Media streaming devices tend to be jacks-of-all trades, masters of none. They focus on the sexy business of streaming video, but as a result, tend not to do other media - audio in particular - full justice. But some products have bucked the trend, choosing to stream audio and audio alone, and the most successful in the past couple of years have been the expensive but undeniably desirable Sonos Digital Music System, and the Slim Devices Squeezebox 3.
I was a big fan of the latter's open source approach and fantastically useable design, even if it was a touch expensive. So I was concerned last summer when peripherals giant Logitech bought out the firm responsible for the Squeezebox. Would Slim Devices and its quirky products simply be absorbed into the corporate morass? Well, the latest incarnation of the Squeezebox proves that I needn't have worried.
The Squeezebox Duet is an altogether different beast to the original Squeezebox, which was a product more in the mould of traditional hi-fi component, albeit it a fairly forward-looking one. The main unit, incorporating a gorgeously clear and luminous vacuum fluorescent display, was hooked up directly to the hi-fi and controlled via infrared remote.
The Duet, however, sees the Squeezebox split into two parts. The Receiver deals with the business of streaming audio - over 802.11bg Wi-Fi or Ethernet - receiving data and converting it into a signal your hi-fi can understand. On its rear are stereo phono outputs for this very purpose, and also both types of digital output - optical and coaxial - so you can bypass the Receiver's DAC electronics and use a stand alone DAC or your home theatre amp's decoder circuitry. Either way, it gives you huge flexibility.
As a bonus, the Receiver module, as with the earlier Squeezebox, can act as a wireless bridge, allowing other non-wireless devices with Ethernet ports to access your wireless network. This could save you a bundle on buying the wireless adapter for your Xbox 360 or PS3, for instance, if your AV setup is nowhere near your router and broadband connection.
The really clever stuff, however, now resides in the remote control which has gone from AA battery-powered infrared unit to something altogether more exotic. The most obvious difference is that it has a 2.4in TFT screen of its own for browsing your music library and selecting tracks from the palm of your hand. Though the original Squeezebox's display was good, this is better, and the new scroll ring control makes traversing long lists of albums and tracks simple. It can't be clicked like an iPod's, but it comes close to the clickwheel's pick-up-and-play functionality.