Where the Squeezebox differs from the Sonos system (other than the cost) is that it doesn’t operate on its own wireless mesh network – it simply integrates with your existing setup – and it also requires you to have your PC running all the time, where the Sonos system can stream music from a NAS (network attached storage) box with your PC turned off. The remote isn’t as fancy either – it’s a black plastic puck with rubber keys; no iPod-style clickwheel or colour screen here.
Aside from that, this is one clever little box. First impressions are good. It’s about the size of a VHS cassette, comes in a rather fetching two-tone brushed aluminium and gloss black finish, and its screen – a bright and highly readable dot matrix LED-style display – makes it an attractive addition to any hi-fi rack (or kitchen worktop if you’re so inclined). It feels reasonably well-built as well.
That el-cheapo remote control actually works really well, and browsing through your music collection is a breeze thanks to the bright screen. The usual organisational options are present here: you can browse by album, artist, folder and track name and so on. What’s really handy, however, is that you can quick-skip through long lists by initial letter; the remote’s alphanumeric number pad acts like the keys on a mobile phone when texting. You can search by album, artist and track in a similar way.
There are more ingenious features to be unearthed too. Even if you don’t like the remote control, there is an alternative. Because the SlimServer software runs as a web server on the host PC, all you need is a wireless device with a web browser installed on it (a PDA or laptop for instance) and you’ll be able to access a more fully functional and attractive control interface. Just open up you browser, tap in the IP address of the host PC and open it up on port 9000 and you can browse your music library, build playlists, change settings and so on.