The Touch has both WiFi and Ethernet connectability, but if I were a betting man I’d wager that over 80% of Touches will be connected via WiFi. I tried it both ways, and like the general public most of my listening was done via WiFi connected to 170GBs of music in my iTunes music library. Some users on the Squeezebox forums claim that Ethernet offers better fidelity than WiFi, but I didn’t hear any repeatable, recognizable fidelity differences between these two connection methods. Obviously if you experience dropouts via WiFi then switching to a hard-wired Ethernet connection will reduce incidents of dropouts due to the connection. Will it sound better this way? That depends on your WiFi connection.
In both my systems I used the Touch primarily with its digital outputs. I understand that some readers intend to use the Touch’s internal DAC instead of its digital outputs, so I spent some time listening to its analog output through my Stax Nova headphones. Compared to the Weiss DAC 202 via its RCA coaxial connections, the Weiss exhibited a more extended top end with a greater sense of air. I also found the Weiss to be more dimensional. But the Touch’s own internal DAC isn’t bad. It’s musical and smooth, and has excellent dynamic contrasts. Its sins were primarily of omission, with a slightly darker and more forgiving nature than the Weiss.
I mentioned earlier that many people are using the Touch as a stand-alone unit with a music library connected via the USB inputs. While this is an excellent solution for those who don’t or won’t install a wired or wireless network to access digital music files, it does limit your options to only one music library. Part of the beauty of the Squeezebox system is its ability to handle and access multiple libraries. Each household member can have his or her own library, which the Touch can access via only a few selections from its screen.
My preferred method for using the Touch’s USB connection is with what I call “micro libraries,” which are USB memory sticks between 2 and 8GB with specific types or genres of music. The Touch’s Squeezebox Lite software has memory limitations that make it happier with smaller libraries as opposed to fully populated big ol’ 1TB USB drives. Large drives cause the SBL software operations to slow down upon installation, when the Squeezebox software is initially indexing the drive. These slow-downs can affect response time to commands, especially those involving skip and search functions. Once fully indexed, larger drives will respond with the same speed as smaller USB cards, but any time you switch USB drives the indexing process will affect the Touch’s response time until SBL finishes its indexing duties. With small USB cards instead of larger mechanical hard drives, the Touch’s SBL software can quickly index the music and be fully responsive moments after the drive is connected.
At the 2010 CES a friend of mine loaned me a USB memory stick with the complete Beatles In Stereo boxset on it. This was one of a limited run of 30,000 copies. When I got home I could hardly wait to hear the 24-bit FLAC file versions of my fave Beatles songs on the USB stick, but when I tried to play them on my Mac I couldn’t. Even the latest Apple OS 10.6.4 operating system wouldn’t natively decode FLAC files. Sure, I could load them individually into Audacity for playback, but if I wanted to play the entire stick’s contents from the 44.1/24-bit files I was out of luck. Using the Squeezebox Touch all I had to do was copy the 44.1/24-bit FLAC files onto another USB stick, load the stick into the Touch’s USB slot, and a minute later I was listening to the entire Beatles library in 24-bit splendor! That was good day sunshine indeed.
During the past two months that I’ve had the Touch up and running in my system I’ve found it to be substantially more stable and glitch-free than the Logitech Duet. Dropouts caused by connection errors have been virtually non-existent with the Touch, while in the past the Duet has occasionally given me problems. I should mention that Logitech’s latest version of the Squeezebox Server Software might also be part of the reason that the Touch has been so stable and responsive. Other users on the Squeezebox Forums also have reported improved performance with the Duets and version 7.5.1.
When I reviewed the Sonos system and compared it to the Duet using the previous version of Squeezebox Server software, the Sonos proved to be ergonomically more elegant. But the Touch with SC 7.5.1 and SBL brings the Squeezebox system much closer to the ease of operation of the Sonos. Now, regardless of whether my computer is on or not, I can access and enjoy my music files through the Touch. That alone is a massive improvement over previous Squeezebox systems.