Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Squeezebox Boom!

And then I found a job. Which was bad for me writing stuff on this blog, but it was great for my cashflow.

During the first couple of months working, I decided I needed to upgrade the my music player from the Noxon 2 to something else. Many of my friends loved their Squeezeboxes, and since the Squeezbox's server ran on the NSLU2, I decided I'd take the plunge and buy one. The model I bought was the Squeezebox Boom.

First the good things. The Squeezebox Boom is pretty much self contained, with one big exception. There is the possibility of using either a wired or wireless network connection. The display is easy to read. The size is convenient. And, the sound is great.

But, there were some serious drawbacks. First off, the version of the Squeeze Server that supported the Squeezebox Boom didn't work on the NSLU2 so well. Second, I have most of my music encoded as Apple Lossless formatted files, I found out that my music files were required to be transcoded on the way to the device. I was surprised, as the Squeezebox was advertised as being able to play Apple Lossless files. And, it still is advertised as being able to play Apple Lossless files. You may have to go and select the 'features' part of the website. With this, I'd expect that the device should be able to play the music. However, the transcoding is to FLAC, so it sounds decent when it gets to the device.

So, a big issue with the Squeezebox devices is that they are more or less 'dumb' clients. That is, most of the work is taken care of on the server, with the device pretty much just a set of speakers and a display with a remote. This means that you have to have a server doing the heavy work. You can use your desktop PC to do this, but then it has to be turned on. Rather than use my desktop to serve up the tunes I decided to get a NetGear ReadyNAS Duo network attached storage device and stream the music files from that. Well, it worked, but not so great. After doing a bit of research, I discovered that the MySQL database that the Squeezebox Server was using to keep track of the music files was horribly tuned. Adding a bit of RAM to the device and tuning the database fixed most of the problems. There were still a few problems with the Squeezebox not playing as instantly as desired, but worked okay. Okay, that is until Logitech released an update to the server. This new version took more resources than my little ReadyNAS had, so I remained with the old version. However, the NOXON worked great with this setup, other than it couldn't play the Apple Lossless at all.

Another option for the Squeezebox is to use it with Logitech's online service, which works pretty good. However, it does occasionally drop out, which can be annoying.

So, that was pretty much it, until Apple came out with Snow Leopard. Snow Leopard has what's called the 'Bonjour Sleep Proxy'. And what the Bonjour Sleep Proxy does is to sleep your system until you need it, for things like printers, your iTunes server or whatever you might connect remotely to your mac for. Suddenly, the Squeezebox Boom could just start the mac when it needed to and not require it to be on all the time.

I ended up getting a mac mini server for all sorts of reasons, and one of the things I used it for was to run the Squeezebox Server software. This worked okay, but the Squeezebox Server software had a memory leak that wrote something like 20GB or more of swapfiles.

Eventually, I started looking at upgrading the ReadyNAS, which at this point is doing duty as the backup server for the mac mini. I noticed that Netgear had done some significant updates to their product line, and I got a ReadyNAS Ultra 2. This device is many, many times faster than the old Duo, and many times quieter too. So far the Squeezebox Server seems to work pretty good.

Then, there is the issue of what to use for a remote. The web client for the Squeezebox is okay, having gone through a recent update that allows one to choose the volume a bit more granularly. But a big issue is that Logitech doesn't provide a remote iPhone/iPad app. I've been using iPeng, which is pretty good, but this is something I think Logitech should really provide with the system. It'd be great if Logitech underwrote iPeng.

All in all, the Squeezbox Boom is a great sounding system. But the infrastructure required to get music to the actual box is involved. You either need to have your PC feeding it files, or you have to set up a dedicated server. It would be great if you could just access files from a file share and be done with it, but you can't.

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