“That’s right, it filets, it chops, it dices, slices,
Never stops, lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn
And it mows your lawn and it picks up the kids from school
It gets rid of unwanted facial hair, it gets rid of embarrassing age spots,
It delivers a pizza, and it lengthens, and it strengthens
And it finds that slipper that’s been at large
under the chaise lounge for several weeks
And it plays a mean Rhythm Master,å
It makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar
And it’s only a dollar, step right up, it’s only a dollar, step right up…
…And it entertains visiting relatives, it turns a sandwich into a banquet”
– Tom Waits (‘Step Right Up’)
No single device has changed the way I manage and listen to my music collection the way that the Squeezebox has. I haven’t owned a CD player since ripping my five thousand strong CD collection to a Linux PC and buying my first Squeezebox 2 in 2005. I’ve bought each successive new Squeezebox model ever since. Recent developments with iPhone/iPad apps has taken the convenience of having my entire music collection to another plane. (Romantic) notions of tangibility and sleeve notes dissolve into the aether for anyone that has used iPeng and/or Squeezepad to control their Squeezeboxen. For this music fanatic, the Squeezebox has been – and still is – a revolutionary device that continues to evolve.
More importantly, the Squeezebox has been my reference transport for nearly every review on DAR. The convenience of having my several thousand songs but a few clicks away far outweighs any concerns about electronic interference, switching power supplies and jitter. Besides, the allure of a USB-only DAC for my MacBook has been stymied by iTunes’ beligerence in embracing anything lossless format – other than ALAC – natively. The Squeezebox wins because it CAN play FLAC natively, it can also do Ogg Vorbis natively…it can even handle the digital relics that are Windows Media files natively. Oh yeah, AAC is native too. That many natives means a digital audio tribe of format compatibility. Non-native formats are transcoded on-the-fly by the server and then streamed to your Squeezebox in your format of choice. Mix CDs and live albums are truly gapless in 99% of playback formats. Some will remember that prior to 2007, gapless playback was the yet-to-be-attained final clincher on both the Squeezebox and the the iPod range. (Gapless MP3 playback relies on a recent LAME build as the encoder of choice).
The all-new Squeezebox Touch has been available on the US market for over six months. Given Logitech’s global reach it seems odd that only now are they bringing this new product into Australia. But why in limited quantities? And why so expensive? The local RRP is AU$549 and yet the overseas price is US$299.
Many detractors were concerned that Logitech’s 2006 purchase of Slim Devices would see product development slow considerably. Not so. Squeezebox Server remains covered by the GNU General Public License and continues to be developed. Numerous plugins are also being written that extend the functionality of the server software. The Slim Devices forum remains active and there’s still help aplenty available for those new to the world of Squeezeboxen. The Squeezebox Wiki is a fantastic resource for newcomers and experienced users alike.
The Squeezebox Touch 1-2-3 setup drill is as familiar and painless as with older models:
1. Connect the Squeezebox to your network (wirelessly or wired)
2. Install Squeezebox Server software on your PC (Windows/Linux) or Mac (OS X) and have it scan your music collection
3. Have the Squeezebox connect to the Squeezebox Server…and you’re-a-music-streamin’
Many will already know that you are not simply restricted to your own music library. The Squeezebox Touch’s seamless integration with the cloud opens up a whole new universe of music from hundreds of internet radio stations. EVERYTHING that the BBC Radio puts out is only a few remote clicks away, but on-screen text is around 20% smaller than the Classic and you’d need the eyes of Steve Austin to read it from your armchair if you sit more than a two metres away. If you can’t read the screen, why have a remote? I only used the (slimmed down) remote on occasion to flip between the “now playing” screens; the VU meters look superb with a dash of added colour.
The touch screen is not just a me-too gimmick for the iPod set. It’s superb for network diagnostics or quickly pausing the music if the phone rings. The screen is luminous and considerably brighter than the Classic. Having said that, you can’t read the “now playing” information from the listening position so you’ll have to make a best guess from the displayed cover art. Not having to cycle through alphanumerics on the remote to enter a WPA passcode – use the touch screen – means network configuration on the Squeezebox Touch is done and dusted in less than two minutes.
Native 24bit/96khz support within the Touch should be applauded. LOUDLY. Hi-res audio formats DO sound better than their Redbook counterparts, but 24/96 audio has yet to permeate the collective audiophile consciousness and availability of said 24/96 files is few and far between. Having said that, native 24/96 support shows that Logitech is already embracing the future of digital audio. It is great to be able play said hi-res formats without the constant (manual) audio output settings reconfiguration that iTunes demands when switching between 16/44 and 24/96.
Of broader concern to all Squeezebox Touch users is the quality of the analogue output – it impacts upon both Redbook and hi-res sound quality. So, the real audiophile coup of the Squeezebox Touch is that the internal DAC is excellent; especially considering the Touch’s pricepoint. It’s a delta-sigma flavoured DAC and a quick spin through R.E.M.’s 1988 classic “Green” revealed the sonic presentation to be of similar quality to that of a Cambridge DacMagic. Despite some lengthy A/B comparative sessions, I couldn’t discern sufficient improvement in the digital output stage – over and above the Classic – to warrant mention here.
Logitech’s apparent lifestyle marketing of the Squeezebox Touch will continue to confound many. Here is a superb digital audio transport that holds its own against Pure Music’s tricked-up iTunes. It sports a better analogue output stage than the Classic and is considerably less veiled than the Duet, which begs the question: why has Logitech pushed forward with the Duet at the expense of the (now discontinued) Classic? The Duet remote offers nothing that can’t be achieved with an iPod/iPhone/iPad app. Moreover, the sheer market penetration of Apple’s touch screen devices must have the clock ticking on proprietary controllers. Comparing the pair on sound quality alone, the Touch trounces the Duet – you’d need to add the aforementioned DacMagic to the Duet to better the Touch’s inner detail and resolution; and that’ll run you a further $500. An iPod Touch AND a Squeezebox Touch puts the Duet to shame in features, ease of use and sound quality.
Classic die-hards might see little extra value in the all-new Squeezebox Touch, particularly if you use an external DAC, but the ability to host your music collection via an attached USB drive is also a winner (in theory at least). The Squeezebox server software runs ON the device itself – no need for a separate computer, although that option is still available should you so wish. I used both library methods, switching between the device-hosted (slow) and external (faster!) libraries using the touch screen – brilliant.
I’ve seen it written on many a forum post that those with large collections are advised to use powered USB drives (as the performance of the inbuilt Squeezebox server on the Touch takes a significant hit if it’s forced to push power to a demanding external device). I had playback and navigation problems with even a 4Gb USB key. The music contained within was scanned without issue, but playback was stop-start-jittery and slow to respond to pause-next-previous type navigation and I was completely unable to control the server via the web interface; either this isn’t a feature or it doesn’t work. (I suspect that the underlying Linux OS on the Touch requires more processor grunt). However, iPeng was able to “see” the Touch’s library. Adding music to the device-hosted library is not a drag-and-drop-over-the-wireless-network affair; the Touch doesn’t publish its library folder as a network share. That Windows/Linux/OSX intervention is required negates the benefit of the self-contained server software. My advice: keep your library externally hosted and don’t buy a Touch thinking you can rid yourself of your existing computer.
Those that already own a Classic and are considering an upgrade to the Touch are faced with a push-me-pull-you product: they gain a colour touch screen but lose the ability to be able to read it from a distance. However, it has greater luminescence for daylight viewing. The Touch also brings improved digital and analogue output stages, but the in-built server software is so unreliable that it’s not worth the trouble. Upgraders coming from a Duet background will find more to like here. The standout being a significant lift in analogue out audio quality.
Complaints about local pricing are indeed valid, but I for one would happily pay the Australian premium to know that Logitech will continue to develop the Squeezebox for years to come. Even at $549, you get a LOT for your money – not simply in terms of hardware, but in the additional intangibles of new music discovery, flexibility and convenience. I can tell you from first-hand experience that moving house with thousands of CDs is no fun. Ultimately, the CDs owned me. Even in its new Touch incarnation, the Squeezebox remains cheaper than a Sonos. No Zonebridge required here!
However, those who are considering their first Squeezebox purchase in the Touch should not be deterred by my gripes with certain functional flaws – the wonderful intangible benefits that turned many on to the world of Squeezeboxen are all present and correct: easy music library navigation and search, access to an astonishing range of internet radio stations, highly configurable alarm clock, continually developed server software. Buy one, choose a good external DAC (maybe tubes, maybe NOS) and you might never go back to CDs in your main rig. It will turn your digital audio sandwich into a banquet and it is within the context of the majority rule of the yet-to-be-converted that I must star rate Logitech’s Squeezebox Touch. It isn’t perfect, but even at $549 it’s still the best bang-for-buck standalone digital audio transport on the market right now.
- Logitech Squeezebox Classic
- Trafomatic Experience Two
- Omega Super 6 XRS
- MacBook Pro
- TeraDak Chameleon
- R.E.M. – Green (1988)
- Leonard Cohen – Songs Of Love and Hate (1971)
- Plaid – Rest Proof Clockwork (1999)
- Tom Waits – Small Change (1976)