeezebox Radio's physical design is uncommonly refined, with an eye-catching color screen and superb layout of the front panel controls.
Most of our complaints are nitpicks. Logitech charges extra for an accessory pack that includes a remote and a battery pack; $50 to make the Squeezebox Radio portable is fair, but the remote should have been included. The initial setup will be daunting to those new to streaming music over a home network, but after the initial time investment, it's smooth sailing. The Squeezebox Radio is more expensive than competing options like the Grace GDI-IR2000, the Livio Radio, and the VTech IS9181, but in this case it's worth paying extra for its outstanding design, unparalleled feature set, and solid sonics.
We've raved about the Squeezebox Radio's exterior design since we first saw images of it and our time with the product hasn't diminished our praise. It gets just about everything right. The cabinet is made of plastic, but has a solid feel and the glossy finish is stylish, although it does attract dust/fingerprints (it's available in black or red). The back panel has a built-in handle, which makes it easy to move from one room to the next. From the front, there's a speaker grille on the left side, and the right side has the controls and color display.
The large knob in the center handles navigation. Pushing the button
while browsing menus confirms a choice; when a song is playing, it
brings up more options, such as "thumbs up/down" controls for Pandora.
There's a separate, smaller volume knob, which is a plus, since many
Wi-Fi radios (including the earlier Squeezebox Boom) combine navigation
and volume control in one knob. Pushing the volume knob activates mute.
The other soft buttons handle other crucial functions, including a
shortcut to alarm functionality. The six buttons lining the display
access Internet radio presets, which are set by holding the buttons
down while listening to a station. Overall, the control scheme has a
slight learning curve, but everything made sense after a little
There's not a lot of need for connectivity on the Squeezebox Radio, but it's still well covered. Around the back, there's an Ethernet port and a minijack auxiliary input, in case you want to, say, connect a friend's iPod.
Logitech handles the two main deficiencies of the Squeezebox Radio by offering an add-on pack that includes a rechargeable battery pack and a remote. Logitech says the $50 accessory pack is scheduled to come out in "late November/early December." We haven't had a chance to test the Squeezebox Radio with the rechargeable battery, but if it works as advertised, it's likely to be our top portable Wi-Fi radio pick.
The main navigation is done via the home menu. Here you can access your music, see what's currently playing, launch an app, or go into the settings. Luckily, you can customize your home menu (in case you want to add/drop certain services), although we'd love the ability to change the order of the menu items.
The display when a song is playing is nicely arranged. It's easy to see the album art, song title, artist, album name, and track number. There's no indicator as to how long a song is, but there's a progress bar so you have some idea.
The "app" terminology is a little grating, but we appreciate Logitech's effort to adding functionality to Squeezebox products more user-friendly. We didn't test all the available apps, but both the Flickr and Facebook apps worked as you'd expect.
Like every other Wi-Fi radio on the market, you'll get access to the wide range of free Internet radio stations that are available. There are thousands of stations available and if for some reason you can't find your favorite stations, it's easy to add the URL using the SqueezeCenter software. It's also easy to add podcasts in the same manner (via RSS feeds); you won't need to download the files, you can just stream them off the Internet.
Like the Squeezebox Boom, the Radio offers the most comprehensive suite of online services on the market. Supported services include Pandora, Last.fm, Slacker, Live Music Archive, Live365, Shoutcast, RadioIO, RadioTime, and MediaFly. (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 (though some, like Pandora, cap free usage hours per month, encouraging you to step up to a paid premium version).
Pandora is probably the most popular of these services, and you get
access to essentially everything you get in your browser, including
thumbs up/down control, bookmaking, and album art. Our favorite
feature? The ability to switch between multiple Pandora accounts on the
radio, in case not everybody in your household has the same musical
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.
We're longtime fans of the Rhapsody subscription services and we were really impressed with the Squeezebox Radio's implementation. Tracks loaded up almost immediately on our network, complete with album art
and essentially gapless playback between tracks. It's a pain to search for artists using the navigation wheel, but you can get around the problem by adding albums to your library using a PC, then choosing from your selected albums/tracks on the Squeezebox Radio.
Most technophiles have amassed large libraries of digital music, and the Squeezebox Radio is capable of streaming nearly any audio file from a computer running the SqueezeCenter software. The good news here is that the software is available for Windows, Macs, and Linux machines. The list of supported file types is extensive: MP3, AAC, WMA, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, and Ogg Vorbis. During the setup process, SqueezeCenter can directly look at your iTunes directory (or any other music management software), and it can work in parallel with them as well. In other words, you could keep running iTunes to interface with your iPod or iPhone, while having SqueezeCenter running to interface with the Squeezebox. SqueezeCenter is infinitely tweakable and we didn't have any problems organizing our rather large digital music collection to our taste.
Most Wi-Fi radios have basic alarm functionality but lack the ease of use provided by a $10 alarm clock you'd get at a drug store. The Squeezebox Radio's alarm functionality is significantly better than other Wi-Fi radios on the market, although in some ways it's still inferior to a cheap alarm clock.
On the upside, the Squeezebox Radio's alarm settings are very customizable. You can set several different recurring alarms, select which days you want it to go off, set the precise amount of time snooze delays the alarm ringing, and choose from a library of preset music sounds to wake up to. These features are all a step above what you usually get on a Wi-Fi radio.
The Squeezebox Radio features a 2.4-inch color LCD display, a feature we've seen on two other Wi-Fi radios, the VTech IS9181 and Philips NP2900. The display can get plenty bright--which is a good thing--but it can also make for an unwanted nightlight in your bedroom. The Squeezebox Radio handles this with an autodimmer function. Although it works, we found it to be too aggressive; once we turned the lights off, the screen looked like it was off from across the room and we couldn't see the time. (It's visible when you get up close.) It's a nitpick, but we'd love for Logitech to hone this feature or make it more customizable so you can set your own "dim" level.