Correction to This Article
The Aug. 6 Fast Forward column incorrectly referred to the Squeezebox wireless media receiver as the Roku SoundBridge, a competing product.
Page 2 of 2   <      

Devices That Bridge a Music Gap

It helps that its open-source SlimServer software, available for Windows 2000 and XP, Mac OS X 10.3 and 10.4 and Linux, takes seconds to install and then stays out of your way. It will re-create an iTunes or Windows Media Player library on the Squeezebox, including all your custom playlists and Web radio presets, and can play Rhapsody streams too (though I couldn't get that feature to work).

But the Squeezebox can also connect to SlimDevices' SqueezeNetwork, a free Internet service that features a goody bag of extras. You can play an archive of concert recordings, tune into a customizable set of Web-radio broadcasts, relax to a "Natural Sounds" collection of soothing sonic backdrops (surf, rivers, rain and so on) and subscribe to RSS Web-site feeds (though you see only the briefest summary of them on the Squeezebox's display). And you can get a 90-day free trial of the fascinating Pandora music-recommendation service, which plays music similar to the work of the artist of your choice.

The Squeezebox's display, larger and more legible than Roku's, taxes your eyes less. Its remote, however, needs work; I had to look in the manual to figure out that I had to hold down the left-arrow button for a few seconds to point the SoundBridge to a new music server.

The Sonos ZonePlayer system ( ) provides the same basic service as the SoundBridge and Squeezebox, but it's aimed at people in a higher tax bracket -- the entry-level Sonos bundle costs $999. If you need to broadcast different feeds of your computer's music to separate locations around your house, Sonos can do the job quite nicely. But if you just want to hear your computer's music in the living room, this constitutes massive overkill.

That $999 bundle includes two ZonePlayer 80 receivers, $349 sold separately, and a handheld controller, $399 by itself. Because this hardware sets up its own wireless system instead of piggybacking on your WiFi signal, the first ZP80 needs a wired Ethernet connection to either your network's router or the PC or Mac holding your music (running Win 2000 or XP, or Mac OS X 10.3 or 10.4).

Sonos offers about the same compatibility with online music stores as SlimDevices; its clean, simple server software supports Rhapsody streams (with this system, they played on the first try) but not iTunes or WMA purchases.

The Sonos controller provides a much better view of your music -- album art included -- thanks to its color LCD, but it was also a little sluggish to operate. And it drained its rechargeable battery at a frightening rate; a day of moderate use left it with only half a charge.

All these devices have one strange thing in common: They're most practical if you avoid buying music online, instead copying it off your CDs -- or those of friends -- or grabbing it off file-sharing services. Is that really what the online-music industry wants people to do?

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro

<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company