Upgrade To Obsolete: Slim Devices Squeezebox 2

Slim Devices Squeezebox 2, with a Squeezebox 3 on the left.

You want a cheap ($100-$300) network audio player. Something to stream your music collection from you computer to your home theater or bedroom. Do some comparative research and you'll find that if you care about sound quality, you want a Squeezebox. And if you want a Squeezebox, you want a Squeebox 2 or 3.

Why you want a Squeezebox: 

1- The quality of the Squeezebox audio components is superior to any device in this price range. Specifically is has better components than Roku players, or even the newer Logitech players. In geek-speak, it uses a Burr-Brown digital/analog converter, which is still found in many premium home theater receivers.

2- Squeezebox does not exclude any file types just because they are Apple or Microsoft specific. It is file format neutral, with no stake in proprietary music file types. Play your iTune library (except of course Apple DRM files), Windows Media files, open source formats, uncompressed WAV, high resolution recording studio formats, etc.
Connections: Headphones (on the side), analog L/R, digital
optical, and digital coax outputs. Ethernet. 5v DC power.

Squeezebox 2 front.
3- FLAC files are supported, which let you hear exactly what you would from the source CD. Artists that really care about quality are now releasing music in FLAC downloads, like David Byrne, Nine Inch Nails, Ultimae Records, and thousands more found at high quality online music shops like Bandcamp.com. Geek-speak: When FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Compression) is played it decompresses to the exact same digital stream as the source CD or WAV file, unlike MP3 or other lossy compression methods. It will play MP3 of course. (If you can't hear the difference or don't care about sound quality, FLAC or a Squeezbox are not a benefit to you. Just continue using your iPod dock.) FLAC can easily be converted to other formats for use on portable or automotive players than may only support MP3 or have limited storage capacity.

 Original Squeezebox 2 packaging.
4- With Squeezeboxes, the information about your files, songs, albums etc, is all associated with the files themselves, and not with any specific application like iTunes or Windows Media Player. That means your collection and data are portable and independent; Usable with any software or device you choose (as long as that software or device supports your chosen file format). This feature becomes more critical the larger your collection or more detailed your music data gets. You are a serious music nerd, right?

Why you want a Squeezebox 2 or 3:

Squeezebox 2 open package.
1- Squeezebox 2 and 3 are the best versions. (Actually the Squeezebox Transporter is the best, but is a much more expensive device.) Older versions were more primitive and lacked some key features. Later, while the Squeezebox 3 and Transporter were in production, Logitech bought Slim Devices. All of the players Logitech designed following the Squeezebox 3 (or Squeezbox Classic as they renamed it), like the Squeezebox Touch, Boom, or Duet, use a cheaper digital and analog components that are measurably, if not audibly lesser sound quality.

2- The Squeezebox 2 and 3 process FLAC "on board". The Original Squeezebox and many other modern players support FLAC, but most process FLAC at the server then stream uncompressed digits to the player. Processing FLAC on board reduces network utilization required to play high quality audio. It also reduces the processing load on your media server, but only slightly. FLAC decompression is not intense.

Contents: Squeezebox 2, remote, power supply, user
guide, server download sheet, Ethernet cable, RCA cables.

Is Squeezebox 3 better than 2?

1- The Squeezebox 2 and 3 do not differ in audio hardware, and have the same display. They should sound identical placed in identical environments.

2- They have different cases. It would be hard to argue the digital alarm clock shape of the 2 is as good as the 3's elegant, upright slab. Do you like "retro"?

3- Later versions of Squeezebox 3 had a nicer remote. It is larger and easier to grip, has an improved layout, and the buttons are back-lit. The remotes are interchangeable.

The best way to distinguish a
Squeezebox 2 from an  original
Squeezebox is the model label.
4- In wireless models, Squeezebox 3 has a superior wireless adapter and antenna, though they are both 802.11g. Personally this has little significance. With all the WiFi traffic to laptops, phones, and tablets in my house, traffic is bound to occasionally interrupt music playback. It's rare, but extremely annoying to me, so I run Ethernet to all but one of my players. If you must, adding (or replacing) a wireless adapter to a Squeezebox is nearly as easy as adding a wireless adapter to a laptop.

Now that the Squeezebox Classic is out of production, prices for used units are going up to near original retail prices; Even higher for unused units. There is no low cost, audiophile quality device that has replaced the Squeezebox. You can spend $500 - $2000 and still not improve on a Squeezbox 2 or 3. (If you have that money, get a Squeezebox Transporter!)

Squeezebox 2 documents.
I have been a Squeezebox user since the first version came out in 2003, and have owned several of the three versions. I currently own and use Squeezbox 3 players in my home and garage.

I was fortunate to recently acquire a small supply of Slim Devices Squeezebox 2 wired players. I will use some, but even if I keep a spare, I have more than I need.


Derive This: Cloudcycle

I was thrilled today to discover Cloudcycle, a site hosting a collaboration between three of my fave artist: Greg Hunter (a legend involved in some of the most influential electronic artist and recordings such as The Orb, Juno Reactor, Killing Joke, and now operating as Dubsahara), Mauxuam (a newcomer to me but has a winning release on Interchill Records and some great collaborations), and Master Margherita (who's bag of tricks spans from traditional reggae to psy-trance and who's output includes some of my most essential favorites).

Being familiar with the three electronic dub specialists' other work, I anticipated some really interesting results. I'm still exploring the expansive, deep tracks and have yet to be disappointed.

There are a few things in addition to the artists and music that make this an exceptional site. First they actually have high quality options. After years of being grumpy that MP3 was the only option for purchasing music downloads, I'm glad to see the momentum for lossless and high resolution formats finally taking off. Second, they have a great pricing model. You can download high bit-rate MP3 for free, CD quality FLAC for a no-minimum donation, and high rez uncompressed files for those with more discriminating ears and equipment for a minimum donation. What an intelligent way to promote, distribute, and sell. Finally, they offer samples to download, brew your own remix, then load back up to share. The project seems open-ended, organic, and under constant evolution.

Go check out Cloudcycle.


Diva's Coffee Gig With Thayne Whiting

Arrangements have been finalized for another collaboration with visual artist Thayne Whiting in the greenhouse at Diva's Coffee. We will start around 7:30 pm and finish at 10, Friday, March 27 at 1560 East, 3300 South. Expect a set of lush, dubby, global tracks.


Controller Shopping (Part 3)

Until now I have not really considered a pair of tabletop turntable style controllers because many include expensive motor driven platters, and two units plus a mixer are required. 

($500 x2) I just finished reading the manual for the Denon DN-S1200. I noticed one of these at a shop but didn't really check the feel or quality, but now I'm seriously considering a pair. This compact (9" square) tabletop unit operates as a stand alone CD or USB player, or as a software controller, and has integrated a decent, 24 bit, ASIO sound interface. So with a pair of these and a traditional mixer I can spin in software, or I can leave the computer home and just pack a USB drive with a few hundred .WAV files. (That's really all I wanted in the first place.) Denon has three other players on the market now, but all include motor driven platters.

($300 x2 refrub) Numark has the similar iCDX which can be purchases direct for $300 for a refurb unit. I can only assume they meet Numark's standard of low quality and function. No mention of sound interface specs online or in the manual. 

($700 x2) Pioneer's entry, the CDj-400 is amusingly expensive for a device that has no sound interface and can play no formats besides CD and MP3. (Not even WAV which is basically CD audio format? Seriously?) Pioneer enjoys being revered as the best player manufacturer. I gushed over the CDJ-1000 when it was initially launched. Their adoption of new technology has been glacial though.

($350+$700) Back at the 'software only' controller camp, this set of units is now a serious contender: Allen & Heath's XONE 1D and XONE 2D. The 1D is an elegant controller with MIDI and USB connections only. It could be used directly with a computer or chained through MIDI to an XONE 2D. The 2D combines the same controls as the 1D, a crossfader control, and some impressive sound hardware. The ASIO sound interface operates up to 24 bit 96 kHz (can input 192 kHz), and has enough input output channels for a seriously equipped DJ. After reading the Allen & Heath manuals, and knowing their mixers have a great rep for club installations, this combo has risen to a top spot on my list.

Controller Shopping (Part 2)

The research continues and my options are starting to expand. 

($600) The M-Audio Torq Xponent is an attractive controller and sound interface. It gets some great reviews and seems to have many supporters. It has a touch pad the doubles as a pointer for your computer and a X/Y controller for effects. I was nearly ready to order, but discovered two things: The internal sound hardware is pretty wimpy and only deals in 16 bit 48 kHz. Also, one of the reviews that had sold me on the Xponent had a follow up about hardware problems leading to its return. Several reports of manufacturing defects have since made me hesitant.

($400-$150) Hercules has several controller with sound interface products that are suspiciously cheap. Most look like toys. Their nicer units do have metal cases, but I can find no specs for their sound interfaces. I had my hands on one of these DJ Console Rmx units and quickly dismissed it for the low quality sliders and knobs.

($500-$850) A leading contender for me now is the Vestax VCI-100. This unit has no built in sound interface, so fussy people like me may/must purchase one separately. It looks like a best selling controller for some major online retailers and has developed a faithful following. There are some interesting mods available for it which to me is another good sign that it is a durable, quality, functional component. (Vestax also makes the VCI-300. It does have built in sound and higher resolution jogs and pitch slides, but is designed fairly specifically for use with the bundled Serato Itch software and is not as adaptable to other apps.)

($600-$950) I don't recall what led me to Livid Instruments ohm controller, but I was stunned by how attractive it is. Designed to be a live VJ and video production controller, it has a huge array of buttons available for assignment, and is available in custom wood or rack mount versions. With a serious discount sale on now the ohm is incredibly tempting.  My brain is contorting itself with possible solutions for cuing tracks without a jog wheel and justifying purchasing the green wood model.


DJ Controller Shopping (Part 1)

It started innocently enough. I noticed that Numark was unloading refurb DMC2 controllers for dirt-cheap. For $170 I may as well grab one and start exploring software computer based DJing. Right? Hmm. We'll see.

This will be a shift in DJ hardware ideology for me. I like a minimal rig: Dual CD deck, mixer, powered speakers. I'd prefer to simplify my system further by replacing the CD player with a dual media player component. The industry has only produced a few such players which I generally find too over priced or under featured to justify replacing my CD deck.

The industry has instead fixated on integrating or emulating traditional turntables. Tell me if this sounds efficient to you: Special 'time code' records on two turntables send signals to USB devices that convert signals to a stream that controls the speed of software player on a computer that then sends the music to an sound interface then to a traditional mixer (or using a USB mixer controller). This introduces latency and/or contention at every device in the chain. All the elegance of vinyl is lost in this clusterfuck.

Computers themselves are such complex devices they bring overhead and excess to a DJ rig, even if you use a more streamlined controller with a mixer control and sound interface built in. Because of this I'm very resistant to using software at all, but controller/computer solutions are becoming the most accessible option to eliminate CDs

So I'm thinking about it. I'm going to think aloud here on the blog maybe clear my head and save someone else a bit of brain time who faces the same dilemma. 

As mentioned my first consideration was the Numark DMC2. I demoed the bundled 'Cue' software which is a version of Virtual DJ. I liked the software well enough. The DMC2 is actually a modified version of the control panel from the CD player I use, the Numark CDN-90. I haven't had my hands on a DMC2 and don't fully trust that this early effort from Numark will be quite right, but for under $200, it's very tempting. No conclusion yet.

I did stop by Performance Audio and talked to their resident DJ gear-head. He had unboxed a Numark HDMIX to play with. In theory this should be the perfect unit for me: A mass storage media player combined with a mixer. This unit was suspiciously inexpensive though. It was near impossible to set precise cue points and the BPM sensor struggled with simple 4/4 track I tested. I didn't find a way to store cue points per file. It had only one loop per player... I wasted to much time on this toy. Not only have I dismissed it, but now there is now way I'll consider any other Numark device I can't physically test to verify all the features I need function well. (The DDS80 looks like the same player minus the mixer.)

We then broke out the Omni Control and just twiddled the knobs. It's a controller and sound interface. (The Stealth Control is the same component minus the sound interface.) Next week I'll stop by and play with it in conjunction with a computer. Again, I'm suspicious. The case is sturdy metal construction but all the knobs and sliders are Fisher-price quality, though I haven't yet read complaints about them falling apart. Information on the sound interface is sparse at best: 16 bit, 48 kHz. No info on D/A hardware, latency, bit-rate processing. If a company isn't bragging about that stuff it must suck. I'll see what I think about it after I actually use it.

Overall Numark products are looking pretty disappointing. I've loved my CD player, found it's features very useful and innovative, and wondered why Numark get abused so much in some of the forums I participate in. It's becoming evident to me that they are not serious about building quality hardware. 

(Stay tuned for my thoughts on the Pioneer, Denon, M-Audio, and Vestax options.)


Music Recommendations, Cheap And Easy: Sounds From The Ground

I just received the latest CD from Sounds From The Ground, 'Brightwhitelight'. For their sixth full length release they closely follow their winning formula: Spaced-out atmospheric dub, clever rhythms, and carefully crafted sounds. (And as I usually prefer, no vocal tracks on this one.) I absolutely love and recommend it, as I do any SFTG CD. (My least favorite are 'Natural Selection' and 'Footprints', but even they are quite good. For $10 you can get it direct from the label, Waveform Records, or most music retailers.


In the Works: Diva's Cupcakes & Coffee

I feel that it's near enough fruition to mention another collaboration with visual artist Thayne Whiting is in the works at an intriguing location: The greenhouse dome at Diva's Cupcakes & Coffee. Gordon Wilkins has converted the kooky building on 33rd a few blocks above Highland Dr into an inviting cafe with fantastic drinks and gourmet desserts. The dome is a lush, relaxing oasis on these crisp winter days, and the patio promises to be a favorite once warmer weather arrives. On top of all this, those of us who live in the Canyon Rim area now have good, local coffee shop option with reasonable evening and weekend hours. Expect a audio visual gig near the start of February.

2009 Sundance Film Festival, 100 Club Party

January 22, I will be presenting a selection of music for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, 100 Club party. This event is not open to the public and I will only be presenting a pre-recorded set. Nonetheless, I'm thrill to be involved.


Thayne Whiting's Project Pared no. 1

I'm very excited to be providing music for Thayne Whiting's visual art presentation, "Project Pared no. 1" this Friday, December 5 from 6 to 9 pm. This will be an outdoor projection event on the plaza at 160 East, 300 South, in conjunction with the December Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. Cold but clear weather is forecast. Dress warm and stop by as you visit the neighboring galleries on Broadway.