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Great design is often about subtracting unneeded elements. Logitech has taken the opposite approach, building up the Squeezebox Radio from a bucket of buttons and features like a child trying to attach every last Mr. Potatohead part. As we navigated clunky menus and pecked at the various controls, we were disappointed with many aspects of this music streamer. But after we got it going, the Squeezebox Radio did a good job of booming out an unlimited supply of tunes and talk in spite of its misfires.
The Squeezebox Radio streams music from your local Mac or from online sources. After installing server software on your Mac, you’ll be able to access local libraries--as long as your Mac is running. Doh! Fortunately, Squeezebox Radio’s built-in speaker bellows out sounds, and the compact shape works well when placed on a bedside table or toted anywhere within reach of Wi-Fi or Ethernet. At press time, it required AC power from the wall, but Logitech is preparing an optional $50 battery pack that the company says will last about 10 hours. Expect it to ship soon after you read this.
A confusing interface and rigid ties to individual music libraries hold the Squeezebox Radio back a bit. But once you have it set up, limitless music from online and local sources sounds sweet.
Access your music library (or online streams) anywhere there's network connection.
A large knob is the Squeezebox’s primary control, scrolling through crisp menus on the bright 2.4-inch LCD to play and queue music. We only occasionally touched the 16 other buttons, six of which we programmed to immediately play favorite streaming stations or local tunes via our network. While those buttons can get in the way, a deeper interface issue causes more problems: The Squeezebox Radio can only connect to one music library at a time. While you can set the Squeezebox Radio to stream files from several different computers, you have to pick a single source, and it wasn’t long before we started wishing it could pool music from different systems simultaneously.
All of the preset buttons are also tied to individual music libraries. So instead of always playing the same source, a preset activates different functions depending on the library you’ve selected. It feels clunky and quickly gets confusing if you have multiple Macs. Even internet music responds to the presets like this because the Squeezebox treats all online sources as a single library. So one preset button could launch an online source in one situation, while in another it could do nothing. Sure, you could program the buttons to do the same thing in different libraries, but it’s a tedious workaround.
At least the Squeezebox Radio sounded good in our tests when playing tunes over Wi-Fi or Ethernet. It supports many audio formats, including MP3, AAC, WMA, Apple Lossless, and WAV. The audio from the three-inch woofer and 3/4-inch tweeter matched our expectations for a good clock radio with clear sound at moderate volumes. It gets distorted when cranked high and thins out when played at lower volumes, but in most situations, the Squeezebox Radio belted out danceable beats and clear conversations from all of our sources.
A few extras make the Squeezebox Radio more adaptable in a way that definitely impressed us. In bedroom installations, its alarms won us over, streaming our favorite stations or playing back local files in the morning. A headphone jack also lets you listen privately, and a mini-jack audio input directly plays from any source. While many of the add-on applications, such as a Queen-only station, get old pretty fast, compatibility with Pandora, Slacker, Rhapsody, Napster, and other free and paid streaming sources created practically endless variety. The Squeezebox Radio can even sync with other Squeezebox devices, playing the same song in several rooms at once.