The debate over whether wireless audio or computer-based audio are “good enough” to be part of a high-end system is still raging among some audiophiles. For others the debate is already over. As AHC discovered when he reviewed the Meridian Sooloos music server in issue 204, if you can afford a server that costs five-figures you can have great sound from a hard-drive-based system. But what about those of us who can only pony up three figures? Can you achieve CD-competitive (or better) sound from an “entry-level” product such as the new $299 Logitech Squeezebox Touch? I sure hope so.
I see strong signs that the price/performance differential between expensive and budget-priced front-ends is shrinking. In the rapidly approaching new music-library-based audio world, consumer electronics, computer manufacturers, and pro-audio firms will all have devices suitable for use in high-end audio systems. Logitech is a prime example of a company that’s involved in this new audio revolution. Its latest wireless audio device, the Squeezebox Touch, builds on two prior generations of Squeezebox wireless devices. Offering 96/24 capabilities, a responsive touchscreen display, and a more robust and open-ended interface, the Touch looks like the ideal “first step” for audiophiles who have yet to make the jump to a high-performance wireless music device.
The Logitech Touch’s main function is to play music files. The files can come from many sources, including your iTunes library or the primary music library on your computer or music libraries on USB and NAS drives, as well as Rhapsody, Internet radio, Pandora, Last FM, and other on-line music services. It is called Touch because of its 4.3" (actually 2 ¼" by 3 ¾" display area) touchscreen. All functions can be controlled and accessed from this touchscreen. The Touch also comes with a remote control to operate it from your listening chair, if your listening chair is close enough to the Touch to read its screen (for me the decipherability limit is five feet.) If not, you can use the Touch with the Squeezebox Duet remote, which has a full color screen. You can also control the Touch via your iPod or iPad via a free app available through Apple’s App Store.
The Squeezebox Touch supports most formats including WAV, AIFF, Apple Lossless, FLAC, WMA, WMA lossless, AAC, and MP3. It can also transcode formats through its Squeezebox Server software (more on this later). The Touch does not require a computer running Squeezebox Server to play internet radio or on-line music services. It is required as one of the ways to play tracks from your primary home music library -- the other way is to play from a USB memory stick or SD card inserted into the Squeezebox Touch. This USB drive connection gives you access to any local music library on a USB drive without forcing you to turn your computer on. Some users have even set up the Touch so it runs exclusively off a USB drive with no local or Internet connectivity whatsoever (except for initial setup, which will require Internet access.)
I used the Touch with a variety of different manufacturers’ USB sticks to conclude that this method is both reliable and easy. But I never managed to get the Touch to recognize my Newer Technology V3 drive due to its OS X file system. The Touch only supports USB drives with FAT 16, FAT 32. NTFS, and ext2/ext3 files systems. Also it’s vitally important to use a drive that has its own external power supply that does not depend on the USB connection for its power. The Touch’s power supply can’t fully support the power requirements of a USB drive through its USB connection. If you are planning to use the Touch primarily with a USB drive, consult a list of supported devices here on Slim Devices’ web site.
The Touch’s most exciting new feature is its ability to play 96/24 high-def music files. It’s the first under-$300 wireless server that supports these higher-resolution files. During the review period I played 96/24 files from my USB sub-libraries and main library via both Wi-Fi and hard-wired Ethernet sources successfully. Only once, during months of play, did the Touch stop in the middle of a song. Merely pushing the pause and play buttons instantly solved that problem.
Initial setup for the Touch was simpler for me than for a new user since I’ve been using a Squeezebox Duet and have already set up a Squeezebox Server and Squeezebox system. The Squeezebox Server software and my Duet remote immediately recognized the new Touch and I was listening to music from my main music library via Wi-Fi in under fifteen minutes. If you do have set-up problems Squeezebox user forums on Slim Devices’ Web site will be immeasurably helpful. Several Squeezebox experts, such as John Swenson, frequent the forums regularly.