A veteran in the digital audio receiver category, Slim Devices launched its third-generation Squeezebox in November 2005. Like other digital audio receivers, it connects to your home stereo and uses your wireless network to stream audio from the Internet and network-connected PCs. However, since its debut, the Squeezebox has undergone a series of upgrades (downloadable for free via Slim's Web site) that have made a great product even better. New features include tight integration with Slim Device's SqueezeNetwork portal, expanded Internet radio capabilities, and support for two key premium audio services: Rhapsody, Real Networks' online jukebox that offers access to thousands of songs for a flat monthly fee, and Pandora, a clever service that creates custom stations based on your preferences. Only the Squeezebox's relatively high price of $300 and its absence of support for DRM-protected audio files (those you buy at online stores such as Apple iTunes Store and Napster) are stumbling blocks. Potential buyers should also be aware of the latest Squeezebox release, the Squeezebox Duet ($400), which offers an innovative remote control that lets you browse your digital music from the palm of your hand.
The third-generation Squeezebox is far more attractive than previous Slim Devices models--past incarnations include the 2005 second-generation version, the 2003 first-generation Squeezebox, and the company's trailblazing 2001 product, the SLIMP3--and some may even find it more fashionable than its closest competitor, the Roku SoundBridge M1000. Measuring 3.7 inches high, 7.6 wide, and 3.1 inches deep (including the unit's U-shaped metal foot stand), the Squeezebox has a sleek, vertically oriented design. Its body consists of a silver-metallic lower half, accented with black side and rear panels.
The unit has a bright 320x32-pixel vacuum-fluorescent display capable of showing several lines of aqua-colored text. Compared to many other digital audio streamers, the display size is generous and enables you to browse your music from a reasonable seating distance of about seven feet (with good eyesight). On the other hand, in normal navigation you can really only read about one line of text at a time, which feels cramps compared to the spacious interface of the Apple TV or even the Squeezebox Controller.
The 30-button remote control provides a bit more direct access to features than you'd get with the simpler 18-button remote of the Roku SoundBridge, but it still manages to keep things intuitive with a four-way keypad for menu navigation, as well as play, rewind, forward, and pause buttons. Because the remote has volume controls, the Squeezebox is suitable for connection directly to powered PC-style multimedia speakers. The Size button enlarges the unit's front-panel text enough that it's readable from a distance of approximately 15 feet.
The Squeezebox 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. You get full access free services like Last.fm, Slacker, and the Live Music Archive, plus the ability to access premium (think: subscription) web audio services likes Rhapsody, MP3tunes, and Pandora.
Internet radio: Traditional Internet radio services are also available, including completely free services such as RadioTime and Shoutcast, as well as tiered Internet radio services like Live365 and RadioIO.
Podcasts: As with the Internet radio bookmarks, you can add the feeds for your favorite podcasts on the SqueezeNetwork homepage.
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 your subscribed. (The Squeezebox generates a PIN code during setup that you input to the SqueezeNetwork page, linking the two together.) The SqueezeNetwork homepage is also where you add your Internet radio favorites and podcast RSS feeds (just cut and paste the appropriate URLs).
In all, the SqueezeNetwork site provides a quick and easy way to pull together all of the online assets available on the Squeezebox. Anything we added was instantly available on the Squeezebox just a couple of seconds later. Moreover, because everything is accessed via the Web, it's effectively universally compatible, regardless of what browser you're using (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari, or whatever) or from what sort of computer (Windows, Mac, Linux--or even a portable device, for that matter).
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.