I’ve long been a fan of SlimDevices and their Squeezebox line of networked audio streamers. I’ve been using them for years and although they are more expensive than the competition the quality of the package (hardware, software and community/support) can’t be beaten.
What do they do? They … err… stream audio over a network! Basically the squeezebox is a bridge between your PC hard drive full of
downloaded legally bought music and your normal stereo.
I’ve always seen Slim Devices as a technology driven company – that is, they put the effort into getting the inside of the box right first and foremost rather than concentrating on looks. Their early designs were perhaps a little “industrial” for some people but I’m pleased to see the new version 3 squeezebox has matured to the point where they can spend some time and money on the look and finish.
So why do I like the squeezebox so much? Audio quality and convenience. The Squeezebox will play back MP3s and do it very well but if you really want quality you have to go for a lossless format. I have my entire CD library ripped to FLAC format and sitting on a server.
Unlike MP3 which gets it’s compression by dropping huge lumps of sound it thinks you won’t be able to hear, FLAC files replicate the original CD track bit-for-bit. Result: I have every CD I own available at the touch of a button with no loss of quality. In fact some audiophiles on the slim forums have compared their SB setups very favourably with CD players costing many thousands of dollars – if that’s not an endorsement of the product I don’t know what is!
The unit has a pretty conventional remote control, or you can choose to geek out by using the web interface onto a wifi enabled PDA.
It has it’s own server software to manage your media, which can be run standalone or set to talk to an existing iTunes library if that’s what you’re using at the moment. It’ll play back most of the common audio formats you’re likely to have knocking around, it can give you internet radio and to top it all you can have a few squeezeboxes dotted around the house for whole house audio. Synchronised of course – or not, it’s up to you.
The unit itself is about as plug + play as it gets but obviously the process of ripping all your CDs and setting up an appropriate server to run the accompanying software could take a bit more work. I found it more than worth the time and effort, I suggest you head over to their website and check them out.