Logitech’s Squeezebox line of music players are designed to bring your iTunes library and the best of Internet-based streaming-audio services out of the realm of the computer and into your home. The $200 Squeezebox Radio ( ) and $300 Squeezebox Boom bring their own speakers to the party. The $300 Squeezebox Touch, in contrast, is a slim device that’s designed to attach to a set of external speakers, such as the ones in your living-room home theater set-up.
Though it competes against the high-quality (and somewhat more expensive) Sonos family of home-audio devices, the Squeezebox line has long been a favorite of mine. Though you could just connect an iPod or iPhone to your speakers via a mini plug, both the Sonos and Logitech devices can do much more. In addition to offering higher-quality audio outputs, you can also attach multiple devices in multiple rooms in your house, allowing you to fill your entire house with the same music or allow different members of your family to play different tracks from their own rooms.
In addition to being a bit more affordable than the Sonos units, the Squeezebox line typically gives users the ability to control their music playback right from the device. (Sonos units tend not to have anything but a mute button—sometimes you just want to pick a playlist or skip a track and walk away, without fishing for a remote.)
The addition of on-device control via a 4.3-inch diagonal color LCD touchscreen is the major change between the Squeezebox Touch and the product it replaces, the Squeezebox Classic. But it’s a bit of a mixed blessing: the Classic’s display was an extremely bright vacuum-fluorescent display that you could read from across a room even in bright light. While the Touch’s touchscreen enables hands-on control, it’s also dimmer and harder to read from a distance than the Classic.
Still, the Squeezebox Touch is an attractive, high-quality device, so thin and small that it’ll fit just about anywhere in your house without attracting attention. To set up the Touch, you first install the Squeezebox Server preference pane (which runs in 32-bit mode) on the Mac you want to stream from. (There are also versions of the software for Windows and Linux computers and for supported NAS devices.) The software can work in conjunction with iTunes, reading your iTunes library and playlist information, but you can also choose a separate Music Folder as a primary or secondary source.
The Touch can connect to your network via 802.11g wireless or ethernet. Initial setup is pretty straightforward, since the Touch provides a touchscreen keyboard for you to enter in your Wi-Fi password and the like. Once setup is complete, you have instant access to all of the songs, albums, artists, genres, playlists, and more on your computer.
The Touch can play a bevy of musical formats (including several that iTunes can’t): MP3, AAC, WAV, AIFF, WMA, Apple Lossless, FLAC, and Ogg Vorbis. Audio outputs include a minijack, stereo RCA plugs, Toslink optical, and coaxial. (I attached the Touch to my home theater setup and used it to play some multichannel audio files I pulled off of a DVD-Audio disc I own, and they played flawlessly.) Unlike previous Squeezebox models, the Touch also inclues a USB port on the back, so if you’d rather just play music you’ve copied onto a hard drive or a flash drive instead of connecting it to a network, that’ll work too. And there’s an SD slot for pictures and music as well.
Like other Squeezebox models, the Touch can connect to the Internet to stream content from various sources and to connect to various social-media services. For example, the Radio can access scads of Internet radio stations from around the globe; can play thousands of concerts from the Internet Archive’s Live Music Archives; can integrate with Facebook; can display photos from Flickr; and can stream music from Last FM, Pandora, Napster, and Rhapsody accounts.
Using the touchscreen to control the Touch interface is hardly iPhone-like in its sensitivity and ease of use, but it’s entirely usable. You can quickly scroll through a long list of artists by swiping your finger down the right side of the screen. The on-screen keyboard makes it easy to search. When a track is playing, the bottom of the screen displays the usual set of playback controls, so you can quickly change tracks or adjust the volume.
Given the Touch’s name, it’s easy to make its screen the main attraction, but there are several other ways to control music playback. Like the Sonos products, Logitech offers its own $300 Squeezebox Controller, and there’s a Web-browser interface too. But the best way to control Squeezebox devices when you’re not right next to them is the $10 iPeng app for the iPhone and iPod touch. It’s quite good, and I continue to be baffled why Logitech hasn’t simply bought the app and released it for free to all Squeezebox owners.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
The Squeezebox Touch is a great way to connect Internet music sources and your own collection to a set of external speakers, especially in a home theater. While its display is not as big or as bright as its predecessor the Squeezebox Classic, the fact that it’s a touchscreen means you don’t have to hunt for a remote to quickly turn down the sound or skip a track.
If you’re trying to bring music to a small room or your nightstand, the Squeezebox Radio or Squeezebox Boom are better choices, since they come with their own integrated speakers. But if you’ve got some nice speakers sitting in your living room or den, the Squeezebox Touch is a great way to get music to those speakers.
[Senior Editor Jonathan Seff contributed to this story.]