With the rash of recent A/V components integrating the plethora of web related, streaming audio content into their feature set, Logitech has been streamlining their delivery of the same content in their Squeezebox series.  The Squeezebox Radio is Logitech’s most recent release into this field.  The compact form factor of the Squeezebox Radio is designed for an audience looking to bring their library of music into a smaller room.  Additionally, the Squeezebox Radio is ideal for those who have a Wi-Fi network already established for streaming audio files.

The Squeezebox (MSRP: $199.99) comes packaged in a small box and wrapped in light plastic packaging.  It also comes wrapped in a thin plastic film designed to keep smudges off the finish.  The piano black, glossy finish (also available in red) is very susceptible to fingerprints and dust is very visible as well.  The only two cords that come with the Squeezebox radio are the AC adaptor (which uses the new detachable plug design) and a 3.5mm cord for connecting other audio sources such as an iPod Touch or another form of audio player.

The player is about 8.5 inches in length, 5 inches wide and 5 inches deep.  There is an indention in the rear of the unit to act as a handle if you plan to use the unit as a portable device.  The rear of the unit also has the AC power connection port, an Ethernet cord port for a wired connection to your network and the audio-in port.  The 3.5mm headphone port is on the right side of the unit. 

The front of the unit is split in half, the left side being the built-in speaker (a 3-inch driver with a ¾ inch tweeter) and the right side containing all the buttons to navigate around your music collection.  There are 6 preset buttons that surround the 2.4 inch color display.  Simply holding down one of the buttons during your favorite streaming station OR audio file on your server will make that a quick way to get to that music. 

The color screen is quite clear and I would equate the quality in image similar to my iPhone.  It loads up track information, album covers and the Wi-Fi connection strength on the screen during playback.  It will also auto-dim the screen after a period of non-use.  Below the screen, you will find the standard music playback tools, volume controls and menu navigation buttons.  The main menu navigation tool is a large dial just below the screen.  This scroll wheel makes for quick navigation as well as item selection by pushing the dial into the unit.  
Setup

Initially setting up the Squeezebox Radio is very simple.  The opening setup screen runs through account signup and connecting to your local Wi-Fi network.  Unfortunately, the keyboard navigation for typing in details about the Squeezebox account and Wi-Fi password details is tedious to say the least.  It’s a slow process that you will have to do once, but also each time you add login details for every installed app.  Thankfully, the Squeezebox Radio does remember Wi-Fi passwords on multiple networks if you are traveling with it.  After the Squeezebox Radio gets your login details, it will automatically update the unit with the latest firmware.  It’s a surprisingly painless process and takes about 2 minutes to download / install.
 
In order to connect the Squeezebox Radio with your music files, you will have to install the Squeezebox Server software on your home server (compatible with Windows, Linux and Mac OS X).  It will scan your collection (as well as your iTunes directory) and connect them by logging into the same Squeezebox account that you initially setup on the Radio.  I was able to navigate through all my music collection on the home server via the Squeezebox Radio as well as the podcasts I had stored on the server.  It organizes the content very similar to Apple’s menu structure.  You have the ability to browse the music via artist, album, genre, timeframe and new additions.  There’s also random mixing functionality as well as playlist integration.  A search function is also included, but typing in one letter at a time with the scroll wheel isn’t worth the time.  I’d love to see an official iPhone / iPod app from Logitech that would allow for keyboard functionality.

Other functions of the Squeezebox Radio include the date / time displayed on the screen when the unit is put into sleep mode by tapping the power button.  The time is automatically corrected by the connection to the internet in case the unit is unplugged.  The Radio also includes an alarm function that’s ideal for a bedside position.  After setting the time, you can edit the alarm to choose which days it will be active as well as the music file that you want to wake up to.  The Squeezebox Radio includes a variety of sound effects to wake up to as well such as babbling brooks, rainstorms, foghorns or even traffic for my Los Angeles brethren.

Music and Apps

The Squeezebox Radio supports FLAC, Apple Lossless, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, WMA, AIFF, WAV and MP3 formats for streaming off your local server.  In regards to audio streams off the internet, it will play MP3, WMA, Ogg Vorbis and AAC.  A major detractor to the using the external speaker is that it’s going to be a mono experience and will only appeal to casual users.  You can pair the unit with a high quality set of headphones though.  I tested this unit with a couple types of headphones, my aging Sennheiser HD-580’s and the Bang & Oflusen A8 earbuds that I use for portable players.

I did some initial testing with music obtained from HDTracks in FLAC format, mostly Harry Hipolite’s blues album ‘Louisiana Country Boy’.  I was impressed with the quality, but could definitely see how anyone positioning the radio too far from the Wi-Fi router will run into some streaming issues.  Logitech recommends at least 1000 kpbs of bandwidth to stream FLAC files and 1500 kpbs for WAV / AIFF files.  You do have the ability to adjust how many seconds are buffered in the menu and increasing that length of time may help offset any abrupt breaks in the music to re-buffer the track.  If you are going to use Wi-Fi with the device, be sure to position it near the router to stream your highest quality files.  A wired connection will be able to manage anything that you throw at it. 

Response on my home network typically ranged from a second for MP3 files to a few seconds for files encoded at a higher bit rate.  The sound quality with my 580’s was above average; excellent highs & midrange with a thumping bass line.  As expected, the earbuds produced a thinner sound quality, somewhat absent of bass, but they are still an option for casual listening.

In the vein of internet streaming music, the Squeezebox Radio can load a variety of apps including Pandora, Slacker and Last.fm.  It can also access music on demand services like Amazon, Napster and Rhapsody.  Music labels can also directly create apps in relationship to album releases.  For instance, the Squeezebox Radio ships with a preview of Queen’s upcoming album and also includes exclusive band commentary.  Finally, Sirius satellite radio users will be able to log into their accounts to access that network of music.  Similar to other Sirius enabled devices, users will get 30 days for free before having to decide to sign up.

With this version of the Squeezebox, Logitech is also moving into the social networking realm with Facebook and Flickr apps.  The Facebook app is somewhat limited in functionality, mostly due to the navigation and the small screen.  Users are better off sticking with a mobile device for Facebook browsing, but you can direct your music listening stream to post to your Facebook profile.  The Flickr app is somewhat more conducive to the Squeezebox Radio, mostly due to quick access for sharing photos with a friend and the full color screen that offers a fine display for said photos.

If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can access the SqueezeBox Radio with a couple different apps; iPeng and Sqeemote.  They will allow for browsing through your music collection and navigating the Squeezebox menus remotely.  These are ideal if you have a variety of Squeezebox products throughout the house as well.  Additionally, custom installers have access to a Crestron software module that simulates the IR remote and integrates with the Squeezebox display. 
Drawbacks

Obviously, the mono speaker setup and the limited output options are going to detract from the listening possibilities for a serious listener.  The sound from the speaker is somewhat shallow, mostly depending on the highs to produce the most distinction in the music.  I would recommend pairing this with a high quality set of headphones for the best possible listening experience.  I was also disappointed that the Squeezebox Radio couldn’t remember that the headphones were plugged in when I powered it back up.  Each time the unit is fully powered up, you have to re-plug the headphones into the unit otherwise the sound plays through the speaker. 

The lack of an included remote is something of a drawback as well.  This system seems perfect made for a simple remote, even if it doesn’t have the functionality of the Squeezebox Duet remote.  A battery pack is also a separate purchase, if you plan on going mobile with it.  Both of those will sell for a MSRP of $49.99 as a package deal in November 09.  Finally, the lack of a better keyboard option is frustrating as well.  I would hope a future release of the firmware would include a better option for typing in user information or searching through music. 

Conclusion

The Logitech Squeezebox Radio is perfect for the web-savvy, internet radio guru who is well entrenched in popular music services like Pandora or Last.fm.  The podcast junkie will love being able to create custom streams and load up their favorite internet-radio shows.  The audiophile will likely be disappointed in the sound quality of the internal speaker and would likely be more at home with the Logitech Transporter as a server, but should be impressed with the variety of streaming options included.  File compatibility is excellent for those with large music collections as well.  This edition in the Squeezebox line is ideal for bedrooms, kitchens or small offices looking to connect into their existing home network.

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