Scotty's Got a Squeezebox...

From the April edition of Prime Magazine:

Call me old school, but I’ve never been a big fan of music playback on the computer. Sure, you can have a decent setup on a desktop, but that one spot you’re tied to is generally not the keen area for music listening. While laptops give you portability, the tiny speakers are generally garbage. Portable speakers may help, but any that are worth a damn tend to need their own power supply, and most ear buds also have sonic limitations.

Yet as the internet gains more and more audio sources, the desire to listen has obviously dramatically increased. This is where Logitech’s Squeezebox Boom becomes the perfect solution. The Squeezebox is an internet boombox that will work anywhere it can pick up the signal of your home network, and its 30 watts of power is plenty of punch outside of a traditional home stereo system. (The Squeezebox Duet is the home stereo version of this product.)

What attracted me to this product is the fact that you can set up access to all of your computer’s music files. Besides the standard mp3’s, the Squeezebox is compatible with almost any digital format, including AAC, WMA, Ogg, FLAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and many more. This is great news for bootleg collectors who are otherwise forced to convert their lossless files for ipod playback.

In my setup, I have a 200 gig portable hard drive where I have dumped the contents of all of my ipods, along with all of the bootleg material I have collected over the years. Can you see how I would be excited to have a boombox with direct access to over 55,000 songs?

Yet the Squeezebox offers much more than just the ability to acess my personal library. With a few minutes of setup time, the “Squeezcenter” will program the Boom to stream from a seemingly endless supply of web sources. Once you have these services set up, you can even turn off your host computer. Here is a partial list of the services built into the machine:

Local Channels. Based on your IP, the Squeezecenter searches for the local channels that feature streaming. Stations included in my local setting include a handful of public broadcasting channels, KIKN, B102.7, Hot 104.7, Classic Hits 106.3, KMNS, KXRB, KWSN, and KELO AM.

National Channels. There are dozens of stations, primarily CBS-owned, that are built into the player, from all over the country. These range the full gamut of formats, from sports and talk radio to every genre imaginable. CBS has also partnered with AOL to create a few internet-only specialty channels, including stations devoted to just Radiohead and the Clash.

Sirius Satellite Radio. If you have a Sirius account, just enter your email and password and you have access to their programming, including Little Steven’s Garage Channel and Howard Stern. Surprisingly, XM is not built into the player so for the time being you can’t listen to Opie & Anthony or Ron & Fez.

Live Music Archive. Thousands of artists from all genres have allowed this site to host their concerts. A great example is Ryan Adams, who has over 250 concerts available, or Ween with close to 100. Just the other night, I uncovered a Camper Van Beethoven show from Minneapolis that I had actually attended.

Pandora, Last.FM, Slacker, Rhapsody, etc. In a previous issue, I extolled the virtues of some of these services as must-needs for the iTouch. They’re even handier on the Squeezebox, especially Last.FM and it’s “scrobbing” feature that compiles every artist, album, and song that you play on any of the Squeezebox services.

Other Features. You can also program the Squeezebox to conform to other online sources (including podcasts), or rely on the work of others. Logitech allows third-party programmers to design their own plug-ins, which gives much hope for evenutally seeing XM on this machine.

If you own an iPhone/iTouch, I also highly recommend downloading iPeng, a remote control unit for the Squeezebox. While the remote included with the player is bare-bones and requires one to be within sight of the player’s relatively tiny display, iPeng not only gives you a more direct route to the player’s features, it also displays the artwork of the material you’re playing, allows you to set up playlists, and take full advantage of the love/hate fine-tuning of your Last.FM/Pandora/Slacker profiles.

Note: Since this article was published, I have also purchased the Duet, a home stereo version of the Squeezebox. I couldn’t be more pleased, as the player’s 24-bit Wolffson DAC creates CD-quality sound, particularly on lossless formats such as FLAC.

A Squeezebox user has also created a plug-in for XM reception, so I can now listen to Ron and Fez on both of my Squeezeboxes. If desired, I can even link the two players together for multi-room use.

Hudson’s Short Guide to New Music

Buy Now:

Dan Auerbach, Keep It Hid. The solo debut by the Black Keys’ singer/guitarist is the sort of grimy rock ‘n’ roll we desparately need these days.

Morrissey, Years of Refusal. After years of middling disappointments, the King of Mope has now released three fantastic albums in a row.

Proceed With Caution:

U2, No Line On the Horizon. After an initial period of disappointment, U2’s return to Achtung Baby ambience is starting to grow on me.
Neko Case, Middle Cyclone. Nobody can argue that Neko has a beautiful voice, and more than most of her releases this album highlights this fact. Yet, as usual there’s nothing on here that really stands out as a classic.
Various Artists, War Child Presents Heroes. The concept of having classic artists choose who covers them is interesting, and certainly works when Beck does a Dylan song or the Hold Steady covers Springsteen. But Adele doing “Live and Let Die”? No thanks.

Avoid At All Costs:
Franz Ferdinand, Tonight. While there’s always been a bit of a dance-rock element to Scotland’s biggest hitmakers, on this awful album they forgot the rock portion of the mix. Purely disposable dreck.


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