Friday, August 21, 2009

Review: Squeezebox Duet

Short summary: DO NOT BUY. STAY AWAY

When I first bought a nice stereo system, someone recommended that I try a Squeezebox. I didn't bother because in the apartment, my computer was so close to the stereo I could just plug it in, so why bother.

Well, now I have a house, and the office with the equipment closet (NAS, wireless router, cable modem, and the EEE PC running Skype) is far away from the living room, so something like the Squeezebox makes sense. I ordered one and got it on Thursday, hoping that if it worked out, Lisa wouldn't have to deal with CDs while I was in Japan.

The box contains 3 items: a charging cradle for the controller, the receiver, and the controller. The first sign that the product was sub-par in quality was that the cradle was too big for the controller. What this meant was that when you put the controller in the cradle, the controller wouldn't charge! I had to resort to tearing up little pieces of paper and wedging them into the cradle so that the controller would have a good contact with the cradle's charging posts. This felt very silly, since if Logitech couldn't get their manufacturing act together, they should have used a simple, mini-USB port on the thing, skip the cradle, and everyone would be happier.

OK, then I had to install the SqueezeCenter software on either the EEE PC or my NAS. I installed it on both just to see which one would give me a good experience. Both installations went very smoothly --- products that rely on servers are usually nightmares, but this phase of the install went really well and I started looking forward to it.

I then connected the controller (which runs over WiFi, not infra-red) to my WPA network, started playing music, and all was well. Well, all was well for about 15 minutes. I showed the controller to Lisa and she loved it. Then midway through one of the songs on our playlist, the controller said, "Music stopped." That's it. An attempt to play got us nothing. The SqueezeCenter also would do the same thing. I rebooted the controller, and it got stuck at "connecting to Music source". I let it sit overnight, and woke up the next day to find all was well again.

For all of 15 minutes, then the controller started dropping out of WiFi. This time, though, controlling the receiver from the SqueezeCenter software worked. But the whole point of the deal was to be able to run music from the controller! My guess is that Logitech cheaped out on the Wifi Antenna for the controller (which is insane, given the price, but companies have been known to do insane things). I did a quick web-search and discovered that indeed, this was a common problem, and not isolated to just my house (which has great WiFi coverage everywhere, as you might expect --- it's just not that big!).

Well, at that point, I quickly packed everything backed into the box, printed an Amazon return label, and shipped it back. Logitech made way too many poor decisions in this product.

The standard system for this kind of stuff, according to people who would know, is Sonos. But at $1000 for a basic system, that's insane! I could buy another EEE PC, have it connect to the Firefly server, and dedicate to playing music, and still have enough money to buy a round trip ticket to Zurich for that! (Sure, the EEE PC won't have a remote, but I think I can write code to allow anyone to control the EEE PC from another PC)

I think my next step (to be done after I get back from Japan) is to try the Roku Soundbridge. It won't have as nice a remote controller, but it also won't break the bank either. If anyone has experience with this, let me know.
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