Perhaps the coolest piece of gear ever

2 Feb

If you have a wireless router in your house, you’re going to find it hard to resist the Squeezebox Boom Internet radio. (Geoff Meeker photo)

February 2, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

Maybe you’re a shortwave radio buff, who enjoys sifting distant signals from the crackle and pop of the radio waves.

Perhaps you’re from Labrador, and would like to listen to radio from Happy Valley-Goose Bay while living in St. John’s.

Or maybe you just like the idea that, somewhere in the world, some radio station is playing your song.

If either of these – or the prospect of having hundreds of radio stations at your fingertips – appeals to you, then keep reading. Just a few days ago, I toyed with one of the coolest new gadgets I’ve seen in many months.

It’s the Squeezebox Boom, an Internet radio made by Logitech.

I know – the idea of Internet radio is not exactly revolutionary. Many of us routinely listen to radio online.

But the Squeezebox is different. It has tossed a lasso around hundreds of widely-strewn Internet radio stations and corralled them in one convenient place.

The Squeezebox seeks out Internet radio stations for you, drawing in the feeds of traditional radio as well as web-based stations, in both FM and AM. With the spin of a dial, it gives you hundreds of choices, categorized within 17 musical genres, from classical to country to hip hop to metal to jazz to classic rock to adult contemporary, and more.

You can easily surf stations in other countries, sampling the regional music and chatter of far-flung cultures. You can dip that big toe into some truly interesting musical genres. And the signal is crystal clear, with no static.

But my favorite feature is the ‘local’ option, which gives dozens of choices within this province, from CHMR in St. John’s to CBC Radio in Labrador to KIXX Country in Carbonear. There are occasions I want to hear programming from other parts of the province, and this radio makes it tremendously easy to do so.

There’s something else. The wireless receiver is able to connect to your home computer – whether it’s PC or Mac – and access your library of digital music, including iTunes. Take that, iPod!

The Squeezebox puts out a decent 30-watts of power and, according to reviews I read, the audio quality is comparable to iPod docks in that price range. It sounds best when connected to your home library, as the audio quality is constrained by the bit rate in which Internet radio stations are webcast – anywhere from 32 to 128 kps. However, even the lowest quality sound I heard was suitable for ‘kitchen counter’ listening.

Okay, now the big question: is it complicated to use?

If it was, I wouldn’t write about it. An ‘internet radio’ should be as simple to use as a regular radio, and, frankly, it doesn’t get any easier than this. You plug in the Squeezebox, switch it on, and immediately it finds your wireless router. Then you turn the dial and start surfing the waves. In the store, the display model reported that 486 stations were available at that moment (this will change, depending on which are online).

If you don’t have wireless, you can connect with an Ethernet cable, but you do need Broadband.

The system reminds me a little of satellite radio, but there are key differences. Satellite follows you anywhere; the Squeezebox needs an Internet connection. Satellite radio has excellent sound quality; this system often doesn’t, depending on the bit rate. However, satellite radio also has a monthly fee; this unit has none, outside of your normal Internet bill.

At $400, it’s not cheap, but it delivers real functionality, decent sound and solid construction. I saw it at West End Electronics, though you may be able to find it elsewhere, or online.

This is one cool toy. I haven’t bought it yet, though I do have a birthday coming up…

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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