Slapping your iPod into a music dock works just fine for serving up tunes in the kitchen, garage or bedroom, but when you want to rattle your house, break windows and agitate the neighbors… or just listen with higher fidelity, you’ll need more firepower than an all-in-one solution can provide. Like a dedicated, network-connected media streamer mated with a home theater system. Logitech’s top-of-the-line Squeezebox Duet serves as the company’s most robust streaming solution ever, using Wi-Fi to pump audio from your PC or the Internet directly to your existing home stereo, and doing it with a level of ease and sophistication that it rivals solutions twice as expensive.
As the name suggests, the Squeezebox Duet comes with two primary components: a router-sized receiver that attaches directly to your home theater system, and a slim handheld remote with a 2.4-inch LCD screen for control. To be clear, you’ll need more than just what comes in the box: Your computer acts as the third component, serving up your personal music library, and your wireless access point provides the invisible glue that binds it all together, as well as acting as a gateway to the Internet.
The receiver can tap into your home network either via a hard Ethernet connection, or built-in Wi-Fi. Although it supports only 802.11b/g, 802.11n would largely be unnecessary for streaming audio, anyway (it’s high-def video that really takes advantage of the newfound bandwidth). The receiver has both stereo RCA jacks for analog output, and two digital outputs: optical and coaxial. Though finicky audiophiles might opt for their own digital audio converters (DACs), Logitech hasn’t skimped on the internal option, either. The Duet uses a 24-bit Wolfson DAC, the same type of hardware you might find buried in many high-end CD players, like Arcam’s $2,299 FMJ CD37.
The Duet can natively play MP3, AAC, WMA, Ogg, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, and WAV music files. Support for all the most popular lossless formats means audiophiles will be able to stream their perfectly preserved collections without losing so much as a bit in the process. However, because the Duet doesn’t support DRM, fans of the iTunes store will be left out cold when their purchases refuse to play.
Above and beyond playing local files from elsewhere on your network, apps allow the Duet to tap streaming Internet radio from Last.fm, Pandora, Slacker, subscription on-demand tunes from Napster and Rhapsody, and thousands of independent stations through ShoutCast and Live365, plus scores of others. You can view the full list of supported sites at Logitech’s App Gallery.
Like all Squeezebox hardware, both parts of the the Duet come doused in a matte black finish that fits in unobtrusively in with most other home theater components. In fact, the receiver could all but disappear in an audio cabinet crowded with more prominent components. It features only one button, a small circle with a Wi-Fi icon that puts it into connect mode and changes color to indicate status.
The remote offers quite a few more controls, but still manages to look relatively uncluttered beside most modern TV remotes. The controls all cluster around an iPod-style scroll wheel. Like the earliest of Apple’s cult MP3 players, you can physically turn the wheel and click the center to make selections. Around it, there are shortcuts to take you home, back, play, and an “add” button for songs to a current playlist. Further below, the remote offers dedicated volume up and down buttons, along with those home theater staples: rewind, fast forward, and play. Disappointingly for a $400 system, none of the buttons are backlit, but they’re sparse enough that you’ll be able to memorize them in time.
The remote’s charging dock, which has a bright chrome base, might be the flashiest part of the whole ensemble. Fortunately, it feels as sturdy as it looks, and the weight from the solid metal prevents it from skidding around on tabletops or bouncing around when you drop the remote in. Both it and the receiver draw power from separate wall transformers.
Setup for the Duet is – in theory – dead simple. Ideally, you simply plug the receiver into your stereo system and a power outlet, fire up the remote after charging it, enter your Wi-Fi details, press the button on the box to put it into mating mode, and connect. After installing Squeezebox Server on a network-connected PC, you should have access to your local library of music.
As the “in theory” above foreshadows, it didn’t go as planned for us. Our Squeezebox repeatedly told us it couldn’t connect to our office Wi-Fi network. After reentering passwords, moving it around for better reception, and even installing new firmware by downloading it into an SD card and putting it in the remote, we were ready to tear our hair out. In the end, we only got it working by hardwiring it and putting it into “hybrid mode.” While our particular predicament was quite dire, most user reports seem to indicate our situation is quite rare. Even so, be aware that hooking the Duet into more than a simple home network – like a work network or one at a college campus – may cause issues.
The real frustration here, besides the fact that it couldn’t “just work,” turned out to be the online support documents you typically rely on when things go wrong. Logitech has overhauled the Squeezebox’s firmware and software so much since its launch (the desktop software doesn’t even have the same name anymore) that many of the online tutorials and walkthroughs Logitech supplies online are completely outdated, referring to features that don’t even exist anymore. For instance, the included manual (and the one available online, which has not been updated) both refer to a four-digit PIN code you’ll need to enter before your Squeezebox will play nice with the included software and online features. Logitech has completed axed that feature. Although we have no doubt that eliminating one more PIN code in device setup was a sound move, Logitech needs to comb through its documents to remove confusing references to extinct features, menus and software bundles, which can lead to wild goose chases while troubleshooting.