Editor's Note: As of 8/31/2012, Logitech has discontinued the Squeezebox Touch in favor of the new Ultimate Ears platform, but the company says it will continue to support the product and provide updates.
While hi-fi manufacturers such as Pioneer and Marantz have started getting on the digital-streaming bandwagon, companies like Sonos and Logitech (nee Slim Devices) were there from the beginning. While Sonos' products are the more usable and popular option, I personally prefer the Logitech Squeezebox due to its high versatility and audiophile-friendly appointments. Think of Squeezebox as Android to Sonos' iOS.
The Squeezebox Touch was released in December 2009 but the product has changed quite a bit since then, morphing from a grown-up MP3 player to a sophisticated music streamer. Logitech has subsequently released Android and iOS control apps, as well as support for most of the popular streaming services. While it's a little antiquated compared with the likes of Roku's products in that it still needs a PC or a Netgear NAS to run the system, it still holds up well among more modern systems.
At $250 online, the Squeezebox Touch costs more than multimedia players like Roku boxes and Apple TV, but half as much as dedicated audio players like Pioneer's N-30. While it doesn't look "all that," it's small enough that you can hide it away if you want and control it solely via any number of apps. While I wouldn't recommended it for people who want a plug-and-play music system -- Sonos products are so much better for that -- this is a highly tweakable system that really delivers sonically. I have personally been on a mission for a standalone music player, and I think I have found what I was looking for.
The player consists of a main unit with a 4.3-inch touch screen with a stable metal base that prevents it from sliding around when you use it. Despite a brushed-metal stripe across the bottom, the device looks a bit plasticky and the touch-screen overlay means the screen isn't as vibrant as an iPad's, for example. This screen is a little small to read from across the room, where its touchability becomes useless anyway.
The device ships with a chunky black remote that feels decent in the palm and enables most of the functionality you'd expect. However, I'd imagine most people would just use their phones or tablets instead.
The Logitech Squeezebox Touch is a music streamer and Internet radio component that features wide format support and 24-bit/96KHz playback with support for up to 192KHz. If you're interested in getting higher quality and support for USB DACs you can try this 3rd party 192kHz Squeezebox plugin The fact that, in this way, the Touch is able to play back almost any file differentiates it from the otherwise-excellent Sonos systems, which only support CD quality and no higher -- important for music enthusiasts.
Until recently, the only file type the Squeezebox didn't support was Windows Lossless, but an update at the end of 2011 means all major formats are now playable. Unless you invented your own file type just a little while ago, odds are your library is supported.
Though a few features have been added since the device first appeared, arguably the most high-profile one is Spotify support. But it's not the only online music-streaming service covered; the Squeezebox works with dozens, including Pandora, MOG, Sirius, Last.FM, and Rhapsody. The device also supports Flickr for music slideshows and Facebook, though sadly it lacks Spotify/Facebook integration. If you're interested in a full list you can find it here.
So you have the player, how do you connect it up to stuff? First you'll need the Logitech Media Server software, which is available for PC or Mac and Netgear NAS. That's right, you'll need to leave a server of some kind on to use the Squeezebox if you want to use your own music. On the other hand, streaming-music services like Pandora and Spotify don't require a NAS or computer, since they stream directly from the Web. Logitech provides a Web-based interface (mysqueezebox.com) for juggling all the various log-ins, which may looks a little "techie," but it's right up the alley of digital audio tweakers.
As we mentioned, the device can be controlled, though not served by, iOS and Android devices, and tablets of both OSes enjoy a double-wide control scheme with "big" cover art. The app interface is a little "daggy," to use an Australian word (meaning: lovably out of fashion), but it's still easy to use.