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Staying at my father's house, on leave from the hospital, I was surprised to hear the strains of an obscure band whom I avidly follow wafting through the bedroom. Were they really on the radio? I'd discovered them through an internet radio station, Soma FM. I never thought I'd hear them on the "real" radio.
I asked my father which radio station he had the little bedside box tuned to, and he answered that it was, in fact, Soma. I realized: his little "radio" was not a radio at all, but played online streaming music! He kindly let me take it back to the hospital, where I've happily been squandering my mobile data allowance with the thing.
The Logitech Squeezebox is quite a small radio, smaller than many traditional radios, much smaller than any CD/tape/radio combo. There's apparently a newer edition with a touch screen, but this has a more traditional radio-like control system, with dials and buttons governing menus, volume, and "tuning". The speaker takes up half of its front facing, and then there's a small colour screen above the controls. The back of the radio is composed of black lacquer-effect plastic. It looks, and feels, expensive. Design-wise, it's pleasant to look at its subtle curves and asymmetry.
The Squeezebox can play almost any MP3 or WAV stream, but it comes with a few sets of "stations" preloaded. These include the BBC, Absolute, and several Internet-only stations, including my own dear Soma! There is also server software that can be used, in a manner similar to Apple's AirPlay, to stream one's own music to the device, but I haven't tried it out. It seems somehow redundant, though, as this little thing has a Spotify app! You will need Spotify Premium to use the service on such a device, though, so don't buy this looking for free Spotify streaming.
Once I clicked through to a favourite of mine, Soma FM: Secret Agent, I sat back for the show. My initial excitement at having an Internet-radio radio gave way to the pedantry of audiophiles as I realised how flat the sound issuing forth was. At first I thought that the problem was on the station's end, but switching to BBC 3 gave no improvement. There was also a slight hiss in the quieter moments of songs - one couldn't hear it except at high volumes, but I like to have my radio at high volumes.
Clicking through stations is fast and efficient, with the only real bandwidth use coming from the streaming music itself. This makes it, er, slightly less of a data hog than it might be. I would recommend common sense and ward anyone with a very small data allowance away from Internet radio on a whole, though!
After a few tracks, I became awfully conscious that there was no record being made of what I was listening to. I was hit by a wave of solipsism - was I really listening to it at all? My existential crisis was cut short by my discovery of a sweet little scrobbling app for the platform! The Squeezebox Radio last.fm scribbler reads track and artist names from streams and sends them to your last.fm account. Not too shabby.
In functionality, there's no way to fault this "radio". It does one thing - Internet radio - and does it exhaustively and excellently. In sound quality, it could use a little improvement, to say the least - but keep the volume in the middle ranges, and you'll run into no major annoyances with this wonderful little gadget.
Streaming music is one of the latest trends to sweep through the world particularly with the advent of services such as Spotify and even LoveFilm for you guessed it films. Well the Logitech Squeezebox Radio does a good job of streaming music and radio to your ears. It measures 130 x 220 x 85mm which is a reasonable size for a radio but if you're looking for amazing sound quality then you may be looking in the wrong place. Something that probably should be pointed out first of all is that you MUST have the internet to actually use the radio otherwise it won't work. There is no FM tuner or DAB service, it's a streaming device only so you must have wireless internet in your home for this device to be of any use!
Adding the radio to your wireless internet is very similar to adding printers and other devices simply follow the instructions on the device and when prompted and if necessary enter in your wireless password and you should be good to go!
The best feature on the device by far is the ability to play any songs that you have stored on your PC. It doesn't matter where it is stored on your PC or if it is stored on several PCs the Squeezebox will find it and let you listen. BUT unfortunately you have to have the PC on to be able to access the music so you will have to consider electricity bills or perhaps whether you would just be better listening to the music through your PC in the first place.
The radio selections are excellent and very varied, you can search by filters like location or genre and considering the fact that there are thousands of internet stations I doubt you will be stuck for something interesting or enjoyable to listen to. As a bonus you can also access service like Last.FM (tracks your listening habits) and other premium streaming services like Pandora and Rhapsody if it takes your fancy. There really is no limit to the amount of choice you have regarding the music you listen to.
Other features included on the squeezebox is the ability for it to function as an alarm clock. I use this quite a lot as you can actually choose what you want to listen to when the alarm goes off! The quality of sound is good for a radio system especially considering it is a mono speaker but cannot compete with proper stereo systems.
The negatives of the squeezebox are the lack of a remote. You can purchase one but it would have been nice to have one included in the box. And finally the text entry can be cumbersome and frustrating at times!
However these are small gripes and if you love your internet radio and streaming music I don't think there is a better option on the market right now
So I've owned the Logitech Squeezebox radio for about 18 months and use it as a bedside radio and it's still something I really enjoy using. With the price currently at just over £100, you might think this is a little excessive when you can buy a clock radio for under £10 from Argos.
So what's so special about this radio? Well, there's no DAB or FM tuner, it's just an internet radio. And what's great is, you can listen to almost any station from anywhere in the world. If you live abroad or a long way from home, you could wake up to a local radio station from where you grew up, or one of the millions of niche music stations available. Of course, all your standard stations, (BBC etc) are there too. Finding stations is easy, you can search by country, city, genre, or name and store them under the six preset buttons next to the display for quick access.
Connected via your wifi network or ethernet cable, there are many other internet services which can be accessed too. If you subscribe to Last.fm or Spotify (monthly subscribers only) you can stream music direct from your account. These services are accessed through 'apps' which you can download to the device. Other 'apps' available include a podcast service, Flickr and Facebook.
With regards to Facebook, have you ever thought it might be nice to wake up to the face of your ex, or an old school friend, or perhaps your mum? Well with the Facebook app for the Squeezebox, every day can bring an alarming surprise as your facebook photos, or friends' profile pictures play in a slideshow on the device via it's 6cm colour screen while music is playing (or always when on standby if you wish). When I tell people about this little feature, you can just see the look of "what has the world come to?" on their faces.
As well as playing music from internet stations, you can stream music from your own mp3 collection over your home network. If you have a PC or Mac turned on and install a small program called "Squeeze center", you can browse and play all your iTunes playlists and audio files. You can also remotely control the radio, which has many uses. Say you were in the kitchen on your laptop, and wanted your son to get out of bed, how about blasting the sound of a power drill at high volume through the radio's speaker? (sound effect app available to download free). You could even alert people from the other side of the world as long as there's an internet connection.
In terms of the design, it's a very smart looking device with a high build quality. The dimensions are 13 cm x 22 cm x 8.5 cm, has a black front with the outer shell available in black, white and red, although I've only ever seen black in stores. The casing has a very high shine, which means it gets dusty constantly, which is just one small annoyance. There is one mono speaker, which sounds good even at a high volume. There are two main dials, one for navigating the menu system and the other is the volume. One reason I like this as a bedside radio is because the volume increments are very small so it's easy to get precisely the level you want. One slight downside is, that you'll need a good internet signal where you plan to use the radio. Sometimes the sound cuts in and out if the connection is weak.
The Squeezebox radio is just one of several compatable products available, so it's possible to have a network of speakers all streaming the same music in different rooms of the house.
I like this product, though sometimes it's hard to take it seriously. I guess it all depends on the way you use it. Not everyone wants Facebook or remote control, but the infinite choice of music available means it's unlikely you'll tire of the Squeezbox radio