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struts
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SqueezeBox Touch. Initial impressions vs Sonos

I have now had my Touch for coming up to two months and am overall still delighted with the SQ and overall value-for-money. However it hasn't all been plain sailing. Having lived with a Sonos system for about four years now my initial impression is that the Slim/Squeeze/Whateveritscalledthisweek software environment pales by comparison. In short, my impression is that it is clunky, sluggish and flaky. Some examples:

  • The server installation on a pristine Win7 machine failed first time without any explanation or error message. Subsequent attempts also failed until I completely scrubbed off the broken installation using Revo Uninstaller. I haven't even attempted to install it on my ReadyNAS NV+ yet.
  • Settings that seem obvious to me (maybe coloured by my Sonos experience) such as setting the library to automatically scan for updates daily, are buried several layers deep in an 'Advanced' sub-menu. Others like turning off wifi require logging in to the Touch with ssh and manually editing a config file!
  • The responsiveness of the touchscreen interface on the unit itself is good, however both the browser-based client on the PC and the iPeng RC client for iThing are quite ponderous and sometimes take seconds to respond.
  • The PC UI seems to have been laid out in quite a haphazard way with small buttons scattered about that you have to hover on to see what they actually do. The screen drawing routines also appear to be a bit temperamental, with text frequently spilling over album art, things appearing on top of each other when they should be beside each other etc.
  • Whoever decided to use drop down list boxes as a navigation mechanism clearly hasn't read the Windows Style Guide. This very effectively hides several important menu screens. Very hard to understand how such a glaring faux pas can have slipped past QA.
  • etc.

I now have my Touch in what seems to be a stable configuration doing what I want it to do, however this involved several hours of futzing.

By comparison the Sonos software is really polished. The UI has a nicely consistent look-and-feel across the Sonos Controller, PC and iThing environments and is nicely responsive in all of them. With the exception of a couple of occasions when the Sonos Controller has frozen necessitating a straightforward hardware reset the software has never crashed or behaved strangely. IMHO it is light years closer to 'consumer audio' than the Squeeze.

This is my first first-hand experience with Slim products and after two months my initial takeout is the hardware is (really) nice, the software needs a lot more work. I intend to keep the Touch to feed hi rez files to the bigrig but will continue to use Sonos in the rest of the house.

jazzfan
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Re: SqueezeBox Touch. Initial impressions vs Sonos

Thanks struts for the well written mini-review of the Touch/Squeezebox Server.

I would attribute much of the differences in the overall "polish" of the Sonos software versus the "klunkiness" of the Squeezebox Server software to the fact that the Sonos software is propitiatory software running on propitiatory hardware whereas the Squeezebox Server software is open source software capable of running on many, many different types of non-propitiatory hardware. A big, big difference which inevitably leads to "klunkiness". Add in the fact that the
Squeezebox system is made to run via a standard wifi network (something which several high end manufacturers have chosen to avoid, i.e. Linn's DS units) and the "klunkiness" factor just grows bigger.

I'm in no way trying to apologize for the buggy server software since I have had and continue to have my share of problems. For example just yesterday my Squeezebox music library lost all my artists and I had to do a complete clear everything and rescan to get the artists back and now it appears to be doing the same thing once again. Not good.

Would be possible for you to do comparison of the sound of the Sonos versus the Touch? Now that would interesting.

Elk
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Re: SqueezeBox Touch. Initial impressions vs Sonos

Great review.

Thanks for the effort putting it together.

struts
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Re: SqueezeBox Touch. Initial impressions vs Sonos


Quote:
Thanks struts for the well written mini-review of the Touch/Squeezebox Server.


My pleasure jf (and Elk), although it really wasn't intended to be a mini-review at all, just some initial impressions based on my first few weeks with the unit.


Quote:
I would attribute much of the differences in the overall "polish" of the Sonos software versus the "klunkiness" of the Squeezebox Server software to the fact that the Sonos software is propitiatory software running on propitiatory hardware whereas the Squeezebox Server software is open source software capable of running on many, many different types of non-propitiatory hardware. A big, big difference which inevitably leads to "klunkiness".


I don't know if I totally agree with this characterization, jf. The main historical difference between the Sonos and Slim architectures was the fact that Sonos to embed its 'server' component (analogous to SBS) in the device itself, similar* to TinySC on the Touch. This brings major benefits such as not requiring a PC to run a separate server while enabling support of a wide variety of NAS boxes. Slim's architecture has the benefit of requiring less juice in the device so cheaper hardware, at the expense of the need to either have a PC running or having a choice of one supported NAS box. So I would contend that the portability of the SBS code was necessitated by Slim's original choice of architecture rather than being a benefit per se.

As far as the devices themselves are concerned, ZonePlayers and Squeezeboxes are both just embedded Linux systems running on SBCs based on different chipsets. I don't really see how anyone could claim that one is any more 'proprietary' than the other.

Finally, Sonos chose to implement their PC/Mac controller apps as native applications whereas Slim chose a browser-based approach. Fair enough, that means the Slim client can run on a Linux box which the Sonos app can't, but the penalties in terms of usability and performance was very high.


Quote:
Add in the fact that the Squeezebox system is made to run via a standard wifi network (something which several high end manufacturers have chosen to avoid, i.e. Linn's DS units) and the "klunkiness" factor just grows bigger.


This design choice was another double-edged sword. The principal advantage of Slim's approach is that you can get started with only one Squeezebox even if your stereo and your storage are in different places, since your router can act as the 'base station'. The Sonos system requires at least two units if the stereo and the storage are physically remote, although the 'base station' can be the $99 ZoneBridge if no music-making capabilities are required at that location. The Sonos architecture has lots of advantages, although most of them are pretty esoteric, the main one of course is that the user is spared futzing with wifi at all.

Summa summarum, while it is clear that the designers had different philosophies which influenced the product designs in different directions, I think it is fair to say that several of Slim's choices have come back and bitten them. I wonder if, given the chance to do it all again, Sean wouldn't have chosen something closer to the Sonos approach?


Quote:
I'm in no way trying to apologize for the buggy server software since I have had and continue to have my share of problems. For example just yesterday my Squeezebox music library lost all my artists and I had to do a complete clear everything and rescan to get the artists back and now it appears to be doing the same thing once again. Not good.


Euch, now you really have me worried! Not run into that one yet...touch wood!


Quote:
Would be possible for you to do comparison of the sound of the Sonos versus the Touch? Now that would interesting.


I could, it's just a question of finding the time. Are you more interested in the digital or the analog outputs?

* The difference is that that unlike the Touch, the ZonePlayer hardware (an SBC based on a Hitachi SH-4 processor) has enough horsepower for the job, although of course it doesn't need to be dimensioned to decode hi rez material.

jazzfan
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Re: SqueezeBox Touch. Initial impressions vs Sonos

Once again Struts your detailed, point by point response is hard to refute and so I won't even try since you know way more about this subject than I will ever hope to understand.

However on a slightly different note:

As you mentioned above the Squeezebox devices do require one to have a PC running in order to access their music library and this is often used as a knock against these devices. What I fail to understand is why is this such a big issue since any USB based computer audio solution, i.e. where one is connecting one's computer to a stereo system via a USB cable and USB enabled DAC. I would think that this type of setup would also require that one's PC be running in order to access one's music library. Needless to say I'm a bit confused.

Elk
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Re: SqueezeBox Touch. Initial impressions vs Sonos


Quote:
What I fail to understand is why is this such a big issue since any USB based computer audio solution, i.e. where one is connecting one's computer to a stereo system via a USB cable and USB enabled DAC. I would think that this type of setup would also require that one's PC be running in order to access one's music library.


Good point.

I am one of those that dislikes leaving a computer running. I turn each of my machines off once I have finished my task. I do this with everything (including lights) and always have. I also clean and put knives and pans away when done cooking, etc.

For me, it's not an energy saving thing per se nor is it a political statement. I just don't like waste of any kind.

I also don't like dedicating a PC for a specific purpose, although I understand that running the server software is trivial; the PC can easily multi-task.

I bought an Olive Opus 4 as so many like music servers. It uses 7 watts max so I can pretend it's not really on if I fail to turn it off. It is easy to turn off completely and boots quickly. I'm not a convert to music servers, but this is a different topic.

It is just as silly as dedicating a PC to the task and more expensive. That is, like most decisions made by humans, it is entirely indefensible.

Daverz
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Re: SqueezeBox Touch. Initial impressions vs Sonos

Does Sonos have anything like CustomTag/CustomScan? In other words, does it allow browsing by non-standard tags? I use this to organize my classical music by COMPOSER (standard tag) and WORK (not standard). This is the only reason I've stuck with the Squeezebox system.

struts
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Re: SqueezeBox Touch. Initial impressions vs Sonos


Quote:
As you mentioned above the Squeezebox devices do require one to have a PC running in order to access their music library and this is often used as a knock against these devices. What I fail to understand is why is this such a big issue since any USB based computer audio solution, i.e. where one is connecting one's computer to a stereo system via a USB cable and USB enabled DAC. I would think that this type of setup would also require that one's PC be running in order to access one's music library. Needless to say I'm a bit confused.


Good question jf, it certainly looks like a case of double standards. I am far from sure that I have the answer but noodling this I came up with the following hypothesis.

Use of a USB DAC implies the use of a software player (iTunes, foobar or similar), in other words the PC must be switched on anyway as it provides the user interface through wich music is selected and the playback is controlled. As such, it is by definition impossible to use a USB DAC with the PC switched off and if being able to switch off the PC is important to me then by definition I will not buy a USB DAC.

A media server/streamer provides this UI, so the PC doesn't need to be switched on for this reason. It might still need to be switched on if, for instance, the music files are stored on its hard disk. However if this is not the case, for instance if NAS is being used, then the user might legitimately ask why it still needs to be swtched on. Requiring a PC to be running solely to run an 'invisible' system component may therefore be considered unreasonable or unnecessary by some.

Daverz,

Not that I am aware of, and I doubt Sonos have any plans to introduce it. This seems to be the area where Slim's and Sonos' design philosophies differ most widely. Slim aims to offer maximize the degree of user control, while Sonos aims to limit complexity and user-configurability in order to ensure problem-free operation.

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