RIP Squeezebox (Viva Squeezebox!)

Almost exactly ten years ago, I made the single best consumer electronics purchase of my life: a SlimDevices Squeezebox 3. For the past decade, it’s been the anchor of my music streaming system, and it’s given me untold hours of listening pleasure.

Sadly, a couple of weeks ago, it suddenly started to crash and restart when playing music. I tried replacing the power supply and removing the wifi card (two known sources of trouble); no dice. It’s probably aging/dying capacitors on the device’s circuit board, which in theory are replaceable, and I’ll try that eventually (with some help from my brother-in-law, who is good with a soldering iron).

In the meantime, though, I needed a replacement. I considered buying a used Squeezebox, but it is likely to suffer from similar issues. If the Squeezebox ecosystem was a typical consumer electronics product, I’d be SOL. But fortunately, the folks at SlimDevices had the foresight to make their software open source, and even though the company has long since been purchased by Logitech and the hardware is largely discontinued, the magic has always been mainly in the software, and the ecosystem lives on.

In the last ten years, there have been a few amazing revolutions: lightweight and powerful ARM processors led to the Raspberry Pi, a low-power yet powerful miniature computer-on-a-card. Smartphones give us a high-resolution screens-in-a-pocket, perfect for a remote control. All the ingredients I needed to build a brand new Squeezebox out of off-the-shelf parts! Here’s how I did it.

Total price tag: under $100

The other key ingredient is the software. Fortunately, the amazing Squeezebox community has already done the heavy lifting here, and put together PiCorePlayer — a ready-to-go version of the Squeezebox player software combined with an ARM Linux kernel for the Raspberry Pi.

I assembled everything (took about 15 minutes), dropped the PiCorePlayer image onto the SD card, plugged it in and booted it up (it takes about 10 seconds). With my web browser, I hit the settings page to configure the wireless adapter and select the PI-DAC+ as the audio output. One quick reboot and the player was live and connected to my Squeezebox server. Rock on!

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I couldn’t be more thrilled. Now, about those capacitors…

5 Must-have Squeezebox Plugins

I hope that when Everett grows up and thinks back to his early childhood, that one of the things he’ll say is “My house was filled with music.”  In other words, I’ve been spending some quality time on paternity leave rocking my Squeezebox.   🙂

One of the coolest things about the Squeezebox is the fact that it’s powered by open-source software with a vibrant ecosystem of third-party plugins that extend its features in all sorts of cool ways.  I’m now closing in on four years of ecstatic Squeezebox ownership, and I just realized I’d never shared the “must have” plugins that really make the Squeezebox really sing.   Here’s a quick rundown on how I’ve achieved open-source digital audio nirvana.

  1. MusicIP.  Even though it’s sort-of-abandonware at this point, MusicIP is still the single most compelling add-on for Squeezebox.  If you’ve used iTunes’ “Genius” feature, it’s sort of like that, except lots smarter.  MusicIP actually generates an acoustic analysis of all of your songs.  Then, given a starting song, artist, album or genre, it can find other songs that actually sound similar, which makes for an amazing way to take a “semi-random walk” through your music collection.  Not only is MusicIP much smarter than iTunes’ misnamed Genius, it’s very configurable, so you can decide how random those mixes are.  (Note: even if you’re not running a Squeezebox, you can still use MusicIP standalone or with iTunes.)   MusicIP has single-handedly revolutionized the way I listen to music, and more than anything else, I think it really unlocks the power of an all-digital music experience.
  2. TrackStat.  Long a favorite of the Squeezebox cognoscenti, I’m a recent adopter of TrackStat, Erland Isaksson’s amazing music statistics plugin.   TrackStat lets you rate your songs–and even better–it auto-rates songs as you play them.  Play something through to completion, and its rating goes up.  Skip it before it gets halfway finished and the rating goes down.  It also keeps track of how often each song gets played.  Over time, it builds up a very rich library of stats about your listening preferences, without you having to lift a finger.   Then, Erland’s companion plugin Dynamic Playlists lets you easily build playlists based on your stats, for example to find your favorite not-recently-played songs.  Good stuff.
  3. NPR Radio.  Makes it one-click easy to get your favorite NPR stations or programs streaming on your Squeezebox.  Now if only KUOW would drop the incredibly repetitive 15-second promo spot they tack onto the beginning of each streaming session, I’d be in internet radio heaven!
  4. Lazy Search Music.  Hey, I’m lazy!  Lazy Search Music makes it way easier to quickly search for music using the Squeezebox’s numeric keypad-based remote control.  Without Lazy Search, Squeezeserver requires multiple button-pushes  to enter each search character.  With Lazy Search, you just press each letter once and it does fuzzy matching, which is much much faster.
  5. FindArt. Lets you find missing cover art for your albums.  It’s not truly a mass search-and-download tool (for that I use a standalone program called Album Art Downloader), but it’s a really handy tool for filling in gaps.

Give your Squeezebox Server enough RAM

I’ve had a Squeezebox as my digital music system for over three years now; it’s still one of the best few hundred bucks I’ve ever spent on electronics.

The Squeezebox’s server software runs on a server.  Since 2006, I’ve been using an old Dell Dimension 2350 that we had lying around.  But this weekend, I upgraded (slightly) to a Dell Dimension 3000 that my employer Groundwire excessed from its inventory.   Wow, what a difference!

The old server had 512MB of RAM and a 2GHZ Celeron. My “new” server has a 1.25GB of RAM and a 3GHZ Pentium 4.  My music library is about 24,000 tracks (that’s large-ish, but not huge by community standards, it seems).   While my old box never swapped, it was often running pretty close to its RAM limits, and the web interface could be sluggish at times.  Under the new server, it’s smooth and fast.  I suspect it’s additional RAM rather than the faster processor that’s making most of the difference.  I also swapped in a set of optimized MySQL caching settings (thanks Squeeze community!), which allows the system to take more advantage of its increased RAM.

Bottom line: I shoulda upgraded the RAM years ago.  🙂

Controlling a Squeezebox from an iPhone/iPod Touch

UPDATE: OK, turns out the culprit was my dying Linksys BEFW11S4 router, which started choking as soon as I enabled WPA.  iPeng is now chugging along like a champ, and I’m in iPod-Squeezebox remote control heaven.  Thanks, Coolio!


Molly got an iPod Touch last week, and so the first thing I tried to make it do was serve as a sexy touchscreen remote control for my Squeezebox digital music player.

A quick search immediately led me to iPeng, an iPhone/iPod Touch skin for the Squeezebox web interface. (Continuing a fine open-source tradition of powerful products with goofy names, I might add.) Eureka, I thought, I’m home free. It’s simple, elegant, has had five releases, and most of the folks in the Squeezbox community seem to be quite impressed.

Unfortuntely, I’m finding it to be unusably slow. All of the pages except for the homepage timeout. Now, I know that the iPhone/iPod Safari will only wait about five seconds for a server to respond, but surely my Squeezebox can manage that. Apparently not.

I’m not sure whether the problem is:

  • My large-ish music library (~25,000 tracks)
  • My slow-ish server CPU (Celeron 2.4 GHz)
  • ??

The iPeng skins seems to work pretty well when I hit it with laptop web browser.

I’m bummed. Any ideas?

SqueezeCenter 7 for Squeezebox is out

The SlimDevices team made a final release of SqueezeCenter 7 today.  SqueezeCenter (formerly SlimServer) is the open-source music library/player at the heart of the amazing Squeezebox digital music player.

SqueezeCenter 7 is a massive, game-changing improvement on the old SlimServer software, which was no slouch.  The biggest change is a seriously overhauled user interface, which takes great advantage of AJAX to offer a rich, eye-pleasing experience.  There are also a bunch of changes under the hood, but previous versions of SlimServer were so feature-rich that these are mostly incremental.

If you’ve got a Squeezebox (or a Transporter), SqueezeCenter 7 is a must-have upgrade.  I’ve been using beta versions for the past few months, and it’s been a stable, enjoyable experience.

Now, if only I had a Duet.  I lust for that remote control.  🙂

Squeezebox

Update, 10 years later: my Squeezebox finally died (at least for now), but I replaced it with a Raspberry Pi-based player, and the open-source server ecosystem is rocking on.

Just about two months ago I took the plunge, bought a SlimDevices Squeezebox network music player and finally committed to digitizing my music collection. Here’s a two-month report.

First of all, a quick rundown on my setup. I’ve got:

  • A Squeezebox 3 digital music player, connected to…
  • A pile of unremarkable cheapo stereo components in my living room
  • A garden variety PC running Windows XP in the office
  • A 500 GB external hard drive connected to the PC

Why did I choose the Squeezebox in the first place? Couple reasons.

  1. I have a lot of music, and I wanted to digitize it once, without data loss, and in an open, non-proprietary format. So using an iPod as my primary music storage device was right out.
  2. My computer is fairly far from my stereo, and running either speaker wire or ethernet cable from computer to stereo wasn’t feasible.
  3. I didn’t want to spend money on a NAS (network attached storage) device, or clutter up my living room with a computer. (I briefly thought of buying a Mac Mini, but $600 was a bit rich for my blood.)

The $300 Squeezebox (plus another $220 for a big ol’ external hard drive) was an affordable solution that would let me store and play high-quality digital music with few compromises.

So, how are things going, two months in?

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