What Is The Touch?
The Logitech Squeezebox Touch is a small and simple network music streamer. It features a 4.3Ē touchscreen and highly functional remote control. The ďTouchĒ connects to any 802.11 b/g wireless network or via wired Ethernet. Analog audio outputs include a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and single ended analog RCA connections. Digital audio is output via either optical Toslink S/PDIF or electrical coaxial S/PDIF. Those not interested in connecting the Touch to a network can attach a hard drive directly to the USB port on the rear of the unit. The USB port will become increasingly useful as more audio companies release music on USB devices. Currently Cardas offers its USB Audio Cards and Iíve seen a prototype from an audiophile record label with similar offerings in the works. Due to the cramped quarters behind the Squeezebox Touch a little USB extension/dongle will be required for these USB Audio Cards.
Touching The Touch
Constructed completely of plastic the Squeezebox Touch is certainly not a product from Apple. Its $299 price tag (and support for FLAC) is also a clear indication itís not from Apple. The Squeezebox Touch is likely constructed with more plastic than all components in the typical audiophileís equipment rack combined. This and the fact itís from Logitech, not a traditional high end audio company, are hurdles audiophiles will just have to get over. The 4.3Ē plastic touchscreen is nice. Itís many times better than the IMO Pivot Touch, but nothing like the glass multi-touch screen on an iPod Touch. The Squeezebox Touch is pretty responsive and requires no calibration like many touch devices. Fat fingers and all I was able to navigate through the menus and control buttons easily without error. After many hours of use with both the touch screen and remote control there is no doubt the remote is the best way to navigate the Squeezebox Touch. Even as I write this the Touch is sitting on my desk next to my keyboard, yet Iím using the remote to control the unit. This isnít a knock against the touch screen. Itís more of a compliment to the designers of the remote control. I was able to navigate the menus much quicker using the remote because of its shortcuts like the Home button and number keys that double as letter keys in the same way as a telephone touch pad. The remote control is not built from a solid block of aircraft aluminium like some audiophile components but it may be more feature rich and functional than some of those expensive bricks. Some users will be happy to learn the Squeezebox Touch can be controlled via third party automation systems like AMX and Crestron.
Configuring The Touch
There are a few different ways to get music to the Squeezebox Touch. The simplest may be using the built-in USB port, but that method has too many limitations making it less practical. For example adding new music from a CD would require removing the USB drive, ripping the CD to the USB drive, and reconnecting the USB drive to the Touch. Iím sure this method will work great for some readers and may be just the thing to get network-nervous audiophiles into the Squeezebox era.
Another method of serving music to a Squeezebox Touch is through the Windows, Mac, or Linux version of Squeezebox Server currently at version 7.5.0. Using this method requires the server software to be installed on a computer. The software must run at all times for the Squeezebox Touch to access locally stored music. This configuration works best for users with a computer that contains all music on the local hard drive and can remain on 24/7. Sure this can also work with music stored on a NAS drive but there is a much better option when a NAS is in use.
The third method of serving music to a Squeezebox Touch entails running Squeezebox Server as a module on a NAS drive and pulling the music to the Touch directly from the NAS. This is the method I settled on for the review. I installed the Squeezebox Server module v. 7.5 on my Thecus N5200B Pro NAS. There is little configuration to be done via the web interface of the NAS module. The most important item is directing Squeezebox Server to the correct music folder on the NAS itself and scanning the music folder for music.
One minor gripe I have with this part of the Squeezebox Server software is the somewhat hidden and undocumented scheduled scan feature. Nobody wants to manually scan their library every time new music is added. For some reason Logitech has hidden this feature deep within the Advanced Tab. I overlooked this complete section during the first week of the review. Scheduled scans or auto scanning seems like one of the first features any company would enable and make very conspicuous. Scheduled scans are off by default and virtually impossible to find information about on the Logitech website or Google without the exact search terms. Users unfamiliar with the scheduled scan feature have likely been using the readily visible techniques.
Logitech has made this at least workable for the uneducated by allowing one to clear the entire library and rescan everything or look for new and changed music only. This manual button is easily visible on the first page of the Server settings. Creating a MySqueezebox.com account is encouraged by Logitech and allows one to synchronize some device settings and browse the app gallery, but itís really nothing to write home about. Itís free and is pretty painless so I recommend readers create this account during setup.
Configuring the Squeezebox Touch device itself is fairly easy but not without some annoyances. The biggest time waster for me was attempting to connect the Touch to my 802.11n wireless network. I donít like to read user manuals so I tried for about 20-30 minutes to get the Touch connected. Then I downloaded the manual and searched for 802.11. It was listed only once without specifying what type of 802.11 network is required. Reluctantly I tried the 802.11g band on my Airport Extreme Simultaneous Dual Band router. The Touch connected via 802.11g using WPA2 Personal encryption (not required) without a problem.
Once connected to a network selecting the music library is as simply as browsing the touch panel and selecting the name of the library.
The only other real annoyance I have is also related to wireless networking on the Touch. Whenever the power is lost to the unit it is necessary to reselect the correct wireless network. The Touch does remember the network name and password but for some reason is unable to automatically reconnect once power is regained. Simply browsing a few levels deep into the advanced menu allows the user to select the displayed wireless network name and all is well.
Using The Touch
During this review I used the Squeezebox Touch in two different audio systems. The main system consisted of the Touch pulling music wirelessly from my Thecus NAS and connecting via Kimber Select coaxial S/PDIF cable to the Weiss Engineering DAC202. Sound quality comparisons were conducted using this Touch based system versus a Windows 7 / J River Media Center 15 computer pulling music wired from my Thecus NAS and connecting via FireWire to the Weiss DAC202. The second system consisted of the Touch pulling music wirelessly from my Thecus NAS and connecting via Kimber Select coaxial S/PDIF cable to the Peachtree Audio Nova and a pair of Avalon NP 2.0 Evolution loudspeakers. The second system was placed outside my dedicated listening room in another area of the house.
Browsing oneís music via the Squeezebox Touch is self explanatory with menus like Artists, Albums, and Genre. Iíve seen CD players more difficult to operate. In addition to browsing through standard menus the Touch allows browsing through the folder structure of the music files. This is very handy if the music library has not been rescanned since the addition of new material. As I mentioned earlier, I really like the remote control and prefer it over the actual touchscreen. One reason for this preference is the ability to quickly select letters of the alphabet using the number keypad like a telephone. For example pressing the number seven four times on the remote quickly displays artists starting with the letter S. The way to do this via the touchscreen is to press and hold a little dot/scroll bar on the right of the screen and drag it downward. This method is a little difficult at first until the right ďtouchĒ is developed by the user.
Whether sitting in my listening chair or elsewhere in the house I also used the Squeezebox Touch web interface to control music playback. The multi-touch screen of an iPad works fairly well. I spent a few minutes trying to navigate a long list of artists without any success. Using two fingers to scroll was the simple solution. The 4.3Ē screen is on the borderline in terms of viewing it from the listening position. I usually sit between nine and twelve feet from my components. I was able to view the touchscreen enough to browse the menus via remote but I wouldnít say I was easily and comfortably browsing the menus with my corrective lens aided vision. My familiarity with each menu certainly helped.
The Squeezebox Touch has a fixed viewing angle reported to be around 35 degrees. This viewing angle works very well in a couple situations. When the Touch is positioned on a component rack and one is viewing the unit from the listening position the screen is angled appropriately. In addition the Touch viewing angle is great for desktop use when the unit is only a couple feet from the user. I found the Touch a little awkward when it was placed on top of my Avalon NP 2.0 Evolution loudspeaker at roughly 35Ē plus spikes on a wood floor. At 5í 8Ē Iím not setting any height records but the Touch was still a bit low for the most comfortable use. Viewing the Touch at this height was OK, but angling oneís wrist unnaturally to navigate the menus was fatiguing. An adjustable screen angle could make this a non-issue for users set on using the touchscreen over the nice remote control.
The Touch has five different background screen selections to view during playback. The default screen displays album art, track title, artist, album, and current track position. I used this screen most of the time as it provides the information I wanted to see. The other screens are somewhat cute but get old after a few hours. Namely the Volume Unit (VU) meter screen that harks back to the analog source days. Itís not a bad feature but itís also not a feature Iíd base a purchasing decision around.
The Touch feature that surprised me most was how much I liked listening to radio stations through the device. I figured the usual Internet based radio stations and services like Pandora would be available much like nearly all devices of this type. Most of the Internet stations donít thrill me although Pandora is a wonderful service. I was surprised at the number of local FM and AM stations available with a simple tap of the screen. I didnít have to setup a custom feed or jump through any hoops to hear something local. This information is likely not new to die hard Squeezbox users but is a major selling point for people ready to dip their toes into the digital streaming water. Like any user I prefer not to purchase a component until I am certain itís capable of meeting my needs. Logitech has already addresses this issue by offering a great Station Search tool (Image 1, Image 2, Image 3). This allows potential buyers to search for radio stations they would like to hear through the Squeezebox instead of going through the hassle of purchasing the unit and returning it if it doesnít meet the userís needs.
Listening Through The Touch
Good sound from a plastic wireless music streamer for $299 may be a tough pill for some audiophiles to swallow. The Squeezebox Touch is far from a boutique product with a linear power supply and impeccable sonics. The device does have some weaknesses as most people would suspect. The typically noisy switching power supply is one weakness but it can be dealt with through proper isolation. There is no doubt the Touch stretches that $299 extremely far and will challenge some favored components for convenience and sonic superiority.
The absolute best part of the Squeezebox Touch is its ability to pass bit transparent digital audio at high resolutions including 24 bit / 88.2 kHz and 24 bit / 96 kHz. Without this capability the device wouldíve been nothing special. With this capability the device is now a serious contender. All the extra features and niceties are simply minutiae to the most serious audiophiles. Using the new Weiss Engineering DAC202ís built-in transparency test I was able to varify the following sample rates are completely bit transparent through the Logitech Squeezebox Touch.
16 bit / 44.1 kHz, 16 bit / 48 kHz, 16 bit / 88.2 kHz, 16 bit / 96 kHz
24 bit / 44.1 kHz, 24 bit / 48 kHz, 24 bit / 88.2 kHz, 24 bit / 96 kHz
When sample rates above 24/96 are passed through the Touch they are halved by the unit. 176.4 kHz material is output at 88.2 kHz and 192 kHz material is output at 96 kHz. This conversion destroys all bit transparency. I prefer devices like the Touch that at least play the music even if itís no longer perfect. Some devices will not play any material beyond the supported sample rates and that robs users of a musical experience.
During the review I only used the Touch via wireless 802.11g. The real advantage of this device is its ability to stream via wireless. I figured if it could perform via wireless it could perform via wired Ethernet. I played hours of 24/88.2 and 24/96 material and only suffered one minor dropout during playback. This may have had nothing to do with the Touch but I canít pinpoint the cause. Even playback of 24/176.4 and 24/192 wasnít an issue in terms of wireless dropouts. Throughout the house the wireless network is setup very well with two Apple Airport Extremes, one running dual bands of 802.11g and 802.11n. My experience may not translate to all networks, but I can guarantee nearly perfect wireless performance is possible.
My listening comparisons were all done using the coaxial S/PDIF output of the Touch into the coaxial S/PDIF input of the Weiss Engineering DAC202 and a Windows 7 PC running J River Media Center v 15 connecting to the DAC202 via FireWire. The Touch sounded really good with most music in my collection (Jazz, Rock, and Pop). Long term listening through the Touch wasnít fatiguing but did reveal some sonically rounded edges and a tiny bit of dullness compared to the PC/FireWire system. I will not call the Touch a dull component overall. When compared to one of the best interfaces and software configurations available it appears just a tad dull. Without a direct comparison Iím willing to bet the Touch would fall right into place in most usersí listening environments and not raise any questions about dullness. The biggest weakness of the Touch was evident during complex dynamic classical pieces. One of my go-to tracks is Michael Daughertyís Niagara Falls from Reference Recordingís Crown Imperial release performed by the Dallas Wind Symphony (16/44.1 release or 24/96 release or 24/176.4 release). Compared to the PC/FireWire system the Touch S/PDIF system was a little muddy and had a bit less separation of instruments, especially the drums, when the symphony really got going. Niagara Falls is a beautiful piece of music all the way through and offers some ďhighlightsĒ throughout. At 1:40 and 3:15 into the track are some difficult passages to reproduce on some systems. The Touch didnít best the PC/FireWire system but still offered good sound. At 5:18 there is a loud ďWAP!Ē sound from an unknown (to me) instrument. Listening through the Touch there is a lack of texture to the sound when compared to the PC/FireWire system. This texture is even more evident on extremely resolving systems like the one I heard at Magico back in December. I was in awe when we played this track through the new Magico Q5 loudspeakers. Despite these weaknesses I really like the Logitech Squeezebox Touch. The overall sound is very good through its digital outputs. Whatís there not to like about wireless bit transparency at 88.2 and 96 kHz for less than $300?
The Logitech Squeezebox Touch wireless music streamer is definitely not a classic high end audio component. Its plastic construction may even be frowned upon by some audiophiles. Those who arenít overly stubborn and are willing to try the Touch will be rewarded by a very nice product. The Touch may not be the best everyday player in a high end system, but there are countless other great system configurations where the Touch will excel. As I complete this review I am listening through a pair of Ultimate Ears UE11 Pro earphones connected to the headphone jack in back of the Touch and accessing all my music wirelessly from my desktop without involving my computer. The $299 price tag of the Touch canít be overestimated. For less than the sales tax on some audio cables the Squeezebox Touch offers wireless, high resolution, bit transparency, touchscreen, very functional remote, and very good sound quality. Although itís far from perfect the low price, terrific features, and very good sound quality guarantee the Logitech Squeezebox Touch a spot on the Computer Audiophile Suggested Hardware List (C.A.S.H.).
- Price - $299
- Squeezebox Touch Product Page - Link
- Squeezebox Touch Features Guide - Link
- Supported Audio Formats - MP3, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, WMA, Ogg Vorbis, HE-AACv2, HD-AAC, Apple Lossless, WMA Lossless, APE, MPC and WavPack.
Associate Equipment: Verity Audio Fidelio loudspeakers, McIntosh MC275 amplification, Richard Gray's Power Company High Tension Wires, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, Wavelength Audio Proton, Ayre AX-7e Integrated Amp, C.A.P.S. server, Bel Canto USB Link, Halide Design Bridge, dCS Debussy DAC, dCS Puccini U-Clock, Kimber USB Cu, Kimber USB Ag, Benchmark DAC1 PRE, Kimber Select KS1011 Analog Cables, Kimber Select KS2020 Digital Cable, Kimber Monocle X Loudspeaker Cable, ASUS Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim, Apple iPad, Sonic Studio's Amarra, M2Tech hiFace, Weiss Engineering DAC202, Lynx Studio AES16 Digital I/O Card.