A multi-talented wireless audio player - hurrah
Reg Review I have a dream, ladies and gentlemen, of listening to music of my choosing that has been pumped through the ether as if from nowhere. There are no discs to change, no turntables, drives or tape mechanisms to disturb the concentration, just pure audio, accessible on whim and a player.
Compact Disc welcomed us to the world of digital music. Almost two decades later, MP3 realised the potential of compressing music to make possible archiving huge quantities of the stuff. Today's monstrously capacious hard drives allow us to build that archive.
One thing spoils this audio heaven: the need to wire said hard drive to the hi-fi. There have been hi-fi units equipped with hard drives, but nothing beats a personal computer for ripping and managing an audio collection. But most computers, even Apple's don't sit well alongside a living room entertainment system. And who wants to walk over to a PC to set a player app in motion?
What's needed is a way of keeping your music in one place - the computer up in the spare room - but which lets you listen to it from the comfort of a fine leather reading chair in the lounge.
Enter Slim Devices' Squeezebox, a remote music access point that uses the magic of Wi-Fi to enliven your hi-fi, without forcing you to physically merge the worlds of consumer electronics and computing.
The Squeezebox is about the size of a large, 'trade' paperback. At the back sit a set of digital and analog outputs, a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port, a screw-on WLAN antenna and the power jack. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on the side. Up front, you'll see a large, crisp two-line LED panel, slightly larger than the kind you might see on a DVD or CD player. There are no controls - the Squeezebox is operated by remote.
Connecting the Squeezebox to an amplifier is straightforward. And in a real challenge to claims that Wi-Fi isn't easy to use, getting the unit to talk to your WLAN is equally clear-cut.
It really is a doddle. Plug in the power cable, wait the briefest of moments and the Squeezebox takes you through a short series of steps. First, select your WLAN's SSID. If there are several in the vicinity, you use the up- and down-arrow keys on the remote control to find the right one. Press the right-arrow key when you've done so.
Next, tell the device whether the network is secure or not. If it is, you enter the 64-bit or 128-bit WEP encryption key using the remote's numeric pad. I tried the Squeezebox on an open, public network and on my own, rather more tightly tied down home WLAN, and had no trouble getting it to work with either. Having fought with Wi-Fi and WEP before, it was nice to have something wireless work first time.
Moving on, you're subsequently asked whether the device's IP address will be assigned or is static. I choose the former, and the squeezebox promptly requested one from the router.
Finally, you're asked to select the computer on which Slim Devices' open source server code is running. Again, there may be more than one, so use the arrow keys to locate and select the one you want. And that's it.
The light-weight server software (written in Perl, incidentally) has to be pre-installed on the computer holding your music archive, of course, but that's not likely to tax anyone smart enough to rip their CDs. Slim Devices not only supports the various incarnations of Windows, but Linux and Mac OS X, which wins it much praise from this quarter and a big yah-boo-sucks to its Windows-only rivals. You may need to tweak your firewall, of course.