WiFi Streaming of music from computer to stereo...
April 13, 2006 12:36 PM   Subscribe

Today I saw a Slim Devices SqueezeBox 3. Just read a review at NYT. Looks pretty neat. That said, I have zero interest or use for the radio/pandora aspect of it. However, the other features may make it worth the price tag. But, before I shell out... what are my other alternatives? (On OS X)

In short, need something to:

- stream my music over wifi
- have the id tags read so they can be displayed in the other room
- hooks up to stereo
- has a remote
- works with os x
- open source would be nice but isn't mandatory

In addition, I have all my music on a separate external hard drive. Is there anything that will interface directly with the drive to take the computer out of the loop? I doubt it, but thought I'd ask.
posted by Manhasset to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
a friend of mine has one and LOVES it, but i have no personal experience. I have a quad xeon in the basement which serves my music out to the web...which i can access on the computers throughout the house, but it sounds like you'd rather not have a bunch of computers sittin around. With squeezebox you can't plug in a hd, you will need a computer to host the drive, but any old machine will do. if there is no host computer access with the squeezebox you can listen to music via archive as well as many other sites....
posted by killyb at 12:58 PM on April 13, 2006

Best answer: I can't tell you about other alternatives, but I have two SqueezeBoxen and I love them with all my heart. They can be playing different things at the same time from a single server (they are in different rooms), they can transcode almost anything, they sound great and the server software is excellent and open source. There are a whole bunch of great third party plug-ins as well to make the server do additional cool things.

You can't just hook up a hard drive, but there doesn't quite have to be a computer, either. A module from Infrant allows their god-like NAS box to run SlimServer as a service, so you can use the NAS as the core of your home media empire with all the computers in your house talking to it and the SqueezeBox can get its feed from the NAS even when no computers are running.

That is what I call very, very cool. Also not at all cheap, but in the case of Infrant and Slim Devices, you gets what you pays for. I'd be happy to answer questions in email and proselytize more if you like.
posted by The Bellman at 1:15 PM on April 13, 2006

Roku Labs makes a similar device. Everyone I've talked to says go with the Squeezebox instead.

Squeeze boxs seem to sell on Ebay at only a few bucks off retil, if you find another (cheaper) source, lemme know, as I'm constantly trying to grab one at a discount.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:26 PM on April 13, 2006

I'm running the SlimPlayer software, but I've just got a PC playing the audio stream instead of a SqueezeBox. (The software's free and open-source.) There's also a Java program that comes with it that works like a Squeezebox but runs on a PC. Either way might be a good way to see if it fits the way you listen to music without having to shell out for the hardware right away.
posted by mendel at 1:26 PM on April 13, 2006

I've got the original SliMP3. It's basically the squeezebox without the wireless or Pandora support and with a less sophisticated screen (which is a plus for me, actually, as I dig the sort of retro green text).

It's plugged into my wireless router and works splendidly. My music is stored on my desktop and is streamed over the network to my stereo. I browse playlists and switch tracks with the remote or (more often) with my laptop. I absolutely love it. I've a friend who uses airtunes with his Macs - the Squeezebox is far more flexible.

I've been using mine for years and can't imagine being without it.
posted by aladfar at 1:37 PM on April 13, 2006

I meant to add: While my music is connected to my desktop machine, it's actually stored on an external drive. As this was a concern of yours I wanted to be certain to mention that.
posted by aladfar at 1:38 PM on April 13, 2006

Best answer: The Squeezebox has two primary competitors, Roku and Sonos.

From the sound of it, the Roku people have their heads up their rears; their boxes have lots of software features, but they don't seem to understand good sound at all. The last time I was hearing about them, the new model of player they were shipping didn't even do lossless audio at 44.1Khz (I think it's the M1001)... to save a couple of bucks on their hardware, they went to a DAC that forces a 48khz resample. And they didn't seem to understand why this was bad.

I don't know about the Sonos' sound quality; it's much, much more expensive, and comes with a built-in amp. It has some nice features, including a really superb remote control, but it's monumentally expensive and I don't see that it's particularly worth the extra money. Most people have all of what it offers already.... or if they don't, they'd usually be better off buying 'real' gear instead.

The Squeezebox is a really good midpoint. It has superb sound quality and good software support for most formats. It has excellent built-in Burr-Brown DACS (if you're driving an amp directly with it), and a superb-quality digital out (if you're sending the signal to a receiver, like a CD player). If you're a believer that jitter on the digital out matters, the Squeezebox is incredibly good in this area, something like 10 times better than an average CD player. (myself, I don't think jitter's that important, but I'm not an audiophile.) Basically, it offers low-end audiophile-grade circuitry, standing toe-to-toe with $1200+ CD players, but costs more like a high-quality computer peripheral.

After you've taken the (substantial) time to rip everything, if you haven't already, it's like instant, magic access to every CD in your collection.

My only real complaint with it is that the web-based interface for the server software is a little crude. Playlist management is functional but awkward. It _works_, and the engine behind the scenes is very good, but it's a bit clunky.

It's really a delight to use with the remote control, though.

If you do get one, don't download/install the 6.2.1 software off the main Downloads page. Go to the 'development/beta' releases and get the 6.2.2 release. There are a lot of bugfixes in that version.
posted by Malor at 1:49 PM on April 13, 2006

Do you have an old Powerbook or iBook lying around? If so, you could get an Airport Express ($129) and use the laptop with iTunes/Airtunes to stream the music. There are some pretty clever DIY tutorials for making the lapop into a stationary deal; there was one where someone flipped the iBook screen around and put it behind glass, then set it into a wall.

'Course, if you don't have those things, you may be better off just getting the Sqeezebox. They're cheaper than I thought they were.
posted by rossination at 2:58 PM on April 13, 2006

I love my squeezebox 1, much better than roku, plus the software they both rely on is maintained by the squeezebox folks at slimdevices -- roku's just using their software (opensource).

Of course, it helps that I'm running a server in my closet for shared storage between several computers -- it's linux, so it runs the slimserver software, and so I don't have to run anything on the daily computer I use.
posted by davejay at 3:34 PM on April 13, 2006

Sonos is supposed to be coming out with a lower priced version of their system that forgoes its internal amp and is intended to be hooked to an existing stereo system, or powered speakers. It's still going to be more expensive than a Soundbridge or a Squezebox.

As for cutting your computer out of the equation. Someone already mentioned that the Irfant NAS boxes will run Slimserver, but that's probably a bigger investment than you want to make. Linksys makes a ~$100 device called the NSLU2 that can be hooked to a USB hard drive and shares the contents on the LAN. It runs linux and there are people who are running Slimserver on it, though I'm not sure how well it runs. Also, I don't think it works with Mac format disks. You'd have to move your music collection, reformat with FAT32, and then transfer it back to your external drive.
posted by Good Brain at 3:44 PM on April 13, 2006

(You have to love any company where the CEO started out soldering the logic boards himself (2nd photo down).)
posted by smackfu at 3:56 PM on April 13, 2006

Good Brain, I've heard the NSLU2 is a shade underpowered for SlimServer. It's okay for fairly normal people, but rescanning your music library is very slow, and if you have a very large collection, apparently navigating with the remote gets sluggish.

Those issues may be fixable, as there are reports that MySql is enormously faster at these functions than the SQLite they ship with by default, but it would probably involve a great deal of tinkering.

He has a Mac already, and they tend to be pretty quiet... I'd tend to think he'd be happiest just hosting on that machine. He'd be up and running in 10 minutes, instead of 10 days. :)
posted by Malor at 4:07 PM on April 13, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the excellent answers. Looks like device gets great reviews all around so I'll pick one up next week when they're back in stock locally.

My only concern is that the Slashdot article specifically mentions having difficulty wifi'ing the music from a Mac. None of the other reviews mention Macs at all.

Any idea if this has been fixed? I won't be running it wired.
posted by Manhasset at 4:13 PM on April 13, 2006

I can't imagine why you'd have trouble... do you have a link to the Slashdot article? I'd like to see what they claimed the problem was.
posted by Malor at 4:58 PM on April 13, 2006

I found the article you mention. I'm not sure what's going on there. Unless there's some weird bug in OSX, I wouldn't think wired versus wireless would be any big deal. I'd very much expect wireless problems to be an issue between the SB and the access point... not anything to do with the Mac itself.

I know they've updated the firmware on the Airports recently to better support WPA... and I know the SB also had some (corrected) issues there. It wouldn't shock me if the two weren't talking that well in December. I don't know that Pat at Slashdot has an Airport, but it's pretty common for Macheads to have them.

You might want to browse the Slim Devices forums and see if other Mac users are complaining. I don't spend much time there.... everything mostly just works. :)

SlimServer is under constant development, and Slashdot is VERY high profile, so if there were issues, I'm sure they've been addressed by now.

AFAIK, the company is very good about giving refunds if you can't get things to work right. They seem like really good people.
posted by Malor at 5:26 PM on April 13, 2006

There is a known bug on OS X wherein perl hogs the vast majority of your processor. This has happened to me more than once - it got so bad that I could hardly move the mouse.

However, the fix suggested by the CTO himself on the message boards, has resolved the problem completely. Supposedly there will be a more permanent solution in the next version of the server software.

While it was happening, I was really annoyed - the bug not only affected my ability to play music, it more or less shut down my machine. Not a good thing. But I was really, really impressed with how fast the slim folks got on the problem and worked out a solution.
posted by aladfar at 5:49 PM on April 13, 2006

One more vote for the Squeezebox -- I've had mine about three months now and I really can't find anything to complain about.
posted by em at 7:35 PM on April 13, 2006

Malor is correct about the NSLU2 being underpowered to work as a slim server; it usually plays back fine but track seeks can take ~10 seconds and re-scanning the music library takes forever, though it's not something you need to do frequently. This is even on the "overclocked" version.

I'm currently running it off a 533MHz Mini-ITX computer and it works beautifully.

Nothing but praise for the squeezebox, though.
posted by blag at 6:41 AM on April 14, 2006

The server software to use with the NSLU2 is mt-daapd. It communicates with the player using the itunes music protocol but does not require itunes. The NSLU2 will need to be "unslung" first, which I admit can be a bit tricky.

For months, I've been using mt-daapd on an NSLU2 to serve music to a Roku, and it works wonderfully.
posted by exogenous at 6:58 AM on April 14, 2006

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