Logitech Squeezebox Touch network music player Page 2
The sound of streaming Internet radio varied considerably in quality, depending on the source material and the data rate. A rate of 128kbps was listenable, but stations with higher data rates sounded better, often by quite noticeable increments. Surprisingly, some sites streamed at the same bit rate sounded vastly different from each other. On the other hand, few even approached the quality audible from typical CDs, and those that did often varied in quality over time. However, considering the generally sorry state of FM broadcasting in the US, I was very happy with the sound of Internet radio, especially considering the almost infinite number of sources to choose from.
In addition to direct connection to these sources, the Touch supports a wide variety of apps from Slacker, Rhapsody, and Sirius to Facebook and Flickr (yeah, I had to look up some of them). The only one I used was Pandora, which provides some very nice and customizable musical wall-paper. Their free service was marginally acceptable, but their inexpensive ($36/year) "premium" subscription bumped up the bit rate to 192kbps and the sound quality to the point where it now provides the background to my workday. It's not spectacular, but good enough that when a selection does grab my attention, I can enjoy it without serious sonic distractions.
I took the Squeezebox Touch back and forth with me to our weekend place in Connecticut, where I connected it by coax digital and stereo analog cables to a Classé CT-SSP preamplifier-processor. The Touch readily recognized the wireless network there, and picked up right where it had left off in Manhattan. Because all the music files managed by Squeezebox Server resided on my PC in New York, the Touch didn't bring along any music or favorites with it, and I had to set up my Connecticut PC with thesea trivial task that needed to be done just once.
My enjoyment of the Touch in Connecticut was just as great as it had been in Manhattan, but in New England I had time to do some more comparisons. I compared the multichannel SACD, stereo SACD, and "Red Book" tracks on hybrid SACDs with HD downloads of the same recordings via the Touch. The silver discs were played on the Sony SCD-XA5400ES deck, connected to the Classé pre-pro by HDMI. For this, I used two Linn recordings: J.S. Bach's Mass in B Minor, with John Butt and the Dunedin Consort (Linn CKD 354); and music of Bartók and Kod·ly with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by the late Sir Charles Mackerras (Linn CKD 234).
The two-channel SACD tracks offered a more relaxed and spacious sound than even the hi-rez downloads, but the difference wasn't huge. What was most striking, and perhaps not surprising, was that the 24/88.2 downloads (and 24/176.4 downloads downsampled to 24/88.2 by Squeezebox Server on the host PC) were consistently superior to the original CD. In fact, every time I compared a CD or the "Red Book" track from a hybrid SACD with an HD download, I preferred the download. Moreover, in some cases the silver discs weren't even as good as a 16/44.1 FLAC download. My guests and I were aghast that the download of Britten's Les Illuminations, with tenor Toby Spence and Clio Gould conducting the Scottish Ensemble (Linn CKD 226), was so much more clarion-clear than the CDalthough it had no good reason to be so.
Using the Touch's analog outputs (and, therefore, DACs) was another story. The sound was clearly inferior to what I heard via the processing and D/A in the Classé and Meridian processors, but good enough that I could distinguish mashed low-bit-rate streaming from the better stuff, and even an HD download from a 16/44.1 download. It was just that the quality levels of all recordings were shifted down a notch or two by the Touch's analog outputs. The Touch's analog outputs were still eminently listenable, if not fully revealing of the source materials, and comparable to listening via the analog outputs of the Oppo BDP-83.
Complications and discoveries
Because most of the brains and all control of communications are taken care of by the Squeezebox Server program installed on your host computer, the link between it and the Touch is critical (footnote 1). Using an Ethernet cable will ensure the best and most reliable performance. But heckif I were willing or able to run a wire from my PC to the stereo, why would I need the Touch? It could be replaced with some sort of remote control.
Footnote 1: The Touch differs from earlier Squeezebox devices by being able to operate without a host computer. When a USB drive is plugged into its USB port, a version of Squeezebox Server program that runs on the Touch itself is launched, and allows you to browse the music files on that drive in the same manner that you can on a host PC via the network.Ed.