(CNET.com) -- Digital audio is great--especially if you've
got a multigigabyte music collection sitting on your computer or you
subscribe to an "all you can eat" music service like Rhapsody.
The problem, for a lot of people, is that they're stuck listening to
all that great music on the tinny speakers of their computer--or
perhaps patching the laptop into their living room stereo system.
Dedicated audio streamers have helped somewhat, but they have tiny
little screens, which--like docked iPods--aren't very useful if you're
sitting on a sofa across the room. And the best solution to date--the
excellent Sonos Digital Music System--costs a prohibitive $1,000.
Enter Logitech's new Squeezebox Duet: the $400 network digital audio
streamer employs a winning handheld remote with a brilliant color
screen (not unlike an iPod) that lets you navigate your entire music
collection--including some online services and the majority of free
Internet radio stations--from the palm of your hand, even while you
hear the music from the big speakers of your home stereo.
The Duet is so named because it's a two-part system: a base station and
the remote. The base station is a nondescript black brick that pulls
audio from a networked PC or the Internet via your Wi-Fi or Ethernet
home network, and outputs to your stereo from its analog or digital
(coaxial or optical) jacks.
But the real innovation is the
remote: beyond the ten buttons controlling standard functions (volume,
play/pause, track forward/reverse), it features an iPod-like
scrollwheel and a brilliant 2.4-inch color LCD screen. That puts the
song navigation where it belongs: in your hand, instead of a small LCD
readout halfway across the room. (A charging cradle for the remote is
also provided, so it can juice up while not in use.)
the much improved ergonomics and design, the Duet keeps much of the
same under-the-hood technology found in earlier Squeezebox music
That means it's compatible with nearly every
non-DRM file format under the sun (including audiophile faves Apple
Lossless, WMA Lossless, and FLAC) as well as free Internet radio
stations and paid subscription online music services such as Rhapsody
Logitech is also working to ensure that the Duet
will also be backwards compatible with earlier Squeezebox
models--meaning they can act as base stations in additional rooms
(listening to the same music or other streams) and still interact with
the Duet remote.
Likewise, the latest Squeezebox will still
adhere to the company's open-source roots: in addition to running a new
and improved version of the open-source SlimServer music manager, the
company expects to incorporate community-based improvements into the
unit via its upgradable firmware.
Logitech provided a
behind-closed-doors demo of the Squeezebox Duet to CNET a few weeks
ago, and we liked what we saw. It's a solid upgrade of the Logitech
Wireless DJ concept, turbocharged with the superior networking,
software, and audio expertise found in earlier Squeezebox models.
We'll reserve final judgment until we get a production model for
review, but--as first impressions go--the Duet has all the makings of a
winner. At the very least, it looks to be a strong alternative
to the Sonos Digital Music System, delivering a similar experience--a
network music player with a superior handheld remote--for hundreds less
than the Sonos, which has long been the king of the hill in the still
nascent product category.