I first came across Slim Devices a few years ago, when the iPod was young and the iTunes Music Store hadn’t yet reached the UK. Back then I was also the proud owner of a stereo system – I even had a turntable. What the original SliMP3 offered was a way to get all the MP3 tunes out of your Mac and onto a proper stereo system with better speakers than your computer had. The latest offering is an evolved SliMP3 device called the Squeezebox, the third generation.
This latest Squeezebox comes as either a wired or wireless version. We tested the wireless version, which was very easy to set up. The box itself is barely more than a display with a selection of connections at the back, including analogue and SPDIF optical connections. There’s an Ethernet port, which is included even if you purchase the wireless version, and a power port.
On your Mac you need to run the SlimServer software, and open-source music server that drives the Squeezebox. It’s now in its sixth generation, so offers a wealth of features, such as internet radio, a web interface, and easy ways to make playlists and navigate your music. Unfortunately, the one thing that Squeezebox can’t do is play rights-managed music from the iTunes Music Store. To be fair, this is something that is entirely out of the control of Slim Devices. Apple hasn’t licensed the DRM technology to anybody except Motorola for use on its iTunes phones. This makes pretty good business sense for Apple, but many people think it a bit rude to restrict the use of music they have legitimately paid for.
Compared with the original version, the Squeezebox is very responsive. The old version was sluggish, and used a generic remote control. Now it uses a better-labelled, fully featured remote. This make a big difference to other options when using the Squeezbox, and it feels like you’re using a stereo in the old fashioned way. It’s easy to forget about your computer (though it does need to be on to play your music).
It still works without your computer if you have a broadband connection and there’s access to many internet radio options, although navigation isn’t a simple as it might be. There’s also an option to use something called Pandora, a kind of personal DJ, which sounds fantastic but isn’t available outside the US at the moment. Should it become available in the UK, the Squeezebox will work with it.
I love the Squeezebox, but it has a lot of competition now, where there was none before. You could use the AirPort Express to hook iTunes Music Store content to your hi-fi. You could use the Belkin TuneStage to wirelessly attach your iPod to your stereo, or even use the iPod Hi-Fi. But the Squeezebox, with its big bright screen and multiple ways to access your music, is a really elegant solution. If you still use other hi-fi components then it integrates well, if not it works well on its own. While it does now have competition, no other solution is quite as well rounded and polished.