Mourning the Squeezebox

Logitech has discontinued their Squeezebox line of wireless music players.

Background: the Squeezebox was a device originally by Slim Devices, later acquired by Logitech. The Squeezebox (SB) originally supported playing music which was streamed over your home over a custom protocol, it involved running a server process written in Perl on the machine which contained the music. For several years, there has also been a My Squeezebox service which streams music over the Internet. The server/My Squeezebox can in turn stream podcasts, radio stations and so on.

We bought our first Squeezebox in, I think, 2008, which drives some Yamaha reference monitors I’ve had since 2001 (and then spent 7 years searching for a half decent networked music playing solution in order to use them more than occasionally) and added a Squeezebox Boom, which is about the size of a classic micro hi-fi system and has built-in speakers, a year later. We’ve been using them ever since. Both were already discontinued models in favour of the SB Touch and SB Radio, but were receiving firmware updates and support. All support for the entire ecosystem is now being ended by Logitech, in favour of the Ultimate Ears (UE) brand, which so far contains one wireless music player, the UE Smart Radio.

Possible replacements:

The Logitech UE system. Pros: I believe it’s similar hardware, and the SBs have worked well for us. Cons: the UE line only contains one wireless player right now, the UE Smart Radio, and it does not support use of your own speakers. UE devices do not understand the SB protocol, so unless we junked our SB devices we’d need to run two server processes and would lose things like syncing all our players to play the same thing at the same time. Linux is no longer officially supported for running the server software. In addition, I haven’t got confirmation of this, but it seems it is impossible to use the UE Smart Radio without signing up for an online service, which raises the spectre of not being able to play my music when the ‘net is down, or possibly at some point in the future having the UE suddenly stop working forever, when that service is in turn discontinued.

The Sonos. Pros: I don’t follow the wireless music market closely, but I understand this is the brand that’s associated with quality music engineering. Technically, it can stream music from a SAMBA share as well as from the Internet. Cons: it too has made its deals with the we’re-watching-you devils: It will only play RadioTime’s approved podcasts, obviously there’s a workaround involving downloading to the SAMBA share we would use, but that’s still annoying. We again lose the house-wide syncing if we keep our (not cheap, and still functional) SB devices in the house. The podcast thing suggests that the Sonos may also be vulnerable to “do the players still work if Sonos goes away?” concern, but again, I don’t know.

The Roku Soundbridge. Pros: I believe it understands the SB protocol, which means it would be the best fit for our existing music network. Cons: there only seems to be one model in its lineup too, a speakerless one. I’m not intending to buy separate speakers for every room we want music in. Otherwise this is probably the most seamless replacement for an SB.

Bluetooth speakers. Or I guess a receiver, in the case of my reference monitor. Pros: a bigger market to buy from, way less vendor-dependent (even if documented) custom streaming protocols to deal with. Cons: Bluetooth support, or alleged support, in car stereos has not endeared this solution to me, to me Bluetooth means “does not work-tooth”. I have no idea how to achieve the multiple rooms with the same music effect either. And it then leaves the problem of queueing up the music on the headless server. I spent several years seeing how bad all MPD clients could be, I’m not keen to go back to that. In addition, we have enough trouble getting 802.11 signals to span our house, never mind Bluetooth.

I think at this stage, given that luckily the SBs are not going to stop working unless the hardware fails or the software stops running on later versions of Linux (both are possible, of course), that what we’ll probably do is try and snag a SB Radio or two before they get too hard to get hold of, stick with them and our existing devices until the bitter end, and then hope that Bluetooth or some later protocol and its Linux support are up to what we want to do. Since we aren’t likely to subscribe to streaming services in the very near future, this is viable.

If Logitech eventually puts out firmware support for the UE protocol onto older SB hardware, as Gadget Guy suggests they will (but there’s no sign of it on the Logitech forums), it will be more tempting to move to UE than otherwise, at least if the server is known to work on Linux. Otherwise, an additional strike against Logitech products is that they’ve substantially damaged my faith in their longevity. Quoth Matthew Moskovciak on CNET It may be wise to see how Logitech handles its Squeezebox customers before committing to the new UE ecosystem. There’s probably 12 to 24 months of endgame in that.

Update: Sue Chastain has more info, including an apparent confirmation that the UE Smart Radio will indeed not work in the absence of an Internet connection, even when playing locally stored music.

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