I've mentioned before how I'm a huge fan of computer-based audio. Specifically I'm referring to network media players like the Squeezebox series that let you conveniently stream your music files (or music content on the Internet) over your wired/wireless home network.
I was so pleased with my original Squeezebox Classic that late last year I bought a Squeezebox Duet - which consists of a handheld controller with a 2.4-in. color display and a separate receiver unit - for use away from my main system. Its initial set-up wasn't as glitch-free as my experience with the original Squeezebox - most likely due to my Wi-Fi-network-dense location - but it has been working fine since.
Here's a good short video demo (1:36) of the Duet:
No sooner had I got the Duet up and running than I had an opportunity to try out a Squeezebox Boom. Unlike the Squeezebox Classic and Duet, which need to be connected to existing audio systems, the Boom (see a white paper on the Squeezebox Boom audio design) is a standalone unit that incorporates built-in amplifiers and speakers.
It also features physical front-panel radio-like controls, including a knob that can be used to navigate menus on the unit's VFD display as well as to control volume. I've seen the Boom called a "Wi-Fi radio" or "Internet radio" in some reviews, but I prefer the company's description of "all-in-one network music player," which more accurately reflects the product's Internet and PC-based music file streaming capabilities and features.
I hadn't previously considered the Boom very seriously for my own use as I tend to use headphones for music listening, and frankly the product's name - "Boom" - put me off a bit, suggesting a "boomy" sound quality that didn't sit well with my audiophile sensibilities. That turned out not to be the case at all.
I ended up setting up the Boom while on vacation visiting family, none of whom had even the faintest idea what a network music player was or why anyone would want one. Their disinterest quickly turned to appreciation and enjoyment as soon as they heard and saw how their music (some of it old LPs that I'd digitized for the occasion) could be played over the Boom anywhere in (or outside) the house.
The Squeezebox Boom enjoying some rest and relaxation in the Florida sun.
Prior to setting up the Boom, I'd installed the company's SqueezeCenter streaming audio server on the PC and imported the various digital music files I'd prepared (mostly high-bit-rate-encoded MP3 files). The set-up for the Boom itself couldn't have been simpler - I was listening to streaming music from the PC within a couple of minutes of taking the unit out of the box. (It took me longer to figure out how to open up the Boom's tiny remote control to install the battery.)
The first thing I noticed was the unit's sound quality - it was quite a bit better than I'd been expecting given the unit's relatively small size and cost. In retrospect, though, after reading the Boom audio design white paper I can see why. The custom-designed drivers (separate woofers and tweeters) are bi-amped with digital crossovers and individual DACs for each speaker - quite impressive for a product in this price category.
The other thing I noticed was that the display size seemed a bit smaller than that of my Squeezebox Classic, and displayed less information than I was used to. While I prefer the original Squeezebox's display size, the Boom's font size, scrolling speed and brightness of the text on the display can all be changed to adjust for various conditions and preferences.
Otherwise, the Boom performed as I expected based on my previous experience with other Squeezebox devices, which is to say it made playing PC-based music files and Internet radio easy and enjoyable. Digital Trends has a good short (1:45) video review of the Boom, which they say is the best-sounding digital streaming media system they've ever tested:
My experience with the Boom wasn't entirely glitch-free however. At one point, after having moved it about to try it in several different locations, it simply stopped working. When powered up, the buttons would light up and flash, but the display remained blank and the unit unresponsive.
I resigned myself to the fact that I'd probably have to return it, but decided to just power everything down overnight (including the network) and try it the next day. Lo and behold the next morning the Boom worked perfectly, as if nothing had ever happened, and the problem never recurred. (Later, one of the Boom's designers told me he thought it might have been due to a flaky internal connection.)
My takeaway from spending time with the Boom and seeing others' reactions to it is further confirmation that this is clearly the direction that home audio (and digital media in general) is heading. While legacy media conversion and networking technology issues present technical hurdles that will undoubtedly hold some people back in the short run, products like the Squeezeboxes are making it easier than ever for non-"geek" consumers to free up their music collections and begin serving them over their home networks.
For more, the following video (11:53) offers an entertaining and informative overview and demonstration of all three of the Squeezebox network media players:
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.