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View Full Version : My concerns about committing to the Squeezebox



jfaughnan
2005-10-30, 08:34
My friend Mike is a huge fan of Slim Devices and the Squeezebox. He has two and is twisting my arm to go in with him on two more (I'd get one). At his suggestion I installed SlimServer 6.2 on my iMac and streamed to iTunes and from there to my AirTunes/AirPort speaker system. This testing-only kludge actually works better than I expected (need to install iTunes LAME plug-in).

Overall I'm impressed, but I have concerns. This would be a no-brainer if I were running Linux, or running Windows without iTunes. It's more of a question mark for someone who's moved all but one workstation to OS X. (I'm pretty savvy on XP and OS X, I prefer OS X.)

I'm not worried about FairPlay. I don't have much exposure to it and I have no qualms about stripping it -- DMCA be damned. It's music I paid for and I'm using it ethically and appropriately.

These are my concerns:

1. I encode in .mp4 (AAC, higher and variable bit rates). In retrospect I might have done MP3 VBR, but when I ripped my 3500 tunes that wasn't so clear. Why doesn't Squeezbox support AAC streaming? Why doesn't it decode mp4 on the box? It's silly for me to stream FLAC -- waste of bandwidth. I don't want to transcode on the fly from AAC to mp3, one round of lossy compression has messed up my music badly enough. Also the computational work loads and slows my iMac, a system that's notorious for it's heat problems and has other tasks to perform as well.

2. The SlimServer feels slow and sluggish on a reasonably high end OS X machine. It's not at all snappy. It had trouble finding and digesting my relocated iTunes XML files. (6.2 at least found the playlists, but it hung -- I had to rebuild the XML file and restart the server a couple of times).

3. The web interface to SlimServer is not all that novice friendly. Still, it beats Roku (has none).

I think if there's enough of a Mac user base the SlimServer bugs will get worked out (but is there enough of a Mac user base?). I'm more concerned about the lack of support for streaming non-DRMd AAC/mp4. That feels to me as thought this is really a Linux/Windows app rather than a Mac app. (Note the new version supports streaming WMA to the Squeezebox ...)

Any thoughts or comments about these concerns? I really want to go the SlimDevices route, but it feels like a big commitment (cost is the lesser issue, I don't have the time to waste selecting the wrong technology ...)

Thanks!

john
jfaughnan@spamcop.net

rmcd
2005-10-30, 09:40
We have one iMac (1.8ghz) and Slimserver is incredibly sluggish, much more so than slim on a Windows machine. On the other hand, I am completely unimpressed with the speed and responsiveness of the iMac in general -- an Excel spreadsheet that takes 19 seconds to run on my 2-year old Windows laptop takes 3+ minutes on the mac (I realize that Excel may not be a fair comparison). I also agree that it is flaky about integrating with iTunes.

The Slim system is very cool and I am on the whole very pleased with it. But I agree with your performance concerns and I would love to see someone knowledgable or someone from Slim jump in here to comment.

Jungle
2005-10-30, 11:42
For the past few days, I have been running successsfully on a Mac Mini running OS X and all seems OK. There was a small amount of turbulence upgrading to 6.2 and I needed help from people on this forum to get AlienBBC working but, overall everything seems to run OK and my machine hasn't really seen any big hit in performance.

For the record, the machine config is as follows: 1.42GHz running OS X Tiger with 512MB RAM and 80GB HDD.

Hope this helps and good luck with your decision. For me, I'm already planning on some more Squeezeboxes for the house and, yes, I did look at alternatives including Roku and Sonos.

jfaughnan
2005-10-30, 19:09
Thanks Jungle and MCD for the comments. Macs may indeed be relatively underpowered compared to PCs, but I use both extensively. In general the iMac does its work reasonably well. Other than transcoding SlimServer isn't doing all that much work, so I don't understand why it should be sluggish.

Jungle, why did you choose Squeezebox over Roku?

Jungle
2005-10-31, 02:45
Thanks Jungle and MCD for the comments. Macs may indeed be relatively underpowered compared to PCs, but I use both extensively. In general the iMac does its work reasonably well. Other than transcoding SlimServer isn't doing all that much work, so I don't understand why it should be sluggish.

Jungle, why did you choose Squeezebox over Roku?

I chose the Squeezebox for the following reasons:

1. Sound quality - IMHO far better than the competition
2. Open architecture - far more add-ons available and (again IMHO) better support from the programming community
3. Recommendations - a good friend is positively evangelical in his love of the SB. He has about 5 round his house and has been nagging me to commit for at least a year.

Had I chosen a Sonos device, I would have done so for the remote control which is lovely. Had I gone for the Roku, I would have done so because it looked, in my wife's words, less like a radio alarm than the Squeezebox. That said SB3 changes all that!

Hope this helps.

jfaughnan
2005-10-31, 11:17
I chose the Squeezebox for the following reasons:

1. Sound quality - IMHO far better than the competitionWas your music all MP3 encoded? Since the Squeezebox must transcode AAC to FLAC (better quality but bandwidth problem) or MP3 (lose quality but bandwidth much better) I don't know if quality would be so good with AAC encoded music if I want to limit bandwidth use (support multiple streams).

ceejay
2005-10-31, 11:52
Was your music all MP3 encoded? Since the Squeezebox must transcode AAC to FLAC (better quality but bandwidth problem) or MP3 (lose quality but bandwidth much better) I don't know if quality would be so good with AAC encoded music if I want to limit bandwidth use (support multiple streams).

I wouldn't automatically assume that FLAC will give you bandwidth problems... most networks should be able to support several (possibly even many - supply your own definition of these terms!) FLAC streams unless they are flaky 11b wireless. My FLACs seem to work out at less than a megabit each, a 54g wireless network should be happy with at least 20 of those (as long as each stream is only making one wireless hop and not multiple).

Ceejay

clumsyoik
2005-11-01, 11:07
Any thoughts or comments about these concerns? I really want to go the SlimDevices route, but it feels like a big commitment (cost is the lesser issue, I don't have the time to waste selecting the wrong technology ...)

I was surprised at how well server-side transcoding works in practice. I honestly cannot tell whether a particular track is being decoded natively or not (on a 600MHz server). FLAC encoded files are only around 850Kbit/s, so bandwidth isn't as much of an issue as you might think.

jfaughnan
2005-11-01, 19:25
I was surprised at how well server-side transcoding works in practice. I honestly cannot tell whether a particular track is being decoded natively or not (on a 600MHz server). FLAC encoded files are only around 850Kbit/s, so bandwidth isn't as much of an issue as you might think.I probably couldn't tell either, but then I'm tone deaf :-).

I find an 802.11b WPA network functions about as well as a 2Mbps wired network. I know that's not what the specs say, but when I ftp a file 40 feet from my access point I get roughly the same throughput as across a very old slow wired LAN. So two FLAC streams and my iBook traffic could readily saturate my WLAN. I don't even find 802.11g all that much faster if I'm at a distance from the access point.

I've reviewed this with my hardcare Squeezebox friend. He painfully and reluctantly agreed that SlimDevice's decision not to support AAC (non-Fairplay, mp4 basically) streaming to the Squeezebox, while simultaneously supporting WMA streaming, is rather a "bad sign" for iTunes users. AAC is not owned by Apple, so Squeezebox could have supported it, but they chose not to. Suggests that their business plans are much more around a Microsoft/WMA partnership than an Apple partnership. On the other hand Roku is more committed to Apple.

Since I have 3500 AAC encoded tunes (at the time I considered mp3,but mp4 seemed the better option -- my mistake maybe!) I'm pretty committed to that format -- and to iTunes as well. I want to keep my stream under 200 kpbs, so that, alas, means Roku.

I wish Slim Devices had made a different business decision, but I'm sure they thought hard before they made it.

kdf
2005-11-01, 19:38
Quoting jfaughnan <jfaughnan.1xulbz (AT) no-mx (DOT) forums.slimdevices.com>:

....SlimDevice's decision not to support AAC
> (non-Fairplay, mp4 basically) streaming to the Squeezebox, while
> simultaneously supporting WMA streaming, is rather a "bad sign" for
> iTunes users. AAC is not owned by Apple, so Squeezebox could have
> supported it, but they chose not to. Suggests that their business plans
> are much more around a Microsoft/WMA partnership than an Apple
> partnership. On the other hand Roku is more committed to Apple.

That is a big leap to a conclusion without near enough evidence to back it up.
WMA is VERY recent and suggests only that it was ready. The support for linux
and osx for the server code alone should tell you just how 'committed'
SD is to
MS. There is quite clearly no committment to anyone, save for
squeezebox users.
In fact, I'm sure there are plenty of Windows/MS users in this furm who would
tell you very plainly that SD does't have enough committment to MS.

really, these kinds of flagrant overstatements are really taking the
quality of
this forum down. Really what you have here is simply sour grapes. Both WMA and
AAC have been requested here for a long time, and have certainly never been
discussed as a committment one way or another. I can't say how far SD is from
implementing or even IF they will. But I've been here long enough to
know their
committments.

-k

greedy_grendel
2005-11-02, 14:24
Quoting jfaughnan <jfaughnan.1xulbz (AT) no-mx (DOT) forums.slimdevices.com>:

That is a big leap to a conclusion without near enough evidence to back it up.
WMA is VERY recent and suggests only that it was ready. The support for linux
and osx for the server code alone should tell you just how 'committed'
SD is to
MS. There is quite clearly no committment to anyone, save for
squeezebox users.
In fact, I'm sure there are plenty of Windows/MS users in this furm who would
tell you very plainly that SD does't have enough committment to MS.

really, these kinds of flagrant overstatements are really taking the
quality of
this forum down. Really what you have here is simply sour grapes. Both WMA and
AAC have been requested here for a long time, and have certainly never been
discussed as a committment one way or another. I can't say how far SD is from
implementing or even IF they will. But I've been here long enough to
know their
committments.

-k

I agree with the Sour Grapes assessment. Let's face facts, from a purely business perspective the implementation of native WMA makes more sense for the future as there are far more MS Windows users than MAC OS out there. I would also say there are far more internet radio streams that employ WMA than AAC, hence the good business sense of adding this support first.

FLAC streaming wouldn't be a problem if you went to 802.11G. I assume most people runnning a wireless SB would be using this protocol.

Cheers,

-m

radish
2005-11-02, 14:42
Let's face facts, from a purely business perspective the implementation of native WMA makes more sense for the future as there are far more MS Windows users than MAC OS out there. I would also say there are far more internet radio streams that employ WMA than AAC, hence the good business sense of adding this support first.

Of course there's nothing stopping Slim adding both native AAC and WMA, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that. However, like you, I'm not suprised to see WMA there first - purely because of the large number of WMA streams out there. AlienBBC is (rightfully) very popular, but it's a PITA for a lot of people to install (not the developers fault!). Removing the need for it would be a big advantage.

clumsyoik
2005-11-02, 16:16
I find an 802.11b WPA network functions about as well as a 2Mbps wired network...

It sounds like you have already made your mind up, and are trying to justify your decision.

The point about saturating an 802.11b network is irrelevent, all new wireless SB's are 802.11g. (and if you are still on 802.11b, you can get a new wireless access point for a fraction of the cost of the SB)

jfaughnan
2005-11-03, 08:24
Of course there's nothing stopping Slim adding both native AAC and WMA, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that. However, like you, I'm not suprised to see WMA there first - purely because of the large number of WMA streams out there. AlienBBC is (rightfully) very popular, but it's a PITA for a lot of people to install (not the developers fault!). Removing the need for it would be a big advantage.

Well, I'm sure there's sourness and frustration in my assessment, but reading the comments made it seems like even my critics are agreeing that:

1. WMA is more important for SlimDevices to support than AAC.
2. SlimDevices is putting their resources where their market is.

So, let's put aside my sourness (sorry). I think we agree on the above. Thus it follows that for users who've chosen mp4 (AAC) as their encoding strategy (however misguided we are) that Roku is a better choice than SlimDevices because of the network bandwidth issues.

Others have posted that the network bandwidth is not an issue. Alas, my personal experienc is that bandwidth is always an issue. In my hands 802.11G is not terribly faster than 802.11b in a larger home (it's faster in an apartment though). With several clients in the home on the WLAN, and with streaming to 2-3 receivers, the network burden adds up fast (then the neighbor turns on a poorly shielded microwave!). So, again from my own experience, bandwidth is always an issue. It makes sense to use compressed streams, and SlimDevices doesn't support AAC/mp4 compressed streams.

Again, apologies for my whiny tone. It's been a struggle dealing with this and hacking iTunes to support multiple users properly. I do appreciate the comments I've received that allowed me to come to a reasoned decision. If SlimDevices does decide to support AAC I'll look at them again, though I suspect by then I'll be down the "Roku road". SlimDevices is by every report a great company, and I hope they'll succed and stay in the market. We need every tool and option we have to fight the DRM monstrosity that's continuing to come our way.

radish
2005-11-03, 10:09
I think we agree on the above.
Well, I do, for sure.


Thus it follows that for users who've chosen mp4 (AAC) as their encoding strategy (however misguided we are) that Roku is a better choice than SlimDevices because of the network bandwidth issues.

And this is where we differ, I simply cannot draw that conclusion. Putting bandwidth aside for a second, the Roku devices are simply such a poor product compared to the SB that it's hard to see any reason someone would want one (IMHO), apart from some differences in format support (such as WMADRM). The built quality, sound quality, UI, support, etc etc are all considerably worse.


Others have posted that the network bandwidth is not an issue. Alas, my personal experienc is that bandwidth is always an issue. In my hands 802.11G is not terribly faster than 802.11b in a larger home (it's faster in an apartment though). With several clients in the home on the WLAN, and with streaming to 2-3 receivers, the network burden adds up fast (then the neighbor turns on a poorly shielded microwave!). So, again from my own experience, bandwidth is always an issue.
I can stream uncompressed PCM to 3 clients (2 SB2 @ 11g, 1 SB1 @11b) with no dropouts, so bandwidth is not an issue for me (though I appreciate you seem to have different experiences). Investing in a couple of antennas ($10) or repeaters ($50) to fix your network issues seems like a better idea to me than seriously compromising with your audio equipment.


It makes sense to use compressed streams, and SlimDevices doesn't support AAC/mp4 compressed streams.

What exactly is stopping you transcoding to mp3 on the server? If you're so worried about bandwidth (and, it would seem, not so concerned about sound quality) that's an easy fix.


We need every tool and option we have to fight the DRM monstrosity that's continuing to come our way.
That's why I don't use iTunes - I don't want to support a company which is basing it's entire future on the success of pervasive DRM (Apple). I support open formats (like Vorbis and FLAC) and progressive companies like Slim.

jhwilliams
2005-11-03, 21:04
Thus it follows that for users who've chosen mp4 (AAC) as their encoding strategy (however misguided we are) that Roku is a better choice than SlimDevices because of the network bandwidth issues.

A few things:

1. The new Roku M1001 model only supports 48khz. This is an automatic red card for me - I need native 44.1.

2. I've never attempted a blind test, in fact I ordered the SB2 without hearing it (I'd heard the M1000 prior though) -- however I think I made the right choice audio-reproduction-wise.

3. I've got a lot of media in AAC format - I'm now converting to FLAC w/ EAC. I still have an iPod, so I also code over to AAC.

4. Despite having a load of AAC files, I personally prefer native WMA support since it will better for Internet Radio.

5. I think the SB3 looks better than the Roku.

6. My parents have a large property (a farm in fact). Got them a good AP with multiple attennas. Messed around a bit - get excellent bandwidth despite tin sheds, machinery and other obstructions.


So I was down the AAC road - however I don't think it follows that the Roku is a better choice. There are a bunch of other criteria that will or won't be important to each individual.

For me, AAC requiring more bandwidth is very far down the list.