By Joseph Moran
January 21, 2009
For the same price as the original Squeezebox, users can get the Boom ($299) and gain the ability to wirelessly stream high-quality digital audio anywhere at home, instead of having to integrate with an existing A/V setup.
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Logitech Squeezebox Boom
Pros: Integrated amp and speakers; simple setup; super alarm clock; SqueezeNetwork makes it easy to find and stream ‘Net-based material
Cons: Gi-normous power supply; no audio outputs except for subwoofer; complex menus take time to master
For several years now, the Logitech Squeezebox (formerly from Slim Devices) has been a great way to stream digital audio, over a home Wi-Fi network, to a room without a PC. But the catch, if you could call it that, is the Squeezebox’s lack of a built-in amplifier or speakers, because without those components placement is limited to rooms with existing A/V equipment—that is unless you’re willing to deal with the added expense and clutter of a separate set of amplified speakers.
Logitech’s newest $299 Squeeze Boom solves that dilemma–it maintains everything that made the original Squeezebox great, while adding that missing amp and speakers so you put the unit pretty much anywhere you want.
Physical design and features
Although not nearly as svelte as its progenitor, the five-pound Boom measures approximately 13” x 5” x 4” (WHD), which is compact enough to fit in all but the tightest spaces. The Boom’s stereo speakers are 3-inch woofers and ¾-inch tweeters, covered by metal instead of cloth mesh and powered by a 30-watt amplifier. The Boom’s power adapter is external and extremely large, so much so that it will take up the space of two or even three outlets on many power strips; putting the brick mid-cable rather than at the plug end would have been preferable. ?>
A large rotary knob that’s reminiscent of the volume dial on most A/V receivers dominates the controls beneath the Boom’s display. On the Boom, however, the knob is used to navigate menus while pushbuttons handle volume and other basic functions, such as play, pause, presets, etc. On the back of the Boom you’ll find a line-in jack for connecting an external source like an iPod, another for headphones or a subwoofer (neither is included), and a good old-fashioned Ethernet jack you can use in lieu of Wi-Fi.
The Boom comes with a tiny (3 ½-inch long) remote that replicates most of the controls found on the front of the device. An internal magnet lets you conveniently affix the remote to objects, such as the refrigerator or a bedside lamp, as well as to an indentation atop the Boom itself. We also like the fact that the control slides open easily for replacement of the small watch-style battery—no tools, fingernails, or extraordinary effort required.
Getting the Squeezebox connected to a wireless network was extremely easy. You proceed through a network setup wizard by pressing and turning the aforementioned control knob. Using the knob to scroll through characters actually makes entering a long wireless encryption key relatively painless, if not exactly quick.
The Squeezebox is a native 802.11g device that supports WPA and WPA2 encryption; we had no difficulty connecting it to a Netgear 802.11n router configured for WPA2-PSK. Once the Squeezebox was online, it automatically downloaded the most recent firmware on its own.
Once you’ve got the Boom up and running, you can connect it to one of two sources for audio material.
The first is Logitech’s SqueezeNetwork, which lets you access a host of Internet-delivered content. You can visit www.squeezenetwork.com to setup a free account (using a PIN code provided by the Boom). The SqueezeNetwork Web site is a one-stop shop for finding online content to stream to the Boom—you can select from an exhaustive list of Internet radio stations, plus podcasts and free music services, such as Pandora and Slacker.
When you find stuff you like, you can add it to a playlist or assign it to one of six “favorites” slots that correspond with the preset buttons on the Boom’s front panel. If you want to listen to something that’s not on the SqueezeNetwork menu, you can make it a favorite by providing the URL.
The SqueezeNetwork will also let you set up the Boom to stream music from paid services, such as Rhapsody and Sirius. Although you need to be a subscriber to access the paid services, you can sign up for free 30-day trials from the SqueezeNetwork.
When connected to SqueezeNetwork, the Boom operates completely independent of a PC. If you also want the option of streaming your own personal music collection through the Boom, you can do it with Logitech’s SqueezeCenter media server software (formerly known as SlimServer). SqueezeCenter can be downloaded for free from the SqueezeNetwork site, and is available in Windows, Mac, or Linux versions.
When we installed SqueezeCenter on a Vista PC, it detected iTunes on the system and integrated with it, so the music library was accessible from the Boom. The Boom supports virtually every audio file format of consequence, including MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, and Ogg Vorbis (inlcluding Apple and WMA lossless formats). Like pretty much all streaming devices, the Boom can’t play songs that are burdened with copy protection whether they were purchased from iTunes or other music stores. Similarly, any playlists containing copy-protected songs aren’t accessible via the Boom. (This makes us appreciate the DRM-free Amazon MP3 and iTunes Plus tracks in our library all the more.)
Although the SqueezeCenter software runs on your PC, like the SqueezeNetwork, it’s configured via a Web browser. From the SqueezeCenter UI, you can browse and search your music library, set up playlists, and directly manipulate the Boom to change what’s currently playing, adjust volume, etc.
Ease of use and sound quality
Operating the Boom isn’t quite as effortless as setting it up, at least not at first. The Boom’s extensive system of menus can initially seem quite labyrinthine when you’re trying to peruse available content via the remote or built-in controls. Building playlists in advance from a PC helps, and navigating the Boom’s menus does get easier as you get more familiar—an Add button on the remote lets you build a playlist by adding songs while one’s already playing, and the Home button is handy if you get lost in the menus (we wish there were one on the Boom itself).
Another thing you can do to aid in menu traversal is to pare it down. Via the SqueezeCenter, you can select which menu options you want to be visible. From either the SqueezeCenter or the remote, you can adjust a range of Boom options including audio and how text is presented on the display (for example, the font size, and how and whether text scrolls).
To our (admittedly non-audiophile) ears, the Boom’s sound quality was very good–at least as good as the moderately-priced set of stereo speakers we have attached to a PC (coincidentally, also made by Logitech). Unless you add a subwoofer, the Boom won’t provide powerful bass (the kind you can feel as much as hear), but it still manages a full rich sound once you’ve tweaked the bass and treble settings a bit. The Boom’s got enough oomph to be easily heard across a decent-sized room and as long as you don’t crank the volume up beyond 85% or so, it manages to stay distortion-free.
Given that the Boom sort of looks like one, it’s not surprising that it can function as an alarm clock, and a highly customizable one at that. From either the SqueezeCenter software or the remote control, you can set up different alarms for every day of the week, and customize the alarm characteristics, such as how long it sounds and the snooze length (there’s a large snooze button atop the Boom, as well as one on the remote).
Each alarm can be assigned its own playlist, short musical snippet, or real-life sound effect—there are several dozen effects to choose from, so if you like to wake up to the sound of a crackling fire, a thunderstorm, or city traffic, you can. (The Boom’s sound effects can also be called upon anytime you tire of music or crave a moment of Zen.) The Boom also has a sleep timer, which can be set to turn off the unit after 15 to 90 minutes, or at the end of the currently playing song.
The Boom’s $299 price tag is identical to that of the original, and while you do have to give up a few things with the Boom, like audio outputs and some display real estate, it’s a small price to pay if you want to stream high-quality digital audio to a nightstand or kitchen counter instead of having to integrate it with an existing A/V setup.
Joseph Moran is a veteran product reviewer and frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet.