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It'll look cool in your home entertainment center or with a set of powered speakers.
When you attach the Squeezebox 3 to your stereo or powered speakers and use the remote control to connect to your Ethernet or Wi-Fi network, you can play the music from your Mac to wherever your Squeezebox 3 is located. When we reviewed the Squeezebox 2 , we dinged it for its complicated setup and high price compared to its main competitor, the Roku SoundBridge. These complaints are still true of the Squeezebox 3, so what makes it better than its predecessor? Two things: It has a better design and it does more.
The core components of the Squeezebox 3 are the same as the previous version's: a Burr-Brown 24-bit DAC, gold-plated RCA connectors, optical and coax S/PDIF ports, and an Ethernet port. The sound quality is noticeably better than the SoundBridge's (assuming you play it through a system that can take advantage of the difference in quality). The Squeezebox 2 looked like a router, but the stylishly sleek, thin, 7.6-by-3.7-by-3.1-inch Squeezebox 3 looks like something that belongs with a nice stereo system.
Once you get the Squeezebox 3 on your network, you need to go to the Slim Devices Web site and download the free, open-source SlimServer app, which installs as a Preference pane in Mac OS X's System Preferences. When you first launch the app, you point it at your Music folder, and it recognizes your iTunes library - the Squeezebox 3 can play MP3, WMA, FLAC, WAV, Ogg Vorbis, and AAC files, but not iTMS-bought protected AAC files. Click the Web Access button to launch the SlimServer interface in your Web browser, and you can browse your library, start and stop play, and modify settings for the server and player, such as the various interface options.
The current version of the SlimServer software fixes the earlier problem of not picking up changes made in iTunes, such as deleting playlists or songs. In the Server Settings part of the browser interface, you can set how long the software will wait between updates of your iTunes library information.
Squeezebox 3 can connect directly (sans Mac) to thousands of Internet radio stations, such as Live365, SHOUTcast, and radioio. You can also connect to a custom music feed at Pandora.com, a site that lets you create personal radio stations. Imagine having access to a radio station that only plays music that sounds like what you already like - it's a revelation. And you can connect to the Live Music Archive (www.archive.org) and stream entire concerts from bands that have permitted access to their performances, ranging from the reasonably well known (Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, the Grateful Dead) to bands we can pretty much guarantee you've never heard of. For comparison, the SoundBridge allows only 15 preset Internet radio stations.
The bottom line. The wireless Squeezebox 3 costs twice as much as the entry-level SoundBridge, so if all you want to do is stream music from iTunes, the SoundBridge is a better choice. But since our last comparison, Internet radio has grown to be a significant part of our musical diet, and here the Squeezebox 3 is a clear winner. Add in other features - such as SlimServer's ability to stream music to multiple rooms with the addition of more Squeezebox 3 units (or even SoundBridges) and the Ethernet bridge features - and the extras go a long way toward justifying the price.
The browser interface lets you see what's playing, control various settings, and get lots of online help.
COMPANY: Slim Devices
CONTACT: 650-210-9400, www.slimdevices.com
PRICE: $249 (wired), $299 (wireless)
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.3 or later, Ethernet or Wi-Fi network
Good sound. Recognizes iTunes playlists. Extensive Internet radio options.
Pricey. Requires separate software download.