Rave: Slim Devices Squeezebox Audio Player

Every now and then  something takes me back to a time and place where I haven’t been in a long, long time. It’s usually enjoyable, but often a bit of a ride. Bear with me as I lay out how and why this little device has found a favored place in my home.

In high school I had been a disk jockey, both at school dances and on a local community cable access channel. Musical reproduction (a.k.a “stereo stuff”) had been very important to me at that age even though I didn’t have the funds to pursue the interest in any depth.

I went on to study music, and eventually recording and live sound reinforcement. I have engineered studio sessions and live performances. However, as I wound my way through my twenties home audio was not a subject of much interest. My career path drifted from the purely musical to into broadcast video production.

In the mid-1990s I took a job that involved a lot of travel. On the basis of convenience I found myself buying into Sony’s mini-disc format in a big way. I still have that gear, although it’s dusty and unused for a long time. I once meant to list it all on E-bay, but now its hardly worth the trouble.

After that came a revolution in the form of MP3s and more specifically music stored on PCs. While I toyed with Napster (gasp!) for a while I eventually ripped all my CDs and gave up on files from other people as being too wildly varying in quality. For the first time in a long while I was thinking less about the music and more about the playback technology.

When my CD player eventually died this music on PCs consideration brought me to purchase a Slim Devices Squeezebox. I simply cannot say enough nice things about this device and the company that created it.

A 3rd generation Squeezebox

I cannot recall a better purchase decision than spending $300 on this little gadget. It truly rekindled my love of recorded music and took me back to some of the things that I once pondered when I was a teenager.

The Squeezebox has an interesting history. It’s developers come from the open source community. They developed a Perl-based streaming media engine and built a small hardware device to interface the stream to a traditional home stereo. The device was initially called The SliMP3 player.

The idea of the SliMP3 device was elegant even if the first hardware implementation was a bit rough. Even before I owned one I pointed it out to an associate of mine who eventually ended up with several as the primary means of playing back his massive music collection.

The device was a smash with the exploding base of people who were listening to music stored on PCs. It completely eliminated the hassles of sounds cards in PCs, providing a user experience that was at once more like a traditional stereo (cordless remote control from your chair) and interactive via a web based playlist interface.

By the time I bought my first one the developers had evolved their activities into a legitimate company and been through three hardware revisions, eventually rebranding the device as the “Squeezebox.” Along the way they improved the audio circuitry, added wifi capability and a big, gorgeous vacuum fluorescent display. They had become very polished both in product and company.

The companies support for the user community was and remains exemplary. Their web-site has a wiki, well trafficked public user forums, well written documentation and of course the latest downloadable Slim Server release. The Slim Server software now supports Windows, Linux and Macintosh equally well.

Not long ago Slim Devices was purchased by Logitech. I hope that the founders made out well. Logitech seems to appreciate the business that the original company has built, and has been treating the user base very well.

With newfound resources the company has been able to launch ambitious new products including a seriously high-end version of the Squeezebox concept that they call the “Transporter.”

At just under $2,000 this is not a device for the underfunded. I’m sure that it’s an outstanding gadget and a technical tour de force. It’s simply well beyond what I can justify spending.

I was pleasantly surprised to recently find Logitech branded Squeezeboxes on the shelf at Fry’s Electronics in Austin, TX. This was not the case in the early days. Then almost all sales were done online.

Our first Squeezebox lived in my office for a year before my wife asked why we don’t have one in the house. So now we have two. I found that with multiple units as well as playing separate tracks they can be made to play in sync. This lets me use them as an ad hoc wireless distributed audio system.

That idea has evolved into a novel strategy for a whole house audio system. There’s much more to come on that later. In the mean time, you can’t go wrong with a Squeezebox!