After seeing my mildly skeptical post about the release of its Squeezebox Boom Internet radio device, Logitech offered to send me a sample unit to review, promising me I'd be pleasantly surprised with the audio output from the compact unit. I've been testing it out over the last few weeks, and here's what I've found in my everyday use of it.
The Boom is the size of a traditional tabletop radio, and while not exactly featherweight, is portable enough to be carried from room to room. Unfortunately, you'll also need to carry its wall-wart AC adapter, because the unit doesn't include a battery option. Worse, the adapter is big enough that it covers two outlets unless you get a little creative in how you plug it in.
Setup was very easy, as the Boom both detected our wireless network and assigned itself an IP address in a matter of seconds. (It also includes an Ethernet port for wired networking.) You'll need to sign up for a SqueezeNetwork account at www.squeezenetwork.com; it's Logitech's gateway to the various streaming sources the Boom can access. (More on these below.) If you want to listen to music files from your PC(s), you'll need to install the SqueezeCenter software to your computer. This was the only part of the setup process where I experienced a couple of hiccups. Though I was able to install SqueezeCenter on my Mac successfully (at least according to the installer), I was unable to find the app without doing a search for it. I needed to do this because Mac users need to create manually an exception for SqueezeCenter for OS X's built-in firewall. Considering this is a mandatory step for the Boom to access a Mac's files, I'm not sure why Logitech didn't just make this the final step of the SqueezeCenter install process instead of requiring the user to muck around with firewall settings.
The Boom's controls are dominated by a large jog wheel smack dab in the middle of the unit. You click it to select menu items and turn it to scroll through options. You also get a standard array of buttons, including power, play, back, pause, fast forward, rewind, a "+" to add a station to your favorites, and a volume slider. A remote replicates many of those controls, but adds a home button as well. It's magnetized, which could come in handy because the tiny unit is otherwise easy to misplace.
When you turn the Boom on after setup, you are given a menu of several options, though I primarily used only Music Library, Internet Radio, Music Services, and Favorites. There's an alarm clock setting (useful if this becomes your bedside radio), plus some info-related extras, like the ability to display news tickers and RSS feeds, and some oddball options like a Tetris-like game and a library of sound effects. (The natural ones I get, but why would you want to listen voluntarily to the blaring of an ambulance?) You'll find your computer's music files under Music Library. With a large collection of music files on my drive, I was happy to have the jog wheel to zip through artists whenever I wanted to hear something from a band that started with "S." Playback of my iTunes library was flawless. As with many of these devices, the Boom doesn't handle audio tracks secured with Digital Rights Management, so tracks purchased from the iTunes Store in AAC format won't be accessible.
Under Internet Radio, Logitech offers staff picks to help you find a suitable station, and these run the gamut of genre and locations. Unfortunately, there were some stations (like BBC4) that I was never able to connect to successfully, though other stations didn't present a problem. One nice touch for those who still listen to AM/FM is the Boom's inclusion of local stations through RadioTimeAM stations usually come in with plenty of static at my house, so it was actually an upgrade to listen to the same stations on this device instead. You can also add any stations not already punched into the Boom by adding them online at the SqueezeNetwork Web site. The site additionally lets you streamline your menus, allowing you to delete services and other items that you don't use.
Music Services is where you find subscription-based services like Sirius Satellite Radio or Rhapsody or sites that require login info like Last.fm and Pandora. You need to enter your account info on the SqueezeNetwork site in order for the Boom to access a service's stream. A big thumbs down goes to the Sirius service, which requires the premium upgrade for an extra $2.99 per month. Presumably that's so the audio quality is better, but it will bum out regular subscribers hoping to ditch their antenna-based radios and who really don't need to listen to Howard Stern at CD-quality bit rates. Pandora worked without a hitch, and the jog wheel handily functions as the thumbs up/thumbs down buttons that you use on the Web version to tell the service which tracks you like and dislike. It even lets you select to stop playback of a song on your station for 30 days, something I find invaluable when I'm listening online.
Logitech has hyped the audio quality of the Boom, which it says stems from the included preamp and premium speakers. And given its compact size, the Boom really doesn't disappoint compared to other similar-sized devices. Sure, it doesn't provide the low-end depth that puts the "boom" (pun intended) into hip-hop, for instance, but it provides enough bass that you won't be calling it "tinny-sounding." You can add your own subwoofer via the headphone jack if you need as much bass as possible, and there's also a line-in jack if you want to hook up your iPod or a CD player.
Overall, I was very impressed with the Boom, from the good sound quality to its versatility. I've encountered a few streaming hiccups, but it certainly wasn't flaky at all in the way some wireless network devices can be. The primary disappointment I had with the Boom (other than the bait-and-switch that promised Sirius support, but required the premium upgrade) is the lack of a rechargeable battery. Even if the battery could only provide a couple of hours of juice, it would be worth it to bring it out on a deck without needing an extension cord.
At $299.99, the Boom isn't going to find a place on everyone's nightstand, especially in this economy. If you can afford the price, however, it's certainly a worthwhile purchase for those who are Internet radio or Pandora (or Rhapsody or Last.fm) addicts or who want to play the music on their computer in another spot in the house and demand decent audio quality.