Some new devices are a pain to set up and then once you’re done leave you wondering if your time was well spent. That’s how I often feel about setting up a new PC: it takes a lot of work and afterword I’ll have pretty much what I started with, only in a little faster form. There are, however a few devices that take some effort to set up, but then give you give you results that make all the effort seem worthwhile. The iPhone is like that, and so is the Logitech Squeezebox Duet.
Part of the problem with some of today’s most interesting new devices is that they aren’t exactly like what we’ve had or used before. We lack a conceptual framework for understanding what the devices do or how they work—a framework that’s vital if we hope to use new products in a fluid, easy way. So, let’s start with some background on what the Logitech Squeezebox Duet is.
The Squeezebox Duet is designed to play computer and Internet-derived music through your stereo or home theater or whatever you use for music playback. If you have multiple music sources accessible via PC that you would like to play in another room (or rooms) through high quality speakers, the Squeezebox is for you.
Let’s look at some examples. Say you have songs on iTunes on your PC. If your PC is in the kitchen and your home theater is in the living room, Squeezebox allows you to play those iTunes files via your PC. As another example, you may like to use Pandora to create custom “radio “channels on your PC. You could create Pandora channels on your PC and then, via the Squeezebox Duet, play them through your stereo. And so on. Almost any music source you would normally listen to on your PC can now be played through your stereo. Even if you don’t listen to these sources now on your PC, you might like to use them via your stereo because these sources are great for background music and for parties.
The Squeezebox Duet package consists of three parts: a special two-way remote control with an LCD display (the “two-way” remote not only sends out signals, but also responds to—and shows you—what is going on with the system), a receiver that passes analog music into a free input on your stereo or home theater, and some Web-based software that goes on your PC.
So, you plug the Squeezebox Duet receiver into your stereo. It looks for your Wi-Fi (802.11) network and then connects. Meanwhile, the Squeezebox software on your home PC looks for an iTunes account and lets you access that. It also connects to the Web and lets you use any Pandora channels that you have created. Similarly, it sees Sirius satellite radio via the Web and lets you tune to Sirius channels and can also access Slacker, Rhapsody, and a bunch of other services. In short, the Squeezebox Duet can tap into almost any PC-accessible audio source, and then transmit the content to your music system of choice. This puts the Duet in the general category of “Media Extenders:” that is, devices that take a media source (in this case, your PC) and allow media to be output to, and controlled from, another device such as your stereo or home theater rig.
The Squeezebox remote has a small LCD screen that lets you choose which PC-accessible music sources you want to use and that lets you select which songs or channels you want to play. For example, just using the remote, I was able to create a Pandora “Christmas Music” channel. Pandora then began serving music, and I was able to tell Pandora whether I liked the songs or not, just as I would do if I were sitting at my PC. I could also play specific albums or playlists from iTunes or tune in to Sirius channels for news, sports, or music (assuming, of course, I already had a Sirius subscription for car or home use).
For $400, the Squeezebox Duet is pretty useful and it’s the core of an expandable system. You can set up multiple Squeezbox receivers ($150) in multiple rooms, if you like. Logitech, the Squeezbox Duet manufacturer, also offers Squeezebox functionality in boombox form, obviating the need for a stereo. The Boombox version costs just $299, which seems kind of weird (adding speakers and a small amp lowers the price?) until you see that the Duet remote gives you the highly desirable LCD screen, plus better D/A converters for markedly superior sound.
This is nice stuff, but I need to briefly rant about the Duet’s 15-step set-up process. I do not EVER want to read instructions like “The number on the controller’s LCD screen is the last six numbers of the MAC address. You may confirm this number by looking at the label on the bottom of the receiver where the MAC address is printed.” Nope, that’s not acceptable. I don’t want to program instructions in machine language, or write a driver for my PC, or have to write down SSIDs (how many music lovers even know what SSIDs are?). I want products that contain the entire computing power of the University of Michigan in 1967 (IBM System 360/67 serial #2) with way better software to do this stuff for me.
But, trust me on this: you can get through the set-up process with a little patience. And once you do, you can route the PC-accessible music sources you love to any sound system in your house, and without the limitations of PC sound.