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Ever since E.T. and Elliott bonded over a cut finger, we’ve understood the power of touch. Decades later, the electronics industry is starting to catch up. The Squeezebox Touch packs one of Logitech’s network music players into a slim, touch-sensitive device. The underlying player is practically the same as previous models--with the many benefits and several drawbacks--but the touch interface easily beats traditional button-based controls. We only wish that the 4.3-inch screen separated from the base--the device is a single unit, so you can’t leave it connected and tap the controller from the couch.
You begin by installing the Squeezebox Server software on a Mac. The software streams all of your local music, including iTunes playlists, so you need to keep that Mac running to access your own files. Logitech supports a few network drives, such as the Netgear Ready NAS Pro, letting the Squeezebox reach them directly. But in most cases, the device can’t access network storage without a running Mac as an intermediary.
Behold the power of touch.
The Squeezebox connects to your network through 10/100 Ethernet or 802.11g Wi-Fi. You’ll also attach it to an audio receiver via stereo RCA cables, S/PDIF optical, or a coaxial digital plug. In a pinch, you can plug in headphones or powered speakers.
Audio streaming worked well in all of our tests, although multiple-Mac setups can be cumbersome. Any of them can serve music; however, the Squeezebox needs to disconnect from one server before browsing the next. Switching libraries also stops streaming from online music sources, which seems strange. Limiting the Squeezebox to one library at a time is inconvenient--pooling multiple libraries would be a much more elegant solution.
Get past this issue, and the Squeezebox Touch excels. We felt liberated to play back gigabytes of music in the living room; connect additional Squeezebox devices to your network, and you can stream the same or different music to each device. It easily beats ferrying files by plugging in an iPhone or iPod.
In addition to simple streaming of online radio stations, the Squeezebox can connect to services including Rhapsody, Pandora, Slacker, and others. You can also play back music directly from an SD card or USB disk. Squeezebox can even present slideshows from Flickr and Facebook--nice touches, but secondary functions for a music device.
The quality of streamed audio was excellent. Since it connects to your existing stereo setup, you’re only limited by your existing audio hardware. In our tests, streaming was reliably rock-solid, and we didn’t notice much of a performance hit when using our network for other tasks while cranking the tunes.
While you can control the system with the bundled infrared remote from across the room, this Squeezebox was made for touching. The interface is nearly identical to other Squeezebox devices, but touch controls feel more effective than arrows and an Enter key. The touchscreen especially shines when searching with an onscreen keyboard. But the interface still has rough edges. For example, it works well to drag the timeline to fast-forward in a song, but the same method stumbles in an hour-long podcast--we usually jumped too far. And support for more NAS drives would make the system more attractive to a much wider audience.
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The Squeezebox Touch makes a great network music player. It’s occasionally more complicated than necessary, such as when swapping audio libraries, but its many benefits compensate for its shortcomings. We only wish that the great touchscreen was detachable, so that you could use it to control songs from anywhere.
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.3 or later; wired or wireless network; stereo system with speakers, headphones, or powered standalone speakers
Touchscreen aptly drives the interface. Audio sounds great. Supports many networking and audio-connector standards. Online sources include Pandora, Slacker, and more.
Can’t stream files directly from most network storage devices. Can’t access files from multiple computer libraries at the same time. Interface occasionally falters.