What I'd Recommend to a Friend: Logitech Squeezebox Touch
dont remember exactly how it happened. I believe I was playing a file at the computer and noticed that it sounded just like the CD from which it had been ripped. At any rate, after accepting that music files could sound much better than MP3s, and sound good in their own right, I was ready to make computer-based files my primary music media. But there was a seemingly insurmountable problem. I dont really enjoy listening to music at the computer; I much prefer to listen through my main audio/video system. My computer was in a small office at one end of the house and the main system was in a larger listening/living room at the other end.
I mentioned my dilemma to an editor I knew and he sent back a link to a device called the Squeezebox from Logitech. It was both a streaming device and digital-to-analog converter, and it would let me play files from my computer either wirelessly or by Ethernet and seamlessly stream them to my big system. At a cost of less than $300, it seemed worth a try.
I connected the Squeezebox to my computer via fifty feet of Ethernet cable. The files remained on my computer, but the Squeezebox resided right by my listening chair. It had a dandy scrolling list of titles. I could select one, hit play and enjoy high-quality sound without ever having to leave my listening position. To do this I had to install the software that made it possible on my computer. I had already installed iTunes as a browser (if I were to do this today, there would other browsers Id surely consider, like Media Monkey, but iTunes was about it back then).
The Squeezebox software proved to be one of the only issues. The software was buggy and constantly being updated. There was, however, an active Squeezebox community online, and it was a pretty sure bet that if I had a problem, someone else had already solved it and could share the answer.
Once I got the Squeezebox working, it opened up worlds of new music. I could rip my own CDs, of course, but I could also download from the few sites then in existence. But that created another issue. Logitech had released the Transporter in 2006, and it could play files with high bit and sample rates, but it cost $1000. The Squeezebox would only accommodate 24 bits/48kHz max, and fans prayed for an upgrade to that.
Those prayers were answered in 2010 with the Squeezebox Touch, which works in basically the same way (and still cost less than $300, just as the Squeezebox did), only it has a beautiful display screen and can play files up to 24 bits/96kHz. Someone in the online community found a way to trick that up to 192kHz.
I had not one lingering doubt about the ability of a digital file to provide an A+ listening experience. A lot of this had to do with the Squeezebox Touch. No matter what I fed it -- ripped CD, ripped LP, standard-resolution files, high-resolution files -- the sound was, and still is, absolutely wonderful. The Squeezebox Touch seemed to take the best parts of any recording and translate them into a most appealing analog-like aural canvas. Perhaps it was the AKM DAC, perhaps something else, but my ripped CDs sounded more satisfying, detailed, warm and rich than the original discs.
In addition to the sound, there were a lot of perks. The displays were gorgeous and varied. I could display the album cover and the basic info, just the cover, or just the information. There were even two types of VU displays, so I could see what each channel was doing relative to the other. And I could control everything from a remote control (including universal remotes) or by touching the screen. Its also worth mentioning that the Squeezebox Touch is an Internet radio too, with access of thousands of stations, and it will interface with Pandora, Sirius, and other commercial libraries. Later, Logitech added an app so you could control the unit from your smartphone or iPod Touch.
My Squeezebox Touch is still a viable component. Its very flexible. There are sufficient outputs that I can stream digitally to an outboard DAC or I can use the internal DAC via the analog outputs. Theres a headphone output with enough power to drive most conventional headphones very well. Theres a USB input and a slot for SD cards, providing two additional ways to play music. It has all of the controls youd expect of a CD player: play/pause, skip forward, skip back, repeat song, repeat album, even random play. But unlike most players, it allows me to make playlists on the fly and search by genre -- album, artist, year released. Ive been able to customize the displays wallpaper and text size and have it display a digital clock when it is turned off. Flexibility reigns with the Squeezebox Touch.
I now have 260,000 albums ready to play at any given moment. Using Google, Ive researched and located the original covers for 95 percent of them and have my computer set up to copy new titles into the browser every night and back them up on a spare drive using a program called SyncBack Pro. And I have that many albums stored on seven Western Digital outboard drives that take less than a foot and a half of shelf space. The actual discs would take 200 or more times that space. I started my digital library when the biggest drive you could buy was 1GB. If I began compiling today, Id be able to get my very large collection on to two 3 or 4 drives and my collection would be about 5" wide. And I can keep adding on, in 24 bits/96kHz at that.
I still play SACDs, Blu-rays and what have you, but the soul of my collection, and its heart, is the Squeezebox Touch. Theres so much high-quality music at the touch of a finger that it still boggles my mind. I learned quickly that I should back up drives, by the way, so I keep a backup set. Ive had to replace only two drives in ten years.
There are other systems that have come along, like the Sonos, and Olives impressive units, but these cost considerably more than the Squeezebox Touch and dont have the touch display screen. With the Sonos you have to use an app and a smartphone or iPod. Moreover, it doesnt always support high-resolution formats. Olive includes display screens on its models, but only large screens on the more expensive ones (were talking over a thousand bucks -- way over). There are also options from Naim and Linn, but, again, those are very expensive and the Naim screens are small.
So if you want to start realizing the joy of downloaded music without spending a fortune, you would do best to start with a Squeezebox Touch. But, theres a caveat: Logitech doesn't make them anymore. There are endless theories as to how this came about, but as crazy as it seems, its the truth. However, you can still find used and refurbished units on the Internet for $300 or $400. eBay usually has three or four listed at any given time. And its the kind of product thats liable to turn up at a flea market or yard sale.
The online Squeeze community is still going strong, adding new questions and observations daily, and Logitech still operates help lines for the units. In the Squeezebox Touch's heyday, these were the best help lines in the business. Even though Logitech now relies on some degree of outsourcing, they are still among the best. There are still some diehard fans that think Logitech might realize what an error they made in dropping the Squeezebox Touch and create a new one, but its been over three years, so I wouldnt count on it.
Start your digital download journey with Squeezebox Touch, but do it today! Tomorrow might be too late, and a year from now the Squeezebox Touch may be a collectible priced at three or more times its original cost. At present, it has achieved deserved cult status and you can still find one. The Squeezebox Touch dramatically changed the way I collect music and continues to allow me to hear it with the same fidelity I obtain from the SACD, DVD-Audio, and Blu-ray mediums, all with the touch of a finger.
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