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Logitech Squeezebox Radio review: Logitech Squeezebox Radio

Logitech Squeezebox Radio

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Matthew Moskovciak
Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg

Matthew Moskovciak

Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

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12 min read

8.3

Logitech Squeezebox Radio

The Good

Wi-Fi radio with built-in speaker and color LCD display; stylish exterior design and outstanding button placement on front panel; can access thousands of freely available Internet radio stations; streams tons of online music services (Pandora, Last.fm, Slacker, Rhapsody, Sirius, Live Music Archive); provides access to PC-based music files (on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines); supports nearly every digital audio file format, including lossless formats like FLAC and Apple Lossless; optional battery pack allows for portable operation; extensive alarm clock options; can control the radio using a Web browser or iPeng iPhone app.

The Bad

Remote and battery pack cost extra; slightly more expensive than competing radios; setup could scare off tech novices; not a perfect alarm clock; doesn't sound quite as good as the Squeezebox Boom; some stability issues.

The Bottom Line

The Logitech Squeezebox Radio has an exceptional design, an unmatched variety of streaming music services, and solid sonics, making it the top value pick for Wi-Fi radios.

Editors' note: While the Logitech Squeezebox Radio reviewed here has been discontinued, it has been replaced by the nearly identical Logitech UE Smart Radio.

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.

Design
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 built-in handle on the back makes the Squeezebox Radio easy to tote.

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 fiddling.


We love that the clock automatically dims, but it was too dark for our taste.

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.

User interface
While most Wi-Fi radios are stuck with plain text menus, the Squeezebox Radio features a relatively high-resolution screen, with a graphical user interface. This allows the display to present a lot more information, plus eye candy in the form of colorful menus and album art.


You can customize your main navigation screen in the settings.

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 playback screen fits a lot of information on the small display.

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 most frustrating aspect of the user interface occurs whenever you need to enter information, like when searching for an artist in Rhapsody. You'll have to spin the navigation wheel to select each letter and it gets tedious quickly. We haven't seen a device that gets around this problem and it's only rarely something you'll have to deal with.

Setup and configuration
The initial setup required for the Squeezebox Radio is a chore, especially if you don't own any other Squeezebox products. Be prepared to download the SqueezeCenter software, install it, scan your music files, register for a MySqueezebox account, enter all your online accounts info, tediously enter info on the Squeezebox Radio--it's a serious undertaking, especially if you intend to use all of the Squeezebox Radio's functionality.


When you select a library, you're putting the Squeezebox Radio into "SqueezeCenter" mode.

There are two basic "modes" that the Squeezebox Radio can operate in: SqueezeCenter or MySqueezebox. When you're using MySqueezebox, that means your radio isn't connecting to a PC running the SqueezeCenter software; you won't be able to access your personal music collection, but any music services that stream from the Internet (like Internet radio, Pandora, etc.) will work perfectly. When you're in SqueezeCenter mode, you're adding the ability to stream your own music collection, plus extensive browser-based control.

Unfortunately, all this terminology gets confusing quickly. For instance, there are now three different control panels you can use to remotely make adjustments to your Squeezebox Radio: MySqueezebox, Squeezebox Server Control Panel, and SqueezeCenter. They break down logically in some cases, but it's not quite clear; MySqueezebox mostly handles your online media accounts, SqueezeCenter handles most the preferences and settings, and Squeeze Server Control Panel is a simplified version of SqueezeCenter. Even knowing that breakdown, there were plenty of times we'd want to make an adjustment and realize we were in the wrong "zone," and then try to remember where it is.

Features
Like the step-up Boom, the Squeezebox Radio is packed with more features than any other radio on the market. It comes with plenty of built-in popular streaming audio services, plus you can add all kinds of additional services via the App Gallery or community plug-ins. There are too many features available on the Squeezebox Radio to cover them all in detail, but we'll hit most of the major services. (A more complete list of apps are here; there are also plug-ins created by the community.)

Online music services: 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).


You can continue to give songs "thumbs up/down" using your Squeezebox Radio.

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 tastes.

We'd also be remiss to not throw some attention on the underappreciated Live Music Archive. It offers thousands of free live concerts from "taper-friendly" bands like the Grateful Dead or Derek Trucks; it's simple to quickly dial up, say, a 1979 Grateful Dead concert at Madison Square Garden and it will start streaming nearly immediately.

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.


The easiest way to use Rhapsody is to add songs to your library using a PC, then just browse the library on the radio.

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.

Internet radio and podcasts: 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.

Apps: 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.


The App Gallery provides an easy way for Logitech to add new functionality to the Squeezebox Radio.

PC-based music collection: 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.


Logitech's SqueezeCenter software had no problem handling our large music collection.

Alarm clock: 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.


The alarm functionality is very customizable, but it may be a little too involved for some users.

On the upside, the Squeezebox Radio's alarm settings are very customizable. You can set several different reoccurring 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.

On the other hand, there are a lot of ways the Squeezebox Radio falls short as an alarm clock. Even with the alarm button right on the front, it takes more steps to set an alarm using the onscreen menus than a standard alarm clock with dedicated controls. Also, when you go to select an alarm sound, you don't get to hear what that sound is; we also couldn't find a way to pick just a plain old alarm sound. And when you set the alarm volume, you set it based on a number out of 100, without getting to actually hear how loud that is. Lastly, we initially weren't sure you could use songs from your music collection as an alarm either. You can, but you have to save them as favorites first.

If you can deal with a little complexity and fiddling, the Squeezebox Radio offers a ton of alarm functionality, but for a lot of people even a little fiddling is too much on an alarm clock.

Connectivity: 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. There's also a headphone jack, which is smartly positioned on the side of the radio, toward the front.


Connectivity is limited, but the auxiliary input makes it easy to connect an external device.

Control via browser/iPhone: We love the front panel controls, but the ability to change settings via the SqueezeCenter software or MySqueezebox Web portal is still handy. Even better, the Squeezebox Radio works like a charm with the iPeng iPhone app ($10), giving you yet another way to control you radio.

Add-on pack: 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.


There's a compartment on the bottom for the battery pack, which is coming out by the end of the year.

What's missing? Overall, the Squeezebox Radio has the best feature set of any Wi-Fi radio on the market, but there are a few features it's missing that competitors have. The most glaring to us is the lack of a weather app; this is available on the competing VTech IS9181 and the Acoustic Research ARIR2000 and seems like a natural fit with the SB Radio's color display. It also lacks an AM/FM tuner. We're not exactly fans of terrestrial radio, but it's often the only way to tune in to local sports broadcasts. (Otherwise, any local radio station with online streaming is available on the Squeezebox.) Other radios also offer a more traditional line-out port, for connecting it to a home stereo, although it's worth pointing out that there are plenty of other Squeezebox products better suited to that task.

Another issue worth noting is that the Squeezebox Radio doesn't offer any support for USB-based media. That contrasts with the upcoming Squeezebox Touch player, which allows you to pull audio from any connected USB hard drive or flash drive--a nice convenience for those who don't want to keep a PC powered up all the time.

Yes, these are shortcomings, but in reality the lack of a weather app is the only feature we really felt was "missing"--and it's easy for Logitech to add this in the future.

Performance
Sound quality on Wi-Fi radios is always a compromise. The units are small, usually mono, and the music is compressed, sometimes much more than your usual iTunes download. That being said, the units definitely sound different and it's worthwhile to compare their performance.

All things considered, the Squeezebox Radio sounds about as good as you can expect from a product like this. We found the sound to be extremely well-balanced--it was hard to make it sound boomy or harsh--and it remained clean and distortion-free, even when we turned up the volume. The creeping bassline at the beginning of "Come Together" by The Beatles has a surprisingly natural sound from a small radio, although we did note that bass response varied quite a bit depending on where we placed the radio. Mixing in some jazz tunes from Charles Mingus and more aggressive rock from Queens of the Stone Age proved it could hold its own with a variety of genres.

On the other hand, it's definitely a significant step down from the Squeezebox Boom, which sounds more detailed and can "rock out" a little more. If you're a stickler for sound quality, the Boom is the easy choice, as you might expect from its larger size and stereo configuration.

Stability and smoothness of playback were exceptional on the Squeezebox Radio, as we've come to expect from Squeezebox products. Local music plays back gapless, which is a huge plus if you're listening to, say, "Dark Side of the Moon" where tracks flow right into each other. We're also always amazed that Squeezebox products play back Rhapsody tracks with only a slight hiccup--we get a bigger hitch using the actual Rhapsody software!

While we enjoyed stutter-free playback, we did run into some operational glitches. During our testing, there were a couple instances where the Squeezebox Radio would just stop playing back audio--we could queue up music and the progress bar would move, but no audio would come out of the speaker. The only way we could get around this was to unplug the unit. We also had the unit spontaneously reboot itself twice during our testing period. It was rare enough during our testing period that it wasn't a deal-breaker, but it happened enough that we hope Logitech makes stability its No. 1 priority for future firmware fixes.

8.3

Logitech Squeezebox Radio

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 7