I'm just an animal looking for a home



Current Mood: satisfied
Current Music: I left my headphones at home and I am at work so you do the math, bub

Best thing I have purchased in a long time: SqueezeBox made by Slim Devices. Why? I’m glad you asked.

I listen to music a lot. In the car, at home, blah blah blah. It’s funny — a long time ago, when multi-CD changers were starting to appear more and more at home, I scoffed at them. “Bah, a single CD player is enough for me.” I could be heard to remark. But then when I went to purchase a new stereo, the package I bought (I know — true audophiles wouldn’t buy a pacakge, they’d select each component, but whatever) came with a five disc changer. Soon after bringing it home I couldn’t imagine what life was like before I had it. Oh the joy of putting 5 discs in and playing them in shuffle mode. And oh the tug of envy I felt when I heard of my friend’s 100 disc changer. So it was only natural that as the mp3 craze ramped up, I ripped all of my CDs into mp3s, so I could create one enormous shuffled playlist of all my music.

But there was trouble in paradise. Now when I was in my living room, I was faced with two options for music listening. I could use my stereo and get superior audio quality, as well as the convenience of a remote control to skip songs and adjust volume. Or I could use my computer to listen to my vast mp3 collection, giving me greater selection. I could even overcome the audio quality issue to an extent by having my computer play through my stereo, although there were various problems with that (a small background hum due to the computer not being plugged into the same outlet as the stereo, for example)…and of course I lost the ability to remotely skip songs. I had to walk over to the PC to skip songs, and while that wasn’t a long walk, I usually had to make it after every song. I’d listen to a song, skip anywhere from 2-20 songs, repeat.

Many were the times I longed for a unified solution. I wanted a way to get all of my music into a big playlist, playable through my stereo with good audio quality, controlled via remote for easy volume control, skipping, and (dare I even hope?) searching/jumping abilities. Sometime last year I became aware of products which claimed to allow this. Products which acted as bridges between your PC mp3 collection and your stereo. But each product had some fatal flaw which caused me to pass it up. Some would take several seconds to skip songs — very painful when you can be as finicky as I am. Some had occasional audio problems which would cause the songs to skip or distort, which was unnaceptable to me, given that this was a problem that neither of my current options had. Still other products had other problems. I read user review after user review, and it seemed that each product was unacceptable.

But then I discovered the SqueezeBox. It’s really quite simple, and because of that, I have no idea how the other products got it so wrong? This guy is a small box about the size of an old cable box. It attaches to your home LAN, wired or wireless (11b), and to your stereo receiver (via digital or analog cables). You install an open source (!) server software on your PC (or Mac, or Linux box, or BeOS box, or other OS) called SlimServer. This guy is capable of streaming mp3s to your SqueezeBox. He can also stream other formats natively, and can accept plugins for yet still other formats. Because it’s open source, plenty of users have added plugins to do interesting things. Oh, and did I mention that it can also stream media to other computers? Just point WinAmp or Windows Media Player or whatever to your SlimServer computer, and it can play the stream. Naturally it can stream to multiple computers and SqueezeBoxes at once, each with their own playlist. Or you can synchronize multiple SqueezeBoxes to the same playlist, in case you had stereos in different rooms and you wanted them to play the same thing at the same time.

Side note — the predecessor product to the SqueezeBox is the SlimMP3. Once they moved on to the SqueezeBox they stopped releasing new firmware for the SlimMP3 (except for bug fixes, I think) but they do still support it with the SlimServer software. And they made the SlimMP3 firmware open source also, so the old users could add features if they wanted. Do you ever hear about comapnies doing that?

But wait, there’s more! The customer service of this company is far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced from a consumer product maker. They have an e-mail list where users and developers discuss bugs, features, setup issues, etc. I’ve been on this list a week and I’ve already seen users make suggestions and have them incorporated into the nightly build of the SlimServer software. I’ve seen them issue firmware updates to correct user-reported problems. I’ve seen the user community help new users (such as myself) figure out how to do various things with their new hardware and software.

It seems almost silly to mention this last bit, since what I’ve already said should explain how great this company and product is, but I feel compelled to mention it. I made the decision to purchase this product last Sunday. I placed the order on Monday morning. Their web site mentioned that orders placed before noon Pacific time typically ship the same day. Given that I met that deadline, I asked for 3 day shipping, since it wasn’t a lot more expensive than ground shipping, and it would mean I’d have it for the weekend. I got my order confirmation Monday, but did not get a tracking number. On Tuesday I gave them a call and asked about it, and they apologized and said it probably would not go out until Thursday — I had ordered a wired SqueezeBox, and only the wireless ones (which I should mention also support wired networks) were shipping same day. I was disappointed, but I made sure they’d send me an e-mail when it shipped, and I got off the phone with them. Back at my desk at work, I thought about it. Normally in this situation I’d just suck it up and deal with it, because they didn’t promise same day shipping, and it would do me no good to stew about it. But even by this point I had a feeling the company was good, so I decided I would at least write to them and explain my disappointment. So I did — I told them my story, told them that I didn’t feel like they lied to me, but I did feel disappointed and slightly misled by their website. I told them that I knew I’d enjoy their product either way, but that if they did want to make me feel better, then they could upgrade my shipping (free of charge) to ensure that it would arrive by the weekend.

I really wasn’t expecting them to do it, but within a couple hours I got an e-mail saying that they would ship the product overnight to me, for no additional charge, as soon as it was available. On Wednesday I got an e-mail with my tracking information, and on Thursday morning it was delivered to my door.

Ok, so I’ve probably officially now written my longest ever LJ entry just to praise a company and their product. I suppose that qualifies me as ten kinds of loser. However, this company and this product deserves praise. You never see this kind of service, dedication, and quality from companies. I’d been wanting a product like this for a while, it does exactly what I want, and it does it well. This product cost $250 for the wired version, $300 for the wireless. This is more expensive than competing products, but it is worth every penny. It works out of the box for users who aren’t techies, and there is endless room for tweaking for those who are.

Also, spiders are the new hula hoop.


Author: mitcharf

vegan, curmudgeon, animal lover, feminist, agnostic, cat whisperer, bookworm, hermit, Red Sox fan, Cthulhu enthusiast, softball player, man-about-town

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