CDs contain digital music - but the real potential of the medium is only just being realized. Apple is right at the heart of the revolution. But digital music today isn't just about the iPod and downloading tracks from the Music Store. It's changing the way that we listen to music in our homes, as well as on the move with Apple's ubiquitous little white player (and soon-to-be-released even littler silver, gold, pink, blue or green players).
I've imported a lot of my CD collection into iTunes on my Mac at home - 13 days and 55 minutes' worth to be precise, taking up 20.48GB. Recently purchased CDs live in a drawer under the hi-fi, but the old ones have been removed from their jewel cases and stored in CD wallets (www.caselogic-intl.com
) - four hold over 800 CDs and their liner notes, thus saving acres of wall space previously heaving under the strain of the collection. Don't worry, I'm not so anal as to colour-code them or enter their details into a FileMaker database.
When I'm working in my study, I can fire up iTunes and crank up the Harman-Kardon speakers. But back in the living room I have to either resort to the CDs or plug the iPod into the hi-fi.
If you're at all worried about frying your iPod battery via high usage (and all batteries do run dry eventually), you'll want an alternative to get your MP3s and AAC files from your Mac to the hi-fi.
As reviewed in our March 2003 issue, the number-one device for linking Mac and hi-fi is the SliMP3 from Slim Devices. This static MP3 player streamed music from computer to hi-fi over Ethernet or a wireless connection. Unless you have Ethernet running underneath your floorboards, a wired connection isn't very décor- friendly - so the wireless option worked best. Unfortunately, this meant buying a wireless bridge for the SliMP3, costing around £75.
Now, Slim has a static player that incorporates an 802.11b wireless bridge. The Squeezebox is everything the SliMP3 was and more. For example, it supports Apple's now-favoured AAC format as well as MP3. The unit is also smarter and more living-room-friendly.
Setup is relatively painless (follow the manual and onscreen instructions). The fluorescent-green interface is friendly and easy to read up to about 10 feet away. You can browse and search through your music collection via a remote control or Web browser. Searching is easier than on the iPod, but browsing is a bit slower.
Remember that a wireless device performs only as well as your wireless network. The inexplicably poor AirPort signal strength in my house (35-50 per cent) meant that the Squeezebox was prone to cutting out halfway through a song - while it performed flawlessly via a direct Ethernet connection. Try adding an external aerial to your Mac or Base Station to improve matters. Squeezebox supports AirPort's 802.11b, but AirPort Extreme's 54Mbps is backwards compatible.
Having all your music - and the legion of Internet radio stations - readily available at the click of a remote control (without the need for a giant CD jukebox) is liberating. Connecting an iPod to your stereo is certainly simpler, but you may be limited by its capacity - and the lack of a wireless remote control chains you to the hi-fi.
Squeezebox isn't just a pretty gadget, it's the future of digital home entertainment - if that world has reasonable wireless signal strength.