Spotify and Squeezebox

There I was, mulling over how best to “break the ice” with my new blog: what could I write about that combined most, or perhaps all, of the loves in my life – home/family, music, exercise, … *cough* gadgets? Then – a flash of inspiration: Spotify and Squeezebox! I listen to a lot of music – on the train, out and about, in the mornings and evenings, when running. These days, nearly all of it comes from Spotify – through my phone when I am away, or one of our Squeezeboxes at home. Let me tell you a bit about these two, excellent and thoroughly recommended, creations.

Squeezebox

My Squeezebox 3, perched on top of a Quad 33 preampMy first Squeezebox was bought in December 2007, and has been used pretty well every day since then. I love it! If you are not familiar with Squeezebox, I’m talking about a little box about the size of an old video cassette, which plugs into a stereo. Mine (a Squeezebox 3) also connects to our wireless network (or a wired one, if that suits you better), through which it accesses the music you listen to. In my case, it does this by using a little server I set up, which holds copies of the music I own but which can also access other media using “apps”, such as BBC iPlayer and Spotify. I can control what gets played using a web browser, a small remote control or, best, using a smartphone or tablet.

I have described our first Squeezebox; we also have another one (a Duet), in our bedroom. The software allows us to control them separately or “link” them so they play the same sounds simultaneously – excellent when moving around the house a lot! It gets used FAR more than I expected, with a very high WAF (wife acceptance factor) making it all the more successful.

As an obsessive music lover/techie-type, there are some things I really love about Squeezebox. The best features, in my opinion, are:

  • Sound quality is excellent; it supports lossless music files as well as the usual mp3 etc, and sounds truly lovely through our vintage Quad 33/303 amp and Rogers speakers
  • It also supports gapless playback. This isn’t quite so unusual now, but is still worth mentioning. For certain genres of music (mainly longer classical works, prog-type “concept albums” and “Ministry of Sound”-style dance-type compilations), the music is continuous and the individual tracks are there mainly for navigation. Basically, gapless playback keeps the music continuous, where otherwise a silent gap or break would be added. So while this only really affects people who listen to this kind of music, for those of us who do it is completely essential!
  • It supports Replay Gain – a fantastic development that allows you to shuffle your way through tracks that were recorded variously quiet and loud without having to keep jumping for the volume control. In these days of ever-louder mixing, this can be a lifesaver – and even a speaker saver, perhaps.
  • The “apps” allow all sorts of extra and very useful facilities to be added to extend what it can do, too. The iPlayer app gives you easy access to all the BBC’s recent radio material, for example, there are international radio facilities and in fact many other apps I haven’t had a chance to look at yet. One app I use (MusicIP, I believe it is called) is simply miraculous, building playlists based on similarity of styles.
  • There are some really useful “bedroom” facilities – you can set it to fade the volume and go to sleep at night, for example, and I have found the alarms to be very reliable in my setup too.
  • Finally, using the excellent smartphone app for iPhone known as iPeng (see picture lower down this article), you can not only control playback really easily but also turn your phone itself into another Squeezebox player that you can sync up with the other ones or listen to independently. This is brilliant! I can listen to Radio 4 Extra, piped to the different rooms in our house and also my phone for when I go out of earshot (or cut the lawn!)

All told, it is a quality bit of kit. It isn’t all plain sailing, though, with a few problems I have had over the years:

  • It can be a bit sensitive to wireless problems: occasionally, in the past, I have had the audio cut out and stutter because of a poor wireless connection
  • While you can use it without a local server, in my view it works best with one, and setting this up may be a bit more technical than some people would like to undertake (not a problem for me, though!)
  • In the early years, I had the odd crash where I had to pull the power lead – not at all recently, though, so I guess this has been fixed with a firmware update at some point

Occasionally I consider the idea of replacing it with some kit from Sonos, which is also supposed to be very good. As I understand it, Sonos is more like Apple to Squeezebox’s PC in positioning – simpler to set up, less techie, more “just works”: very easy to use but missing out on a few possible options that appeal to me. For example, I don’t believe there is an equivalent to being able to use my phone as a player, which I use a lot now. And it doesn’t do ReplayGain quite so well, I understand.

Overall, though, I love my Squeezebox more than I can really say.

Spotify

Only a few years ago I would never have believed that, for £10 a month, I would be able to listen, at will, to pretty well whatever I wanted, wherever I was. Now, that is exactly what I do – and what fun it is!

For the uninitiated, Spotify is a completely legal music service that gives you access to an enormous amount of good quality music of all styles, on your computer, smartphone and certain other devices. Rather than buying the music, you rent it: they have an enormous catalogue to choose from, and so long as you either pay a monthly subscription or endure limits and adverts, you can listen to any of it licensed in your region. For mobile devices with paid subscriptions, you can also make music available offline: a local copy is made of the music on your device, so you can listen when disconnected from Spotify’s servers (for example on the tube, outside phone coverage etc). You don’t get to keep it, though – it can only be played back while your subscription is validated.

Spotify, as viewed through the iPeng app on my phoneSpotify have good tools and apps to help you find music and organise it into playlists to listen to and share. I have playlists I use for running, working … evenings, mornings … new sounds, familiar tunes … pop, classical … just about everything.

As ever, there are a few minor problems: one or two bands I like aren’t covered very well (I’m looking at YOU, Beatles!). And you can only use a particular account in one place at one time, so if Spotify is being played at home on the Squeezebox and I try to use it on my phone then one player or the other stops. (The workaround of using “offline mode” on my phone gets round this fairly well, though – and my wife has a second account for her phone too, as she also listens when exercising). Finally, it doesn’t yet quite match my Squeezebox server for volume level adjustment: playlists can get quieter and louder rather more when moving between different styles and albums.

Sound quality is surprisingly good on Spotify – on my Squeezebox, I generally expect 320kb/s Ogg Vorbis, for those who are interested in these things, which is easily on a par with the very best of mp3 (if not quite up to the lossless music of this world). I am happy to make an extremely small (usually, unnoticeable) sacrifice on quality, though, to gain the sheer breadth of music available to me on Spotify. On phones you can trade off size/quality, if you have a preference.

It is also a very social experience using Spotify to listen to music: a great deal of playlist sharing goes on online and through social networking sites. Some of the Twitter hashtags such as #spotify, #musictuesday etc can be fun for publishing or finding music. In this way, and sharing with friends, I have come across much music that I would never have found otherwise, so I consider Spotify to have greatly enriched my musical existence.

In case you are interested, and to get you started, here are a few links to things on Spotify:

In conclusion

Over the years, I have bought gadgets and subscribed to services that, with hindsight, were a waste of money. That is definitely not the case for my Squeezebox and Spotify: both enrich our lives in a way that transcends the technology itself. Well done, those people! *pat on the back*

Over to you!

Do you have any experience of these sorts of music services and platforms? Can you give me a reason to move to Sonos or similar, or another music service? I would love to hear any views on this subject!

2 comments

  1. Hi,
    When it all works I agree with you about the iplayer, Spotify and squeezebox combo. I run mine on a squeezebox radio and when it all works it is close to brilliant and with the extra dimension of being able to delve into my music library, all I would ever want music wise. However, it doesn’t usually work all at the same time. Things were pretty stable before I added the spotify app but since doing so the iplayer and iplayer extra do not work. Delete the spotify app and iplayer reappears and works. Another frustration is the frequent instances of having to reconnent to my network. For these reasons I would say if you have it all working, lucky you. Any prospective buyer looking for advice I would say go for Sonos, especially if your comparison to Apple stands up because the spotify and iplayer apps work fine together on my iphone!

    1. Thanks for your comment – interesting! Which Spotify app is it you are using on the Squeezebox? I’m not able to check details at the moment, but I believe there is an “official” one (green icon), and another one – called something like “spotify core” – orange, perhaps? For me, the green one never worked properly, and the other one has been mostly fine, on the whole… Apps really shouldn’t interfere with each other like that – very poor. As you say, on the iPhone they both work very nicely!

      I had a play with my brother’s Sonos the other day, and that isn’t without it’s problems either – wireless connectivity was going up and down just a little bit. He didn’t think there was an equivalent to being able to use your phone as a player, either – shame.

      So right now there is no 100% solution, it appears. If someone can just crack the last 5%, I’m sure there would be a good market out there for it!

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