Squeezebox In Use
I first tested the Squeezebox over my Ethernet network, where it proved itself to be very efficient. Even a 10Mbps hub has about 25 times the capacity needed to stream MP3 audio at the highest quality (320 kbps), so you don't need anything faster. But Squeezebox was completely at home on both fast Ethernet (10/100) and gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000), connecting and running without incident.
After I was convinced how well everything worked on the wired network, I tried it wireless. Squeezebox connects to any 802.11b compatible wireless network including Apple Airport, 802.11g, 802.11b/g, and 802.11a/b/g networks.Note that use on both Infrastructure and Ad Hoc (aka computer-to-computer) wireless networks is supported.
Figure 9: Go wired or wireless, analog or digital, open air or headphones
The easiest wireless to set up was with no encryption, but it is also completely insecure. 64 bit encryption (sometimes called 40 bit encryption) and 128-bit encryption (sometimes called 104 bit encryption) required that the shared keys be entered in hexadecimal, which can be cumbersome for when entering 26 character long 128 bit WEP keys. Squeezebox does not yet support WPA security, but it's something they hope to support soon. Other than the transmission medium, Squeezebox Wired and Squeezebox Wireless share all the same features.
Once I was over this hurdle, I was able to type the remainder of this article to the sweet melodies of the Proclaimers and discovered for myself that the Squeezebox will play practically anything! MP3Pro files will make use of the backwards compatibility features built into the codec and WMA-encoded files (but not DRM protected files) are supported when SlimServer is running on Windows. The Squeezebox software can even convert iTunes AAC files on-the-fly for playback on Squeezebox.
The remote fit comfortably in my hand and I found myself doing everything via the remote, including searching the my music directory and its subdirectories, shuffling songs, editing the play list an even setting the alarm-clock function. Yes, the Squeezebox can set itself for a wake up to the tunes of your choice at the time you specify.
Figure 10: All you need is Squeezebox's remote and display to do almost anything
Another cool feature is the support for popular MP3 streaming protocols, including MP3-over-HTTP, Icecast / Shoutcast, and Live365. (SHOUTcast is Nullsoft's Free Winamp-based distributed streaming audio system. Icecast is an open source streaming project, and Icecast2 supports Ogg Vorbis as well as MP3 streaming. Live365 offers a mix of for profit and for free internet radio stations.)
The Squeezebox provides a healthy sized 2MB buffer to reduce the chances of skips or slow-downs. While actively streaming, I did notice that the computer (a 1.2 GHz Athlon with 512MB RAM) was slightly taxed in a minimal, but perceptible manner by the Slim.exe processes.
During streaming tests I was only able to create a single pause, which occurred when I significantly taxed the processor with other applications. All applications felt the strain during the testing, but this was the only pause I could create. The pause lasted for about two seconds and then the audio resumed. Under normal conditions, moving between songs proved to be nearly instantaneous.
Wireless testing showed that the Squeezebox had an easy time handling and maintaining the network connection. The Squeezebox uses a PULVER Shield to help protect the audio processor inside from electromagnetic radiation and has an adjustable external dipole antenna. I found I could operate it at a 40' range without any changes to its operating characteristics. I couldn't find any way to control its transmit rate or any other wireless performance related settings, however.