A veteran in the digital audio receiver category, Slim Devices launched its third-generation Squeezebox a while ago, but it's recently undergone a series of upgrades (downloadable for free via Slim's Web site) that have made a great product even better.
Like other digital audio receivers, it connects to your home stereo and uses your wireless network to stream audio from the Internet and network-connected PCs.
New features include tight integration with Slim Device's SqueezeNetwork portal, expanded Internet radio capabilities and support for Pandora, a clever service that creates custom stations based on your preferences. Only the Squeezebox's relatively high price of £200 and its absence of support for DRM-protected audio files (those you buy at online stores such as Apple's and MTV's) are stumbling blocks.
The third-generation Squeezebox is far more attractive than previous Slim Devices models -- past incarnations include the 2005 second-generation version, the 2003 first-generation Squeezebox and the company's trailblazing 2001 product, the SLIMP3 -- some may even find it more fashionable than its closest competitor, the Roku SoundBridge M1000.
Measuring in at 193mm by 94mm by 79mm (including the unit's U-shaped metal foot stand), the Squeezebox has a sleek, vertically oriented design. Its body consists of a silver-metallic lower half, accented with black or iPod-esque white side and rear panels. The unit has a bright 320x32-pixel vacuum-fluorescent display capable of showing two lines of aqua-coloured text.
The 30-button remote control provides slightly more direct access to features than you'd get with the simpler 18-button remote of the Roku SoundBridge, but it still manages to keep things intuitive with a four-way keypad for menu navigation, as well as play, rewind, forward and pause buttons.
Because the remote has volume controls, the Squeezebox is suitable for connection directly to powered PC-style multimedia speakers. The 'Size' button enlarges the unit's front-panel text enough so that it's readable from a distance of approximately 4.5m.
The Squeezebox has every sort of jack and connection you'd want in a networked audio device. In addition to the requisite power connector, the back panel includes a headphone minijack (which can double for powered speakers, as listed above), analogue audio RCA stereo outputs (red and white), optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, and an Ethernet port for wired networks. On the wireless front, the unit supports 802.11g, though it's backwards compatible with older 802.11b Wi-Fi networks and WPA/WPA2 encryption in addition to WEP.
While neither feature necessarily boosts the Squeezebox's performance, they'll prevent users from dumbing down their wireless networks to slower speeds and less secure encryption -- both of which need to be done with most competing products. The Squeezebox can also double as a wireless bridge if you connect a device to its Ethernet port -- a nice addition for power users, and something we haven't seen in any previous consumer networking product.