- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2008

COLUMN:

With apologies to Pete Townshend and the Who - not to mention Laura Branigan and Tenacious D - the squeezebox issue first raised in 1976 has seen a polarity reversal.

Instead of an accordion, the squeezebox to which I’m referring is a near-perfect wireless audio device that will set you back $299 but is worth every last cent.

It’s the Logitech Squeezebox Boom and it’ll use your computer, Internet connection and Wi-Fi router to bring something incredible to any room in your house. It’s a great product any music lover would appreciate, any news junkie will jones for and any sports fanatic will enjoy.

With either an Ethernet cable or the aforementioned Wi-Fi, the Squeezebox Boom will connect you with your home computer to summon up MP3 and iTunes files, and with Internet radio providers such as Pandora, Rhapsody, Sirius, Last.fm, Slacker, MP3tunes, RadioTime, Radio IO and Live365. Sirius is a subscription service (after a 30-day trial) and Rhapsody, Slacker and Live365 offer subscription options. Even without the paid services, there’s more than enough online radio to make this a worthwhile purchase.

A personal illustration: Although fine classical music is available on local FM radio, no station has touched me as has WQXR-FM in New York City. It’s the classical station I grew up with, and, having moved away, I’ve missed it over the years. The station has been available online for a few years, first via AOL and now via iTunes and RealPlayer. What this means, in technical terms, is that WQXR-FM has an Internet address. Program the address into the Squeezebox Boom, and I’m almost transported back in time.

The “programming” is accomplished via any household computer connected to the Internet and your home network. The online interface isn’t too difficult to manage, and many setup tasks also can be accomplished from the device. It took me about a half-hour to get the Squeezebox Boom up and running.

The system costs about one-third that of the Sonos player system that, I must confess, I have yet to assemble - the boxes seem too intimidating. The sound output of the Squeezebox Boom is advertised as being 30 watts; all I know is that it’s enough to fill a room quite nicely. There’s a nice remote control that’ll let you flip through a bunch of presets and all the available services on your device.

No, I haven’t bridged the device to iTunes, but I have found more than enough items online not to worry about that.

The Logitech device has it all over many of its competitors. About a year ago, I received a Com-One Phoenix Wi-Fi radio, which sells for $195 on amazon.com, about $80 below its list price. That device is tiny, and though the sound is not tinny, it’s no Squeezebox.

Until a company such as Bose enters the fray, I think Logitech will have the high ground in wireless Internet radio players. You can’t beat the Squeezebox Boom for quality of sound, ease of use or value for the money - and it’s got an alarm clock with battery backup, so you can wake up to the radio of your youth, or the music of your choice.

For those who don’t want a wireless Internet radio, there are other ways to enjoy digital music in rooms away from your computer. The Sony ICFC1IPBLK - don’t look at me; they named it - is a wonderful $100 addition that’ll not only wake you with music from your iPod or iPhone (including the 3G) but also will charge said device, letting you get up and go with a fully charged battery.

I bought the Sony device shortly after my 3G iPhone arrived; it’s a great waker-upper. It, too, has a remote control, radio presets (for over-the-air stations) and two alarm settings to let you wake at one time and a partner at another.

Sony, which got its start making little transistor radios, probably has forgotten more about good audio than most of us will ever know. The sound is excellent, operation is easy, and docking is perfect. I recommend this device highly; you can find it at Apple Inc.’s retail outlets, other sellers and online at amazon.com for about 30 percent off the list price.

• What are you tuning in? E-mail Mark Kellner.