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 Post subject: Squeezebox 3 Digital Music Box
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 1:02 am 
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Squeezebox 3 Digital Music Box -- SPCR's first audio/pc component review.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 1:35 am 
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As usual, very nice review. I want one!


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 5:42 am 
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Never knew MikeC was such an audiophool. ;) Sounds like a neat device, not so useful when you're sharing an apartment at university, though. :)

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:09 am 
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Whether one is audiophile-ignorant like me or not, I'll bet there's lots of illuminating knowledge in that article.

I was especially fascinated (by the fact and the explanation) that the high-end analog turntable delivered better sound than the CD player. Is this using discs made from analog recordings or from digital recordings ? (Do they do that -- make analog phonodiscs from digital recordings?)


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:17 am 
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Hey Mike, have you tried plugging the Squeezebox directly into your power amps, avoiding the pre-amp? I seen various reports of it on the net, e.g.:

http://forums.slimdevices.com/showthread.php?t=17180

I think it involves controlling the volume digitally in the unit, which sounds like a bad idea for quality, but people still rave. Apparently there's some preamp control on the SB so you can set an appropriate baseline for the output level.

No doubt you wouldn't like to lose the ability to select other sources, but it sounds like an interesting experiment.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:01 am 
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jimmyfergus wrote:
Hey Mike, have you tried plugging the Squeezebox directly into your power amps, avoiding the pre-amp? I seen various reports of it on the net, e.g.:

http://forums.slimdevices.com/showthread.php?t=17180

I think it involves controlling the volume digitally in the unit, which sounds like a bad idea for quality, but people still rave. Apparently there's some preamp control on the SB so you can set an appropriate baseline for the output level.

No doubt you wouldn't like to lose the ability to select other sources, but it sounds like an interesting experiment.

No I haven't, it's too much work w/ my amp requiring custom wired XLR input plugs. And yeah, it's an interesting experiment, but that's the gist of this product for audio tinkerers -- there's so much you can experiment with, both software- and hardware-wise.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:20 am 
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Reachable wrote:
I was especially fascinated (by the fact and the explanation) that the high-end analog turntable delivered better sound than the CD player. Is this using discs made from analog recordings or from digital recordings ? (Do they do that -- make analog phonodiscs from digital recordings?)

It's well accepted in audio circles that a good record + turntable still sounds better than the equivalent CD + CD player. There are many veterans audiophools here who can point you to huge stacks of info on this topic. Stereophile & Absolute Sound are two magazines (w/web sites) that pop into mind immediately, but there are lots of others.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:22 am 
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jimmyfergus wrote:
Hey Mike, have you tried plugging the Squeezebox directly into your power amps, avoiding the pre-amp? I seen various reports of it on the net, e.g.:

http://forums.slimdevices.com/showthread.php?t=17180

I think it involves controlling the volume digitally in the unit, which sounds like a bad idea for quality, but people still rave. Apparently there's some preamp control on the SB so you can set an appropriate baseline for the output level.

No doubt you wouldn't like to lose the ability to select other sources, but it sounds like an interesting experiment.


My dad's system connects directly to the power amp from the DAC, skipping the preamp, and utilizes the SqueezeBox2's volume control. We found that this sounds better than using his Audio Research SP16L preamp, and the primary reason for the improvement is most likely the fact that we are able to completely avoid passing the sound through a volume attenuator. Volume control on the SqueezeBox is pure gain adjustment done in the digital domain during the decoding process from compressed audio to PCM.

-Ed

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 12:00 pm 
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Nice and surprising review. I'm tickled by the mention of FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). I've been using it for a few years now. It is a solid format. I definitely share disdain towards formats that remove sound that the algorithm suspects cannot be heard... bullsh*t :-) Lossy is a complete rip-off, especially if you're buying it a la carte with no hope for a lossless copy. To me, that is fraud.

As it stands I've a little over 150 CDs in FLAC format sitting on two 100gb 2.5" drives. One internal, the other fitting into a USB2 enclosure. Naturally, they are duplicates, as any potential to lose all the work I've done tagging and ripping needs to be absolutely avoided. My album buying has slowed down tremendously over the last year. I've filled 80gb of 100gb, and it is slow going from there. But I digress.

This device certainly looks promising. But it has limited practicality when one lives in something very much like a studio. If I ever end up in a 1bed or more living arrangement, then this could very well be an excellent way to move music into a living area (or listening room) separated from the file server. Great idea. Add a USB2 port so I can connect my practically noiseless 2.5" drive, and then I'm in energy savings heaven.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 12:31 pm 
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Oh yeah? what about this bad boy?

Image

(MikeC isn't the only audiophile here)

Roku SoundBridge--->Benchmark Audio DAC-1--->Denon 2805--->Boston Acoustics T-1030 X2 Front + Mission 786 Special Edition Surround R+L

[/img] :D

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 12:45 pm 
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kuril wrote:
Lossy is a complete rip-off, especially if you're buying it a la carte with no hope for a lossless copy. To me, that is fraud.


*tangent thread*


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 12:46 pm 
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msmrodan wrote:
(MikeC isn't the only audiophile here) :D

Most definitely not! The forums are full of audio-interested lurkers. :lol:
Roku SoundBridge looks very interesting too, almost identical functionality?

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 1:00 pm 
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Yeah almost identical, but no native lossless support yet -
meaning that the server side decodes the lossless file into full WAV before sending it to the roku.
This is what happens when used with the slimserver software (Does the squeezebox do this?).


But you do get a LOT of choices -
Itunes Share
Microsoft MMC
Slimserver
Network Attached Storage !
Dlaapd through LinkSys NSLU2 - Currently looking into this option.

Also HUGE VFD with the m2000 model,
And I like the design a bit better than the Squeeze.

While we're rambling, I must say that I heard a full fledged Linn installation (Sondek, Karik, all those weird names stacked in a nice closet) in a small music lecture hall at the Hebrew University. Can't say I came away very impressed, maybe its just me.

For LP's, I find that a Technics SP1200 with a good needle is very hard to beat, its the Mark IV Abrams tank of record players :P

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 2:19 pm 
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msmrodan wrote:
Yeah almost identical, but no native lossless support yet -
meaning that the server side decodes the lossless file into full WAV before sending it to the roku.
This is what happens when used with the slimserver software (Does the squeezebox do this?).

Don't think so; have not noticed any delay of any kind that would suggest this is taking place.

Quote:
While we're rambling, I must say that I heard a full fledged Linn installation (Sondek, Karik, all those weird names stacked in a nice closet) in a small music lecture hall at the Hebrew University. Can't say I came away very impressed, maybe its just me.

For LP's, I find that a Technics SP1200 with a good needle is very hard to beat, its the Mark IV Abrams tank of record players :P

No comment. I'm not biting. This is a discussion about the Squeezebox & review. ;)

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 2:46 pm 
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You performed the testing solely using the on-board DAC, right? So it would be easy to improve the performance.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 2:51 pm 
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Bruce Ballslap wrote:
You performed the testing solely using the on-board DAC, right? So it would be easy to improve the performance.

yes, & agreed. Look for a postcript about an audiophile approach w/ an outboard DAC later on, perhaps tomorrow.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 3:40 pm 
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Bruce Ballslap wrote:
You performed the testing solely using the on-board DAC, right? So it would be easy to improve the performance.


There's actually a small, but active community of people who are actively modding SB3's. Swapping the DAC chips for some of Burr-Brown's higher performing chips seems to be a pretty common mod, along with upgrading the power input path, as Mike commented upon in the review.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Dec 11, 2005 9:45 pm 
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MikeC wrote:
msmrodan wrote:
(MikeC isn't the only audiophile here) :D

Most definitely not! The forums are full of audio-interested lurkers. :lol:
Roku SoundBridge looks very interesting too, almost identical functionality?


Not quite. The Roku is basically intended to work in conjunction with either iTunes (which I can't comment on, as I don't use iTunes) or Windows Media Connect.

WMC is the server-side part of Microsoft's PlaysForSure technology suite. It's what they use to stream media to the Xbox 360 if you don't have a Media Center PC. The big advantage to PlaysForSure compliance for Roku is that they can play back DRMed WMA tracks. (Yes, DRMed stuff is generally stupid -- but the subscription music places are actually really sweet, and a good example of a business that doesn't work without DRM.)

That's the advantage of the Roku. The downside is that it sucks. The UI is incredibly clunky and awkward, compared to the smooth and elegant device UI on the Squeezebox. Browsing and playing music in the Roku is frustrating and slow, whereas the Squeezebox is natural and fast. The Squeezebox's UI is amazingly good, and you won't appreciate how good it is until you try the competition.

From an audiophile perspective, Roku isn't even trying. They revamped their model recently, and now they do a sample rate conversion on everything: If you send 44.1 KHz audio (which is what all CDs are), they resample it to 48KHz in the device. This affects the digital output, which means they can't even achieve bit-perfect digital output, never mind the analog output.

After owning a Squeezebox 1 for a while, I bought a Roku because I wanted to be able to play back my Yahoo Unlimited music. After a few days, I hated it so much that I returned it and bought a Squeezebox 2. Sure, it can't handle the DRMed music (although they recently added native support for WMA, and have hinted that the DRM stuff is in the works), but it handles my collection of WMA Lossless CDs flawlessly, and I love it.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 1:49 am 
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Not much of an audiophile myself really, but I've been using a dlink DSM-320 for some time now.

In addition to MP3 this plays (in theory) video, internet radio and can display pictures. From experience it's not really much use for video but it does deal with MP3 files fine. Don't think it's able to support FLAC at the moment though. The server software which comes with it isn't brilliant either but Twonkyvision is pretty good and is a cheap purchase.

At the moment I'm not keen on leaving my PC on all the time just so I can play music but I'm intending to get one of the NAS devices like the Buffalo Linkstation, put all my music on it and run Twonkyvision on that. Finances permitting after Christmas, that is!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 7:37 am 
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Nice review Mike,
I've been using a Squeezebox2 for about a year now. The SB3, I understand, is a cosmetic upgade, only. I ripped 300 CD's using EAC to FLAC lossless, but was disappointed that they did not play on my Windows MCE HTPC. So, I transcoded via dbpoweramp to wma-lossless; which is now natively supported in firmware (as is FLAC).

Note that for those interested in online purchased music playing on the Squeezebox, you are currently out of luck, but support for drm material is in the Slimserver software roadmap. My guess is that wma-drm files will be supported, but no chance for Itunes protected file playback as Apple will not license Fairplay.

Note that the Squeezebox's optical out and analog outs are active simultaneously. Usefull for a poor man's multiroom solution!

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 7:38 am 
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mkozlows wrote:
... bought a Squeezebox 2. Sure, it can't handle the DRMed music

I consider that a positive feature. IMO it is always a very favorable practice to boycott the whole idea of DRM. Corporate Entertainment Industry have and always will find new and dirtier ways of collecting an appalling amount of compensation for the end-users art experience. Buying non-DRM devices and media falters them from achieveing their rotten agendas. Yada yada & off-topic...

Thank you for the information concerning Roku. I used to have two options for a music network bridge and it just dropped down to one.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 7:38 am 
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The thing I don't like about this kind of setup is that the computer has to be on, relatively inactive but sucking power all the time. As far as I know, they only make one of these 'media hubs' (think that's the accepted term now) that doesn't require installing a client on the computer, and that's the Roku PhotoBridge HD1000. With one of these, you could put all media files (including videos and pictures as well as music) on a 500GB NAS device and use a lot less power while you're listening or watching. It's probably less audiophile-friendly, but I have yet to be dragged into that world.

Of course, another option would be a Geode or Epia-based server, but I suspect a NAS would be cheaper and comsume less power.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 7:52 am 
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MikeC wrote:
Look for a postcript about an audiophile approach w/ an outboard DAC later on, perhaps tomorrow.

Thanks, sounds excellent. That Linn of yours truly is beautiful :) A real classic, exuding dignity and grace, all thay way to the northern hemisphere through my TFT. I've come to know it requires quite a lot of maintainance and tuning? I'm still an aspiring idiophile with a Pro-Ject Debut mkIII and a phonostage in the purchase list. A step at a time. You must have a favorite music genre? For me it's late 60's and 70's funk.

I wanna thank you for this article, it would've taken me a much longer time to realize the great potential of it without you.


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 7:55 am 
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Rusty075 wrote:
There's actually a small, but active community of people who are actively modding SB3's.

Very interesting. Where exactly do these modders come together with their ideas?


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 10:11 am 
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I've seen SB3 modding discussions at hydrogenaudio and audioasylum, as well as in Slimdevices own forums. Redwine will even be happy to sell you a pre-modded SB2 or SB3. (for a mere $499...plus the cost of the SB3 itself :!: )

A googling for "SB3 mods" will turn up a plethora of info.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 10:47 am 
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A POSTCRIPT about a high end system using an external D/A converter with the Squeezebox has been added to the article. By Edward Ng & his father. You'll find it on page 6.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 1:36 pm 
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This looks like an interesting and well thought out device. It's nice to see products coming on the market which offer genuinely decent sound quality, as opposed to just hype.

I'd just like to back up some of the general remarks Mike makes about digital music playback. Having invested in a decent (Michell) turntable setup some years ago, none of the CD players I've tried have come near to the presence and realism of vinyl. I should add that I'm using valve (tube) amplification for the same reasons.

Last year I built a dedicated music pc around the maudio audiophile soundcard. It uses an underclocked XP-M and lives in a cupboard where it is totally inaudible, in fact it's quieter in use than a regular cd player. This has totally removed all my misgivings around digital, and I'm now converted. It seems the hard disk approach, combined with a half decent DAC, cures many of cd's ills at a stroke.

What I've also discovered is that my own recordings of vinyl lps on the whole sound far better than commercially pressed cds of the same material. Not always, sometimes remastered CDs are better. I have two conclusions here. Firstly the maudio is of a similar quality to studio gear of only a few years ago, such is the march of digital technology. Secondly that the mastering of the music is as important, if not more so, to what we hear as the equipment we use.

The Squeezebox looks to be just the thing to bring quality hard disk audio into the living room. The only thing missing here is the ability to record, so fortunately my setup isn't obsolete..yet.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 2:09 pm 
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There is another more stand-alone digital media device I'm trying to get a sample of... www.olive.us Very slick. No need for a PC.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 2:41 pm 
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Quote:
There is another more stand-alone digital media device I'm trying to get a sample of... www.olive.us Very slick. No need for a PC.


That's amazing.

Fanless and 7w in playback mode

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2005 2:54 pm 
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I use my 555-ES mostly as transport for cd's as SACD recordings are rare. Anybody knows if I can use my PC to store DVD-A material? Lossless of course.


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