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.
The 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.
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.
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.