Major product missing
I am quite surprised the Revo products aren't mentioned here. They would probably outclass most of devices reviewed here.
The Roku Soundbridge M1001, Logitech's Squeezebox Duet, Philips' Streamium NP1100 and the Sonos Digital Music System all offer ways to get the music on your hard drive to pump out of your stereo. They do so in various forms with various extra functionalities and at various prices, but at the end of the day they all do …
While some of these are quite nifty —especially the Sonos if you want to put down the dough— AirTunes beats them on most ends. You get the highly versatile Airport Express unit and employ one of gazillions of possible remote control systems, many of which provide a GUI in your hand. Way cheaper, way convenient, way easy. If you use iTunes anyway.
Always overlooked in these reviews is one of the simplest, cheapest, smallest and longest-standing solutions - Apple's Airport Express.
A small device the size of a largish wallplug that simply plugs into a power socket and outputs via mini-RCA or optical. No screen, no remote, but then do you need them? If you have a laptop or even a desktop within reach then you effectively have a remote with a 15" or larger screen.
Only outputs from iTunes without 3rd party software (Airfoil from Amoeba Software), but no problems with DRM music from iTunes store. And also doubles as a wireless extender and, possibly uniquely and possibly staggeringly usefully, has a USB socket so you can print wirelessly.
If you want no-frills (and no shelf-space) then yours for 65 quid.
I'm sure you will get a few comments from people with one of more of each of the devices ... so here is one to start it off from a Logitech Squeezebox user - focussing on the internet radio part.
The comments about BBC listening might be off-putting to a UK audience. In fact, the Squeezebox can play BBC stations. Out of the box it is able to access the BBC WMA stream (look under Internet Radio/Staff Picks) - or go via SqueezeNetwork.
But one of the big benefits of the open approach taken by them (well - SlimDevices really) is that the community has built a lot of free add-ins.
One of them, AlienBBC, adds menu items for all of the BBC local radio stations PLUS the BBC Listen Again content.
There are numerous other facilities built-in - one in particular that might interest music fans is the extensive support for last.fm - you can "scrobble" what you play and also tune in to last.fm stations. If that means nothing to readers - then take a look around http://last.fm
Also you might like to take a look at the newly released Squeezebox Boombox. Same underlying capabilities - but with built-in amp and speakers (and smple remote). Similar in concept to the Roku Soundbridge Radio. Maybe you could compare them with some of the all-in-1 products from companies such as Roberts, AE, Revo, Pure (new), Intempo (new model on the way).
See also my blog for some extra thoughts
You could have added that you can also add a SqueezeBox3 to the Logitech setup, which would give you a player with a similar but better display than the Roku.
As from my personal experience (I own a SqueezeBox2) I can add that the sound quality does matter a lot and the Logitech gear really sounds great, just beware that the PC software (SqueezeCenter) needs a fair amount of RAM as it is completely written in Perl. Yes.
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Nice review but I suspect I am not the only one who, whilst liking the idea of the convenience of these things, doesn't want to have a full Windows/Mac/Linux PS running 24/7 just to be able to play music. MY PC is noisy and consumes a large amount of power - which costs money.
I'd like to be able to stick all my MP3's on a NAS box so that I can access them from the PC, the laptop AND one of these things. Does anyone know whether any of these can do that? It sounds like only the UPnP compatible one (was that the Philips) can.
Nice review but I bought an Apple TV and sold my Roku shortly afterwards. Apple TV gives not just good quality audio but movies, TV shows, podcasts, photos and YouTube too. Your iPod Touch/iPhone can act as a remote anywhere in the house. With the local hard disk you also don't need to have iTunes running either. Brilliant bit of kit for £199.00. Only disappointing thing is that it doesn't do Internet Radio which seems a curious omission in functionality as the hardware is easily capable of it.
I can't vouch for the other devices, but I thought it'd be worth noting that the Sonos can play music directly off of any network drive/NAS, meaning you do not need a PC running whenever you want to listen to music. That's a biggie for me at least.
So, the comment stating that you must install server software is not true, you can setup your entire Sonos kit with just the remote, without ever turning a PC on.
I've got two Soundbridges, and they're great. I don't know what you mean about them being loud: all of these things should be outputting at line level anyway. Perhaps the others are "quiet". Certainly the Roku is no louder than a CD player.
The only difficulty with these things is that they make you want to re-rip your collection at a higher bit rate. And you don't want to play the iTunes store music anyway, because the 128Kb DRM-stifled versions sound horrible.
Possibly the most inaccurate review I've ever read on this site. The comments about many of the products are either imbalanced or just plain wrong.
Several references are made to some Sonos server software. Sonos is a fully hardware based solution and doesn't need and never has required any server software whatsoever. It can be installed, configured and used without the need for a PC. As a result, in many respects, it's actually easier to setup than the Roku or Philips devices.
You highlight that the Logitech Remote comes with a free charging cradle. This is because it's the only way to charge it. The Sonos controller comes with a separate charger, you failed to mention this is free.
The Sonos is a multi-room music system, but you fail to compare any of the devices in multi-room use. You even refer to it as the "Sonos Digital Music System", it's not even called that...check their website...it's the "Sonos Multi-Room Music System". If you looked at the system in it's intended configuration you would see how it completely excels when compared to any of the others.
You mention that none of the devices can playback iTunes DRM protected files, but fail to mention that the Sonos can handle all MS plays-for-sure DRM protected files.
The Sonos device's ability to index Apple iTunes libraries is in no way any worse than the Logitech. As a result, I wonder if you even actually tested this function?
Sonos will also connect to Squeezecenter, if required, but you fail to mention this. Although why anybody would want to tie a hardware based solution to a software based server is beyond me.
You mention that the Logitech will playback WMA-Lossless files and also that it will install on Linux. WMA-Lossless playback is actually only available on Windows based servers.
You mention that Logitech allows you to playback Rhapsody and some other music services. Rhapsody isn't available in the UK! This being a UK site, you might mention that Sonos also support the unavailable Rhapsody but, if you live in the UK (as most readers do) then you may find that the Napster support on Sonos is a big win as you can actually use it here.
You mention that Sonos relies on "bespoke wireless mesh technology rather than on good old 802.11". It's only good if it works well, which it doesn't always do. The Sonos actually uses a proprietary version of 802.11n with double the wireless range of the other devices. Handy in a large house or even a small one with a more solid construction. It's also a massive advantage in built-up areas with loads of conflicting 11g networks which interfere with each other. Whereas the other devices, which all rely on legacy 11g, may break up...the Sonos just works.
In short, you criticise Sonos mainly on price but fail to recognise that it adds value for money by not needing a PC based server on 24/7 and having massively improved multi-room usablity and reliability.
You also fail to include the Apple Airport Express in the review, which kills all the products at the budget end of the market.
Thank you for this article, I look forward to reading it fully when I get home from work, although I had already decided from your previous review on getting the Squeezebox Duet and am currently awaiting delivery.
What I would love to see now (and was going to get around to emailing el reg about) is a comparison review of Network Media Tanks/Popcornhour type devices, including their suitablity for use with the squeezebox (etc) as NAS storage.
(yes of course I realize that the NMTs can also stream music but I've wanted a remote like the Duets forever!)
Also is there any chance that El reg could get their Duet upgraded (search ebay for squeezebox) and let us know if the £179 digital and analogue upgrades are worth the expensive price? (£119 for one or the other) these prices do not include the squeezebox duet receiver!!!
SqueezeCenter runs on (at least) QNAP NAS boxes and is very easy to install.
Two gotchas though:
- SqueezeCenter's memory usage necessitates (on the QNAP) swap file writes which prevent spin-down. There's a swap-to-usb-flash mod available, but that doesn't sound sensible to me as it should eventually kill your flash.
- LosslessWMA is only supported when SqeezeCenter is running on a Windows platform (no problem with lossy WMA though) - the migration from lossless WMA to flac is fairly painless, but then you can no longer use Windows Media Player to sync to your (non-flac-playing) Walkman.
Having said that I'm extremely happy with the NAS/Duet solution.
If like me you didn't fancy spending out all that dosh only to find that the tech didn't do what you want, try out the Logik IRMA 1, I picked mine up for £35 and as well as all internet 'radio' channels it can attach to local servers via uPNP also to shared drives including NAS devices.
Admittedly the remote is a bit restricted compared with the Sonos but what do you expect for a twentieth of the price, they've got to save money somewhere!
Linksys Wireless-G Music Bridge. It's not nearly as fancy as these reviewed. It redirects the audio output from your PC to your stereo over either your wired or wireless network. Anything you can listen to on the computer, you can listen to on the stereo. IIRC it cost me $99 about 3 years ago. I've been very pleased with it.
SqueezeCenter runs directly on a number of NASs via a piece of free software called SSODS or SSOTS (depending on model), which also makes installation very easy. I run it on a QNAP 209 Pro II and it works beautifully in a two-room setup with a new Squeezebox Duet and an old, original Squeezebox. I bought mine from qnapstore.co.uk, who preloaded the SSOTS software.
The only slight thing to watch is that while NASs are much quieter and less power hungry than PCs, it is at the expense of some processing power. So if you're looking to have it stream to _lots_ of rooms simultaneously, it might run out of juice: a typical FLAC stream seems to take about 20% of CPU. Things like the web browser interface and full collection rescans are also a fair bit slower than they were when I was running SqueezeCenter off a full PC - not that I use them much.
For the Logitech system the short answer is no, although I believe it is technically possible to install the server software onto some specific Linux-based NAS devices if that's your kind of thing.
For me this was the only fly in an otherwise fine ointment, however I used the significant amount of cash saved by buying the Squeezebox over the Sonos to build myself a low-power linux system, which does the job nicely.
Personally I have a squeezebox 3 hooked up a nas running freenas with the squeeze server installed via michael hergers instructions. As its running on a dedicated server which also stores all the music in .flac format no need for a pc.
As PC world are now banging the squeezebox 3 out for £80 that would be my winner as it compatible with the duet remote if you absolutely have to have pictures of the album in your hand!
Although the name of it escapes me right now, there's some free-to-download third party software kicking about that turns any Wi-Fi enabled PDA into a remote for the Roku, and gives you multi-room control if you've got more than one unit. I'd buy one if I wasn't too skint!!
Why buy a special-purpose unit when you could use the Nokia N800 (my solution) or any other cheap portable computer that supports WiFi and media servers like WMP 11, Orb, or TVersity. The N800 also supports direct access to Rhapsody, which as someone else already pointed out is not available outside the USA.
I have owned a Roku M1001 and got shot of it because it suffers badly from dither-induced noise caused by internal upsampling from 44.1kHz to 48kHz. The net result is a horrible low-level buzz that is quite noticable on quiet music (especially classical) and it doesn't need fancy amp/speakers etc to hear. The older M1000 does not suffer from this (I now own two courtesy of eBay). When Roku produced the M1001, they did a cost-reduction exercise and used a DAC that samples at 48KHz, hence the need to up-sample. Upsampling in this way is mathematically messy and the result is there for all to hear. I'd avoid the Roku for this reason. A friend has a SqueezeBox, and it's superb.
The Soundbridge - although hard to find in the UK - is by far the coolest piece of wifi gear going. It has, by default, telnet open, and using perl and some nifty online apps you can have it stream weather, and other oddness to its retro display when on standby.
Great wifi reception means it can sit anywhere.
I also want a second one - wish they where more easily found.
Something that has not been mentioned in Sonos works directly with Napster via your broadband connections.
Therefore, for £10 a month you have access to 5 million plus songs directly from the remote control.
This is the main reason I am saving my pennies and going for the Sonos unit, rather than the cheaper Logitech.
Oh dear, oh dear!
No wonder the recorded music industry is going to hell in a handbasket.
Sound quality isn't really important? I, for one, have no intention of hoooking up anything with less-than-stellar DACs to my stereo system.
The Logitech (formerly Slim Devices) Squeezebox 3 (of which I have two) has, as the review mentioned, 24-but Burr-Brown DACs, which make it sound as good as all but the very highest end CD players.
As for simply buyiong a cheap PC - the sound cards in PCs are not "Hi Fi" and the inside of a PC is a very RF hostile environment - spelled N-O-I-S-Y.
I guess if music isn't really that important to you....
BTW, the Logitech squeezecenter software comes as standard on the Netgear (formerly Infrant) ReadyNAS+ boxes.
Trouble is, the 200MHz ARM processor doesn't have quite enough poke to run it responsively while, say, you are doing a backup.
These units look interesting. I had wondered how I could listen to my mp3s away from the computer. I bought a household FM tuner for 40 quid. You can listen to it on any FM radio in the house up to 150 feet away, but if you don't like what's playing you have to go to the computer to change it. One question: I"m not asking in a negative way (the FM option suits me, but if there was a better way...) but what would be the advantages of a streaming box?
I've got the one of the original handbuilt sliMP3 players and one of the newer SqueezeBox3's, both streaming easily from my Netgear/Infrant NAS.
One of the biggest strengths of the SlimDevices/Logitech solution is the software, its very customizable (with gui's for all types of phones, and smaller screens) and it has a very active development. and it looks like Logitech has done exactly what it should have done with the purchase, uses its larger size for more 'fancy' models. The Duet and the new boombox version are good editions. Which you can add (and sync if required) to any existing setup.
Also for the proper audiophile there's the £1k Transporter which has excellent sound quaility (although there is also an active hardware modding scene for the 'normal' squeze boxes).
For someone that likes the idea of multiroom, but have different requirements/space in each room, i'd say the logitech solution is the most flexible.
The Sonos is impressive, but so far I've not seen any review saying it outclasses the squeezeboxes in audio quality, so why pay the extra money??
You can get a down market version of the Roku SoundBridge in Pinnacle clothing. DLNA compliant, I use a Buffalo NAS with a UPnP server built in. I generally use the web interface for all set-up as it's much easier than the remote, much better way to set up the radio streams. The Pinnacle version has an SD card slot for a local music library too.
After all it is making available to others. If they have a receiver and live close enough they could pick up your transmissions and GOD FORBID copy it onto a cassette tape, then encode it to FLAC (sarcasm).
Honestly though, surely there is a legal question about these devices. They duplicate the copyrighted works don't they. And transmit them to all and sundry.
Bloody Freetards, paying lots of money to make available copyrighted works. I think that you all should pay the artists, no the music labels on a per listen basis.
If your music sits on a Linux server, check that the Squeezecenter server software works on your machine before parting with your hard-earned cash on the Logitech offering.
There are known problems trying to get Squeezecenter 7.2 running on Ubuntu 8.04 and derivatives. The advice from Slimdevice's support team is limited to telling you to go and read the forums - thanks guys.
I for one have given up with this and am going to investigate the Sonos product.
As indicated in your review, set-up is simple for Roku and Philips. I have choosen the Philips because it was cheapest and didn't want to spend too much to test a new technology.
Result is I am very happy with my NP1100 which is quite nice and so easy to use. I am also amazed by the number of station available.
When I have plug-it in the first time, SW has been automatically updated and now BBC is working very well.
I really love this device which allow me to listen internet radio without PC and also all my MP3 on my Hi-Fi system.
Tks for your usefull comparizon.