Hunting For Our Next SqueezeBox

When stuff just works all the time it doesn’t often come up in conversation, which just seems wrong. After all, it’s still working! It’s the stuff that doesn’t consistently work that gets the attention.

We’ve used Logitech Squeezeboxes for musical playback around the property for a  very long while. We presently have five of them deployed, including our original Squeezebox 3 that was purchased in 2005! In general they just work, which has been great, especially since they were discontinued years ago.

When we stage our annual Halloween festivities we are required to reposition some equipment. Last time around one Squeezebox powered-up with a fault in the analog output. One channel is delivered with level much reduced compared to the other channel. A quick search of the still lively forums.slimdevices.com turned up similar reports, attributing the problem to faulty capacitors in the analog output stage.

Capacitors are an electronic component that can suffer simple old age. They contain a small amount of fluid that can diminish over time, especially if the component suffers mechanical or thermal abuse. Fortunately, they’re not too difficult to replace if you’re handy with a soldering iron.

In my haste to overcome that fault I acquired a cheap D/A convertor (Portta PETDTAP Digital Coax and Optical Toslink to Analog Audio Converter, $9 ) via Amazon Prime. That allowed me to leverage the TOSLink output to drive the M-Audio BX5 D2 that were used in that instance.

Incidentally, the BX5’s were at one point the single-most deployed model of professional powered audio monitor in the world. Great price/performance. They’re a crazy good value!

Further incidental observation: isn’t it funny that audio D/A convertors only seem to come in two varieties; dirt cheap and wickedly expensive?

When back in 2012 Logitech discontinued the SqueezeBox line I reacted by purchasing a couple of Squeezebox 3’s while they were still available. Now, years later, the only ones to be found are used. When buying used it’s not always easy to know how old the device might be. Very old units, like mine, which feature the original, pre-Logitech, Slim Devices branding, may well be subject to the same sort of capacitive failures.

This has me starting to consider how I might sustain, or even augment, our existing Squeezebox installation as we go forward. Some would no doubt suggest a migration to Sonos, but for many reasons that just isn’t in the cards. We still have five largely functional SB3, so we’d like to stay with the Logitech Media Center server software.

There was a newer model Squeezebox called the Duet. Buying that model on the used market would ensure that it was not too old. However, that model was very different from our SB3’s. It was a headless player mated with a more complicated wireless remote control.

There are other options that might also be interesting. For example, SqueezePlayer for Android is an application that allows an Android device to emulate a Squeezebox. I’ve used this app on my Nexus 7 tablet. With the tablet in its desk stand I used it to create an ad hoc listening station.

Nexus7-SqueezePlayer-SqueezeCtrlThe trouble is that a mobile phone or tablet isn’t easily or conveniently connected to the amplifier or powered monitors. It requires adapters or custom cables. That’s not really a problem, but it renders SqueezePlayer + tablet combination an accessible, but less than elegant solution.

A recent experiment has shown that the Nexus 7 running Android 5.x (Lollipop) supports generic USB audio devices. To prove this fact I used the Micro USB Host OTG Cable to connect my N7 to a Blue Yeti microphone. Connected in this fashion the Yeti worked normally, acting as an alternative input for JJBunn’s Audio Tool app.

On that basis, the N7 could be connected to a USB DAC or a small digital amplifier that has a USB input. The SMSL Q5 has a certain appeal in this regard. It sports both USB and TOSlink connectivity, so it could service the N7 or a Squeezebox with a defective analog stage. The 50 w/c it delivers is more than enough to drive the the new Definitive Technology speakers on our front porch.

There are other ways to emulate a SqueezeBox. For example, I’ve noticed that some Squeezebox aficionados are using the RaspberryPi with some hardware accessories. HiFiBerry is a site dedicated to audio applications of the wee SBC. Their DAC would be the ideal audio output addition for the Pi.

RaspberryPi DAC

The RaspberryPi is a very DIY approach, lacking for a case or power supply. It has Ethernet on-board. Wifi could be added using a USB-connected Wifi adapter. While not especially costly, it would take some time and effort to build the device in a suitable form factor. Crazy-Audio.com has a nice article on just such a project.

Since I have a RaspberryPi on hand I’ve ordered the requisite parts to eventually do this project just for fun.

HP Mini 2140 Elementary

Being a little short of time in recent weeks I kept looking for a simpler solution. Perhaps leveraging some hardware that was on-hand but otherwise not being used. To explore this I loaded Elementary Linux (Freya Beta 1) on my old HP 2140 netbook. In the process I replaced the netbook’s original hard drive with a cheap SSD. To the new OS I installed SqueezeLite so that the netbook now emulates a SqueezeBox.

Watson, which is what I’ve come to call the Mini+Elementary, works well enough. It has the advantage of being both Wifi and Ethernet capable. However, its headphone output presents the same kind of mechanical inconvenience as the tablet. It’s USB port allows for the same kind of external DAC as a possible solution.

Even though I may not buy another Squeezebox, there’s seem to be a diversity of ways to extend the life of our current installation. Moreover, the potential projects involved look to be fun. Even getting to this point has been enjoyable.

  • I have been having similar thoughts. I use the Duet and run the server on my NAS. The latest upgrade of the server does not support the Duet. It still works with apps, but I lost access to local content. The Duet remotes really want to update, but can’t. Days are numbered.

    My Duet is connected to my whole home audio system, so I have the music distribution and amplification. I primarily use it to play Pandora and other apps.

    My conclusion is to eventually migrate to the Sonos Connect. Sonos is mostly known for its wireless music distribution which I don’t want or need. But the Connect is more similar to the Duet. I can configure the server on the NAS which will access local content and it also supports Pandora and other apps. I would have to use various devices like smartphones as the intelligent remote.

    That is my current plan, so keep me posted on your plans. I decided that this project comes after my NAS upgrade which is now 7 years old. I am leaning toward a new Netgear ReadyNAS – that’s step 1, step 2 is Plex, and step 3 is Sonos Connect.

    It was tempting to try to keep putting together Squeezebox with used parts, but bottom line is the system is discontinued. Who knows how much longer Squeezebox.com will remain around. That and other problems associated with shortening lifespans and new technologies tells me to abandon it. However, it really was a great solution and I’ve always been a bit upset with Logitech for discontinuing it.

    • Davesworld

      My gripe with the Sonos is that it replaces your sound system. I like my sound system that has evolved over decades and don’t want Sonos to decide what amplifier or speakers I WILL use. I want to use my existing equipment and feed them the best quality sound that I know how. The Sonos is something I would take on a long vacation to set up a home away from home but it’s self containedness is exactly why I will never use it at home. I’m a man of separates and speaker building/modifying.

      • It doesn’t have to be a separate sound system. I have a multi-zone whole home audio system. My Squeezebox was one input. Now I have a Sonos Connect as the replacement and works great. I liked it so much I bought a 2nd Connect – so I have two streams going in different rooms.

        It works similarly to Squeezebox, but also allows you to play any content on your device. That’s a nice bonus.

      • mjgraves

        I somewhat agree, but as Dave points out you can go another direction with Sonos if you prefer.

        I just don’t appreciate the all-in-one approach that their PLAY: speakers take. Worse, I find myself turned off by the way they don’t quote any meaningful specifications. I guess anyone who really cared about the specs would not be looking at Sonos. Or at least those devices.

  • Retsim Pulaid

    Now that you have Squeezelite on your laptop running Linux, you could also load Shairport which is an Apple Airport client clone. You can use the same audio devices you can with Squeezelite. The difference, you can stream from Itunes directly to the Shairport client or from an “I” device and the connection is almost instantaneous when within wifi range or connected to your local LAN. Unfortunately you can’t run Shairport and Squeezelite simultaneously but Shairport has the benefit of being lossless so if your audio needs are for true HiFi it’s an option to consider. RasPi can also run Shairport so you could have both on hand, just on different devices.

    • mjgraves

      Who said anything at all about iTunes? Or iDevices for that matter? Those things are not the center of my installation. Although I have some iDevices around here for certain things, I remain somewhat Apple-phobic.

      FWIW, the Squeezeboxes stream in losslessly compressed FLAC format. In my case I have a library of FLAC files on a FreeNAS server. I sometimes use streaming services, but only for the most casual listening.

      • Davesworld

        The iPod is what completely stalled the momentum of streaming from a server. Before the iPod came along and hogged an undeserved amount of attention with it’s mediocre sound and crap non-standard file formats. We had the Turtle Beach Audiotron and other devices that streamed music from your server to a living room stereo component. By 2001 there were several and some were starting to support FLAC, even a car system that played flac from a hard drive/server mounted in the trunk was available by 2002 (Phatbox/Kenwood Music Keg) and acted like a cd changer on steroids which I still want to be offered again.

        Along came the cute fashion gadget made of endocrine disrupting plastic known as the iPod. There were better devices of it’s kind (some that actually played FLAC and sounded good) before it was launched but the end result was iPod docking stations for the home and car where you too could try to put lipstick on a pig by playing horrible lossy apple files through high end electronics. Yes, there were high end docking stations costing thousands of dollars to play the mediocre apple sound through. Their marketing machine trumped quality and server streaming was put on the backburner for years until Squeeze not only brought it to the forefront but came up with the perfect ecosystem that nobody to date has bettered. A few years later, Apple moved on to add phone capability to the iPod and renamed it the iPhone although there is less endocrine disrupting plastic in the construction but all the men have such low testosterone now from using previous Apple products that they are lost forever without medical intervention.

        Apple really did ruin the music industry in more ways than one. Imagine people settling for less than CD quality twenty years after the CD and thinking it was good because Apple made them think that it was? This is exactly what happened.

        If it weren’t for the capabilities of the Logitech server, it would be really easy to move to a Bryston which looks for standard server file sharing protocols and does at least have a web interface.

        I have a Touch and a Transporter and am not ready to give them up. The olive is ok if you want something on your table akin to the touch. I find that I like real 17″ wide equipment in the living room and a fancy remote control. At least we don’t have ten thousand dollar iPod docking stations hogging developers attentions anymore.

        • mjgraves

          Indeed, we still have five(!) Squeezebox in service. That compels us to stay with LMS, and continue tinkering with different sorts of playout hardware.

          • Davesworld

            I’m seriously leaning toward making my own device using the Squeeze code if possible. The biggest trick would be to have it as a recognizable device the LMS can control. If not, simply using NFS and Windows network protocols and having a built in web gui would work well if we lose our LMS Ecosystem. I’ve not looked into other methods such as Ampache. Most high end streamers such as the Brystons and others are actually a mini itx board running Linux with a bit perfect card such as an ESI Julia for the output. I’m not interested in any analog output from this device whatsoever.

            I am very adept at working with Alsa and setting it up to bypass any mixer sections, the more music oriented digital only cards usually do not have the extra cruft in them in the first place. From building and upgrading MythTV boxes over the years, I’m very adept at setting up remote controls and character displays as well although a graphic display could be set up as well. OLED being my favorite where VFD was previously my favorite. The one Sonos device that I would be able to use is a box with no display. I gotta have my displays, 2×40 characters if possible! I like to be able to read the display from across the room with no vision correction (I’ve been meaning to do Lasik).

          • mjgraves

            There is a RaspBerry Pi project that combines the HiFeBerry DAC and a 7″ LCD display. HiFiBerry can be had with analog or SPDIF output. The result is very much like a larger version of the Squeezebox Touch.

            http://www.instructables.com/id/High-End-Sound-with-7-Inch-Touchscreen-Control-Bas/

            As I now use my phone or tablet as the primary means of control, I’m not that interested in the local display. For me, the RPi + HifiBerry look like a good solution. The Nexus7 tablet (now just $100) and the netbook have both worked well in recent months.

          • Davesworld

            Oh that project is very inspiring! You can actually get it in kit form darn near if I saw correctly.

            As far as staying with LMS, yes, I plan to for years to come even if alongside other methods. The plugins alone are worth it. While there is not a direct Tidal HiFi plugin, someone came up with a plugin that will work with it and other lossless streaming services (most not available in the US yet). Tidal has smartphpone apps for those mobile times but I want to get a high quality USB DAC Headphone amp to use with the smartphone and Tidal HiFi app . It’s like Rhapsody and Spotify except they stream lossless FLAC wherever possible. Obviously you need a bit more bandwidth for lossless FLAC streaming but that is so much less an issue these days.

            The newer builds of LMS are cranked out nightly and the newer nightly 7.9 versions support DSD but I stick with version 7.8.0 right now as it was the last stable version they released. LMS uses Sox which is one of the few cleanest methods of transcoding for devices that need a lower rate, even better than many expensive programs and most of what Apple has as far as transcoding programs. Sox doesn’t ring to put it simply and it is available for every major OS. To see for yourself that all is not equal in the transcoder front: ishttp://src.infinitewave.ca/

            When making 16 bit 44.1khz copies of my High Res files, I use Soundkonverter (KDE Program in Linux) using Sox as the back end program and dither (default when doing from 24 to 16 bit) it as well as set the scale so that the peaks are never higher than -2db but NOT compressing the dynamics in any way! Modern recordings that sound like crap often are compressed and then overdriven to exceed 0db on the meter. Digital is the lowest distortion medium up to 0db but you cannot exceed 0db (going into the red part of the meter) without significant distortion and I mean distortion that will tempt you to murder the person who did that to the recording. Letting the peaks ride the red only worked in analog because you had to use all of what little dynamic range you had. Vinyl at best is the equivalent of 8 bit depth, a cassette about 6 bit depth equivalent. Not sure what a 3″ wide tape running at 30+ ips had, maybe 10 bit equivalent?

          • mjgraves

            I’ve not encountered a 3″ tape recorder, but I did use 2″ 24 track recorders from MCI and Studer back when I was in school. You generally couldn’t run the multi-track at 30 ips. That was reserved for the 2-track mastering machine. Best S/N they had (Studer A820, 1/2″ 2 track @ 30 ips) was around 77 db with no noise reduction. Given 6 db per bit, that’s about 12-13 bits.

            At my current age, and given my listening habits, 44.1/16 bit suits me fine.

          • Davesworld

            I could go into a long thesis as to why none of us really needs better than 44.1/16 so it isn’t just you but nobody explains it better than here: https://xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

            I archive my 24/96 and higher downloads and transcode with sox. Unfortunately, the high res store is the only way I can get a decent remaster of an old recording in some cases. You can compare sox with other methods of transcoding here. Sox is one of the very best and it’s free! http://src.infinitewave.ca/

        • mjgraves

          Incidentally, I had a Turtle Beach Audiotron for while. A friend gave it to me because he was frustrated with it. He setup a laptop to be the point-of-playback for his music system.

          • Davesworld

            I have an excel spreadsheet app that you can create your own turtleradio station list. There is a back door to have the Audiotron look to a local windows share for the station list. I go this route and only use the Audiotron to play Internet Radio. Because of the programmable single button station mapping, I was able to do that plus set up my Harmony One with actual station names so I can access any of 18 radio stations by name with a single press from my Harmony Remote. I’m using the digital out on the Audiotron. When I want to listen to everything, radio and stored music alike, I use the mighty Transporter which can still be had brand new if you look and with the trans knob right out of the box. Still cost me close to a grand. My Touch I bought when they first came out.

            I quickly outgrew the file playing ability as I was starting to head toward storing all my cd discs in FLAC only. MP3 is acceptable for radio use to me. The Turtle Radio feature is what I enjoyed the most on the device then and now. I have Three TB Audiotrons. I have also been able to use the Logitech Media Server to push an MP3 stream and map a radio station to the server’s address. It gets transcoded to MP3 for the Audiotron which isn’t that great but it does actually work.