Slim Devices Squeezebox 3 network music player
Computer-to-stereo music streaming goes mainstream
Re-connection to your SlimServer - it's on your notebook, for instance, and you've taken it out of the building since you last used your Squeezebox - is fast, and so is switching between songs. The search system is quick, and the mobile phone-style text-entry system will not only be immediately familiar to anyone who sends text messages, but thanks the remote control's large, well-spaced keys is easy to use.
With no controls on the Squeezebox itself, you'll need to keep the remote handy. It's the weakest part of the package, having a light, slightly cheap feel. But it's eminently useable, the keys are sensibly laid out and there are short-cut buttons to most commonly viewed menu items.
Squeezebox 3 costs $299 (£172), which is a snip. There's even an Ethernet-only version for $249 (£143). I did ponder a docked iPod as an alternative way of making all my digital music instantly accessible via my hi-fi, but it's way more expensive, and no one else can use it if I happen to be out and about with my portable music player. And there's no way I can sit on my sofa and see what's on the docked iPod's display - with Squeezebox it's no problem at all. And with the SlimDevices product you can send songs from your archive to multiple Squeezeboxes around your home. It's not quite up there with Sonos for large-scale multi-room set-ups, but then it's cheaper. You pay your money, you take your choice.
Flaws? If it can't find an active SlimServer, Squeezebox defaults to its set-up screen, not its internet radio facility, which makes for a less consumer-friendly experience. I understand why it does this - maybe there's a network problem - but I think the box should be more savvy and save the user some button presses. Is the most recently used WLAN up and running? Yes, so get an IP address and either log straight into SqueezeNetwork or go to the Internet Radio section. Only if there's no internet connectivity should it default to a set-up page.
I also experienced some network configuration oddities, but I believe they were due to the fact I kept taking my notebook on and off the WLAN with the effect that the Squeezebox kept having to deal with different IP addresses. None of it stopped me from playing music, either from SqueezeNetwork or my computer. A fixed system - or at least a fixed IP address - makes more sense and is a more likely usage scenario.
Slim Devices' Squeezebox remains the best network music system I've tried, delivering exceptional functionality and superb audio quality at a very reasonable, affordable price. It's platform agnostic, working as well on Macs and Linux PCs as it does on Windows machines, and with SqueezeNetwork, it doesn't even need a computer to connect through, at least not once the account set-up's done. The server software is simple to use and as unobtrusive as you want. It supports a fine array of formats, though it's going to have to address the DRM problem sooner or later. And, did I mention it looks fantastic?
Thoroughly recommended. ®