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View Full Version : Sounds like a great product, but.....



jimcdenver
2005-08-29, 15:13
I have been slow (if not downright reluctant) to join the PC-based music stampede (no iPod for me), but I am thinking of changing my mind, as my place in this forum testifies.

We have several music systems in our home, each of which has CD playback. It seems, however that the CD I want to play at any given moment is never in the right room when I need it--or for that matter it might be in one of our cars instead. I am afraid this will only grow worse as our elementary school kids become teenagers in a few years. So, I have been investigating how to best pursue a digital strategy and after a great deal of research finally found Slim Devices (I think you need a wider scope of search phrases--it took forever to find you!)

After much gazing into my crystal ball (digital of course), it seems to me that having all our CDs ripped into a lossless digital format (old audiophile here) onto a big hard drive in a central location would be a pretty good first step. But it's that second step that is so hard--How do you access that music you want to play as easily as looking at the CD spines to see the album titles, pulling out the one you want and slipping it into the CD player? If you are at a PC to do that, it's a breeze and probably faster than even finding a disc. But what about elsewhere in the house?

Question 1: Ease of Navigation
Being an audiophile for many years, I have wired up the master BR, master bath, kitchen, and patio from our main living room stereo. We are not big TV watchers, so there is no TV, nor PC in the living room to display album graphics, menus, etc. which some of these media devices require--thus my interest in the Squeezebox. However, from the looks of the Squeezebox, with a two-line display, it seems to me that it must take forever to navigate and find a simple album to play via the remote, unless I am missing something here. And I have no qualms in saying that if it's harder than looking, opening and playing a CD,it will ultimately lead to certain defeat of this new technology in our household. Any thoughts about this assumption?

Question 2: Is this a good fit with our stereo architecture?
As I mentioned above, we have five rooms running from a central location (living room). These are all speaker-level lines--that is, they all run from the amp in the living room to in-wall volume controls in each room. While it might be nice at some point to permit different music streams to each location, at this point what I'd really like is just to be able to select music from one of those other locations without having to run back to the living room every time. For example, I'd really love to easily pick music to cook by without leaving the kitchen. I have wired the kitchen with Cat 5 cable and can also easily run Cat 5 via a new ethernet switch to the living room if needed. But running hugely long stereo interconnects from a kitchen-based Squeezebox back to the living room amp seems a last resort to me. I'd rather communicate via a local network (wired or wireless) back to the controlling device (Squeezebox?) at the amp from a small user interface in another room. Is this possible? Any other ideas?

Lastly, in spite of my concerns above, I think your basic product concept is very sound and I am glad you have taken the high road with high quality sound and compression options. Good Luck in your market!

Thanks.

Jim

kdf
2005-08-29, 15:37
Quoting jimcdenver <jimcdenver.1ujqv0 (AT) no-mx (DOT) forums.slimdevices.com>:

> Question 1: Ease of Navigation
Assuming your eyesight and distance to device are happy with two-line, I've
found two-line to be fast enough for scrolling through a long list of artists.
The number keys also function as alphabetical index points (3 letters per
digit). There is also a search function, but I find that the numberic keys get
me close enough that its certainly similar to the experience of flipping
through the shelf full of CD's. There can be a lag of a few seconds when going
into the browse list, depending on just how many cds/tracks you have in your
collection.

>
> Question 2: Is this a good fit with our stereo architecture?
You can synchronise any combination of players so that they all play the same
playlist at the same time. Using this, you could set your kitchen player to
sync with the living room and any new cd you load from the kitchen will be
played in the living room. This works via wireless or wired. There are also
third party plugins that allow you to link one player to another so completely
that even the display is an exact match. If the idea of third-party plugins
gives you pause, there is still the original sync methods. Of course, this
requires more than one squeezebox, but if/when you decide you want multi-zone
music choice, the hardware will alreayd be there to make it happen and you can
still choose to go back an play in sync at any time.

Best way to get all your questions answered is to try the software. It is free
to download, and comes with a java-base player, softsqueeze, that looks and
behaves almost exactly like a squeezebox would. You can try ripping a few cd's
to your computer and taking a look at what you can do with the software, and
what aspects you might like or dislike. You can then bring any feedback here,
and you may find better ways to do what you want with the software.

cheers,
kdf


--
NOT a Slim Devices employee

JulianL
2005-08-29, 16:08
Been there, doing that! I 100% agree with you, losslessly ripping your collection to a big hard drive is a great first step. That is what I'm literally doing as I type this (and have been doing for the last 3 weeks. It takes a _long_ time!).

Regarding the user interface, I have 2 suggestions, both based on personal experience.

1) If you're sceptical of the UI on the device then just go and try it out for yourself. As kdf has already said, you can freely download the SlimServer software and can also download a software emulation of the device itself, including an on-screen remote control that even looks like the real remote. Search for softsqueeze and you should find it. Before I did this I was sceptical that the remote interface would be at all useable to browse a large collection but I have to say that, in my view, it is perfectly useable. I have about 500 CDs ripped so far.

2) If you want a more elaborate interface then look at Telcanto (www.telcanto.com). This is a program that runs on a wireless PDA and communicates with SlimServer. I run this on a Dell Axim dedicated to the task. This would also address one of your other questions regarding having a "small user interface in another room".

- Julian

jimcdenver
2005-08-29, 16:25
Thanks for your speedy reply. I'll try your suggestion of playing with the software first.

Just for clarification, if I buy two or more boxes and syncronize them, I won't have to run new interconnects from the remote locations back to the main amps, right? The selection of music from a remote box will tell the box at the main stereo location to feed the chosen music signal to the amp, right?

So for instance, I am done cooking and we are eating with friends on the patio. My playlist ends (it was a long recipe). I have a Squeezebox on the patio as well as the kitchen (I can see my budget starting to crumble here). While quaffing my Newcastle, I quickly pick a new playlist using my handy remote. The patio SB picks the music from the server and the sync'd SB in the living room does the same and feeds the signal out to the amp, which dutifully amplifies the signal and sends it to our patio speakers (and to the other rooms as well.) My wife thinks it's a bit loud, so I reduce the volume with the remote without even missing a bite of her lovely concoction. My friends are dutifully impressed, go home and order several SBs themselves.

Sounds good, but is it plausible?


Jim

JulianL
2005-08-29, 16:28
Oh, if you do rip your collection then a couple of other pieces of advice:

1) Rip to FLAC so that you can tag your collection properly.

2) Search for "Album Cover Art Downloader" and use it to add cover art as you are ripping your collection. If you end up using Telcanto as one of your UIs then it makes good use of cover art so it is a good idea to make sure it's there.

- Julian.

JulianL
2005-08-29, 16:49
I'm not sure your scenario is plausible (or optimal). I think the one flaw is in the control of the volume. I'm not an expert on this so if someone like kdf shoots me down on this one then he is right and I am wrong, but I suspect that the remote on the patio will adjust the output stage of the patio SB and so won't affect the replay volume of the "master" SB feeding your amp in the living room.

Even if the volume in your scenario would work however I suspect that, rather than getting the second patio SB, buying a Dell Axim (or similar) and running Telcanto would be more useful and about the same price. The Telcanto has a more useable interface for dynamically creating and re-ordering playlists and you would be able to control the living room SB volume using it.

I have no connection with Telcanto (not even a customer as it happens, I'm still in my 30 day trial download).

- Julian

P.S. Off topic - I found your reference to "quaffing my Newcastle" somewhat disturbing. Newcastle Brown was the first drink I ever got totally wasted on when I was about 15 and it has always made me somewhat queasy ever since. That night did also give me one of the more bizarre moments in my life however. 30 years later I can still vividly remember sitting in a friends kitchen talking when all of a sudden a pattern appeared in front of my eyes. I'm not kidding or exagerating at all when I say that, after seeing this pattern, I then proceeded to deduce backwards from this that I had in fact just fallen off the chair and was now face down on the floor (and looking at the patern on the floor tiles). I thought that was a pretty good piece of deductive reasoning given the state I was in.

kdf
2005-08-29, 16:49
Quoting jimcdenver <jimcdenver.1ujubz (AT) no-mx (DOT) forums.slimdevices.com>:

>
> Thanks for your speedy reply. I'll try your suggestion of playing with
> the software first.
>
> Just for clarification, if I buy two or more boxes and syncronize them,
> I won't have to run new interconnects from the remote locations back to
> the main amps, right? The selection of music from a remote box will
> tell the box at the main stereo location to feed the chosen music
> signal to the amp, right?

Right. The remote location could be connected via yoru existing CAT5 or
wireless. Audio would be played from both devices so you hear what is coming
from the main device and just dont care about the remote device.


> So for instance, I am done cooking and we are eating with friends on
> the patio. My playlist ends (it was a long recipe). I have a Squeezebox
> on the patio as well as the kitchen (I can see my budget starting to
> crumble here). While quaffing my Newcastle, I quickly pick a new
> playlist using my handy remote. The patio SB picks the music from the
> server and the sync'd SB in the living room does the same and feeds the
> signal out to the amp, which dutifully amplifies the signal and sends it
> to our patio speakers (and to the other rooms as well.) My wife thinks
> it's a bit loud, so I reduce the volume with the remote without even
> missing a bite of her lovely concoction. My friends are dutifully
> impressed, go home and order several SBs themselves.
>
> Sounds good, but is it plausible?

On of the options of the sync is to adjust volume as a group, the player control
allows you to sync any number of players at will, so you could have the patio
already in the group, or link in when you need it. I'd recommend the latter
becuase the server will be sending out data to all players in the group
regardless of whether you want audio or not from them.

If you have more than one PC, you can sync softsqueeze as well. Just launch
from teh web interface, in the help section and you can have softsqueeze
running on two computers. Play around and get a feel for the wheel as it were
:)

-kdf

JJZolx
2005-08-29, 17:07
It seems, however that the CD I want to play at any given moment is never in the right room when I need it--or for that matter it might be in one of our cars instead.
I'd sooner listen to 64kbit mp3s than allow my original CDs to be subject to the abuse of being used in a car stereo. Only CD copies are taken into the cars. Original CDs never leave their protective packaging except to be played or ripped. (Now that I think about it, about 10% of my collection has never been played in a conventional CD player).

I am afraid this will only grow worse as our elementary school kids become teenagers in a few years.
Yep. Dupes for the kids, too. Solves a lot of problems with lost and lent out disks as well as child CD abuse. :)

So, I have been investigating how to best pursue a digital strategy and after a great deal of research finally found Slim Devices (I think you need a wider scope of search phrases--it took forever to find you!)

After much gazing into my crystal ball (digital of course), it seems to me that having all our CDs ripped into a lossless digital format (old audiophile here) onto a big hard drive in a central location would be a pretty good first step.
You'll soon realize that it's a VERY good first step. Once you've done that, you'll have many options - not only the Squeezebox, but several other playback methods, including pure computer playback. And many more options to come as traditional A/V companies like Yamaha and Sony start to plum the market. You won't regret ripping your collection to hard disk.

But it's that second step that is so hard--How do you access that music you want to play as easily as looking at the CD spines to see the album titles, pulling out the one you want and slipping it into the CD player? If you are at a PC to do that, it's a breeze and probably faster than even finding a disc. But what about elsewhere in the house?
The remote interface isn't bad. The kids will love it. You and I might want a PDA or laptop to access a web interface. But then you may be back to the situation of finding the PDA/laptop to play music.

Question 1: Ease of Navigation
Being an audiophile for many years, I have wired up the master BR, master bath, kitchen, and patio from our main living room stereo. We are not big TV watchers, so there is no TV, nor PC in the living room to display album graphics, menus, etc. which some of these media devices require--thus my interest in the Squeezebox. However, from the looks of the Squeezebox, with a two-line display, it seems to me that it must take forever to navigate and find a simple album to play via the remote, unless I am missing something here. And I have no qualms in saying that if it's harder than looking, opening and playing a CD,it will ultimately lead to certain defeat of this new technology in our household. Any thoughts about this assumption?
IMO, you're not far off. If you know what you want to play, it's not too bad, but forget about any sort of satisfying browsing via the remote interface. Playlists, though, work well with the remote. Something you may not have experience with unless you've burned compilation CDs. You might just queue up your 'party mix' or your 'Best of Monk' or somesuch and you don't end up spending too much time mashing those little buttons.

Question 2: Is this a good fit with our stereo architecture?
As I mentioned above, we have five rooms running from a central location (living room). These are all speaker-level lines--that is, they all run from the amp in the living room to in-wall volume controls in each room. While it might be nice at some point to permit different music streams to each location, at this point what I'd really like is just to be able to select music from one of those other locations without having to run back to the living room every time. For example, I'd really love to easily pick music to cook by without leaving the kitchen. I have wired the kitchen with Cat 5 cable and can also easily run Cat 5 via a new ethernet switch to the living room if needed. But running hugely long stereo interconnects from a kitchen-based Squeezebox back to the living room amp seems a last resort to me. I'd rather communicate via a local network (wired or wireless) back to the controlling device (Squeezebox?) at the amp from a small user interface in another room. Is this possible? Any other ideas?
Use a PDA, laptop, or kitchen PC (for those recipes, right?). You're right, it would be silly having a Squeezebox in the kitchen so that you could talk to it and have it wired to play music in the living room. You could synch a Squeezebox in the kitchen with one in the living room, but that would also be silly - you might as well have an entire playback system in the kitchen. What you need is an I/O interface in the kitchen and that can only be provided away from the Squeezebox by a web interface talking to the server. In any case you're no _worse_ off than with the present system. You still don't have to chase down CDs all over the house. The Squeezebox becomes just another source component. You might think of it as a giant jukebox capable of holding thousands of CDs.

Lastly, in spite of my concerns above, I think your basic product concept is very sound and I am glad you have taken the high road with high quality sound and compression options. Good Luck in your market!
There are other products on the market. The low end devices tend to only talk mp3, and the higher end devices are pretty insanely expensive. The Squeezebox is an incredible value, the software is getting better every day, and the company listens to customers like no other I've seen.

jimcdenver
2005-08-29, 19:40
P.S. Off topic - I found your reference to "quaffing my Newcastle" somewhat disturbing. Newcastle Brown was the first drink I ever got totally wasted on when I was about 15 and it has always made me somewhat queasy ever since. That night did also give me one of the more bizarre moments in my life however. 30 years later I can still vividly remember sitting in a friends kitchen talking when all of a sudden a pattern appeared in front of my eyes. I'm not kidding or exagerating at all when I say that, after seeing this pattern, I then proceeded to deduce backwards from this that I had in fact just fallen off the chair and was now face down on the floor (and looking at the patern on the floor tiles). I thought that was a pretty good piece of deductive reasoning given the state I was in.

Sorry to remind you of disturbing memories--from the sounds of it I find it rather surprising you have any memories of it at all. I figured that as a Brit you'd find it nice that a Yank actually had heard of Newcastle Brown Ale, let alone that it has been his favorite brew for over a decade. "Nectar of the Gods" I call it. Then again, I have never enjoyed it face down on a tile floor!
JC

jimcdenver
2005-08-29, 19:59
Playlists, though, work well with the remote. Something you may not have experience with unless you've burned compilation CDs. You might just queue up your 'party mix' or your 'Best of Monk' or somesuch and you don't end up spending too much time mashing those little buttons.

I will listen to Monk a lot more if I don't have to find all my old vinyl. Speaking of vinyl, any thoughts on how to transfer to the PC from vinyl? I have lots more vinyl than CD.


Use a PDA, laptop, or kitchen PC (for those recipes, right?).

So where do I find a "kitchen PC"? I have some great ideas about what should be in a dedicated kitchen PC appliance, but I have never seen one.


What you need is an I/O interface in the kitchen and that can only be provided away from the Squeezebox by a web interface talking to the server.

That is exactly what is needed--either a very robust touch-screen interface or PC.

Jim

gingerneil
2005-08-30, 01:50
Sorry to remind you of disturbing memories--from the sounds of it I find it rather surprising you have any memories of it at all. I figured that as a Brit you'd find it nice that a Yank actually had heard of Newcastle Brown Ale, let alone that it has been his favorite brew for over a decade. "Nectar of the Gods" I call it. Then again, I have never enjoyed it face down on a tile floor!
JC

:) :)
I was born and raised in Newcastle... and Brown Ale truly is the Nectar of the Gods ! I remember ordering a 'pint of Brown' in the Cheers bar in Boston last year - I got some very strange looks. Took me a while to realise you people call it Newcastle !

jimcdenver
2005-08-31, 13:06
Best way to get all your questions answered is to try the software. It is free to download, and comes with a java-base player, softsqueeze, that looks and behaves almost exactly like a squeezebox would. You can try ripping a few cd's to your computer and taking a look at what you can do with the software, and what aspects you might like or dislike. You can then bring any feedback here, and you may find better ways to do what you want with the software.

KDF
Well I tried it on our old home computer and the results were not encouraging. Lots and lots of dropouts even with everything being local. Really frightened me to think what might happen on a network connection. Hope you can help--I'd like to try your suggestions at home tonight if possible.

Here's the scenario. Older dual 833mHz Pentium 4 w/ 512 MB RAM, dual ultra-scsi HDDS, nVidia graphics, Yamaha (I think) sound card. Windows XP-Pro. (I plan on getting a new machine to act as a media server, but haven't gotten around to it yet.)

Ripped some tracks from CD to HDD using Windows Media Lossless. (Plan on using FLAC but didn't know how.)

Installed Slim Server. Downloaded and installed softsqueeze. The Squeexebox2 remote emulator didn't seem to work at all until I actually loaded the tracks first in slim server and had them already started. Then I could pause a track or skip a track, but the volume control worked not at all in softsqueeze. Then there were constant dropouts and the sound quality was very poor and of very low volume, even with the Windows volume and speaker volume both set to full.

I never could figure out how to use the remote emulator. Once you navigate to a desired menu with the arrow keys, what key do you press to select? I never saw an Enter or Select key.

Please comment as to what might be the causes of these problems. Thanks.

Jim

kdf
2005-08-31, 13:45
Quoting jimcdenver <jimcdenver.1unaen (AT) no-mx (DOT) forums.slimdevices.com>:

>
> kdf Wrote:
> >
> > Best way to get all your questions answered is to try the software. It
> > is free to download, and comes with a java-base player, softsqueeze,
> > that looks and behaves almost exactly like a squeezebox would. You can
> > try ripping a few cd's to your computer and taking a look at what you
> > can do with the software, and what aspects you might like or dislike.
> > You can then bring any feedback here, and you may find better ways to
> > do what you want with the software.
> >
> KDF
> Well I tried it on our old home computer and the results were not
> encouraging. Lots and lots of dropouts even with everything being
> local. Really frightened me to think what might happen on a network
> connection. Hope you can help--I'd like to try your suggestions at home
> tonight if possible.
>
> Here's the scenario. Older dual 833mHz Pentium 4 w/ 512 MB RAM, dual
> ultra-scsi HDDS, nVidia graphics, Yamaha (I think) sound card. Windows
> XP-Pro. (I plan on getting a new machine to act as a media server, but
> haven't gotten around to it yet.)
>
> Ripped some tracks from CD to HDD using Windows Media Lossless. (Plan
> on using FLAC but didn't know how.)
>
> Installed Slim Server. Downloaded and installed softsqueeze. The
> Squeexebox2 remote emulator didn't seem to work at all until I actually
> loaded the tracks first in slim server and had them already started.
> Then I could pause a track or skip a track, but the volume control
> worked not at all in softsqueeze. Then there were constant dropouts and
> the sound quality was very poor and of very low volume, even with the
> Windows volume and speaker volume both set to full.

when you hit the volume keys, you should at least see the display show the
volume changing, correct?

>
> I never could figure out how to use the remote emulator. Once you
> navigate to a desired menu with the arrow keys, what key do you press
> to select? I never saw an Enter or Select key.

You use right to move down into a new menu level.
Play or Add are usually the selection keys for adding music to the playlist.
Selecting an item from things like a prefs list are real time, so when you
select by moving up and down then that is all you need to do.

>
> Please comment as to what might be the causes of these problems.
> Thanks.

Softsqueeze uses Java, which may be resource intensive on some systems. There
is a java mp3 plugin that you can download. Some users have better performance
by upgrading to Java 1.5 (Sun calls it 5.0 now), and you can try changing the
prefs to pick different audio drivers in softsqueeze (prefs button is the top
left corner of softsqueeze).

hope that helps.
-kdf

Patrick Dixon
2005-08-31, 13:46
IME, the real thing works a lot better than slimserver and softsqueeze running together on an elderly windows machine - especially if you're not using MP3 or FLAC, since it has to do all the transcoding too.

The '->' button generally works like Enter/Select.

Sound quality is entirely dependent on your computer hardware and not representative of the Squeezebox2 at all.

It actually IS a great product!

jimcdenver
2005-08-31, 15:01
when you hit the volume keys, you should at least see the display show the
volume changing, correct?

No. The display never showed a thing.


You use right to move down into a new menu level.
Play or Add are usually the selection keys for adding music to the playlist.
Selecting an item from things like a prefs list are real time, so when you
select by moving up and down then that is all you need to do.


OK I'll try it and report back to you.


Softsqueeze uses Java, which may be resource intensive on some systems. There
is a java mp3 plugin that you can download. Some users have better performance
by upgrading to Java 1.5 (Sun calls it 5.0 now), and you can try changing the
prefs to pick different audio drivers in softsqueeze (prefs button is the top
left corner of softsqueeze).

hope that helps.
-kdf

Per Patrick Dixon's additional comments, maybe I'll try low bandwidth mp3s instead of lossless WMA. Thanks.

Jim