Easter roundup

· hifi ·

I've had a pretty busy few weeks: just before Easter I was Chairing and helping to organise a two day symposium. In a classic bit of unfortunate timing, my 40th birthday was the day before it started, so I was much too preoccupied and stressed to do any celebrating (or drowning of sorrows). As a result, I was determined to take the full week after Easter off, to relax properly and actually celebrate my birthday in my own quiet way.

I've had a lovely week, with a great mixture of lazing around and various walks and visits to National Trust places. We also visited Ikea, and managed a record-setting hat trick of full circuits of their retail structure (Showroom, Marketplace, checkout) before we actually managed to find and/or remember every item we came to get. We managed to leave without filing for divorce, but it was a slightly close run thing. Anyway, that provided the raw material for our new bedside shelves, which I put up myself and am quite proud of. Since then I've also run the cables for the lamps through conduit attached to the wall, so it looks a bit more professional.

When friends and family enquired about ideas for birthday gifts, I asked for money, because I wanted to put it towards a Logitech Squeezebox system for our bedroom. Now that we have all our music centralised on the Mac mini in the living room, it makes sense to be able to listen to it anywhere in the house. I'm not very keen on the new models which have colour touch screens, as I really like the old vacuum fluorescent displays, and think they look much more elegant. If I want to see album art, I can always use iPeng on the iPhone to do that. I'm very fond of the discontinued Squeezebox Classic, having used its predecessor, SliMP3 for many years. We still use that attached to the stereo in the living room, but because it does not have a wireless receiver, we can't use it elsewhere in the house. I had originally planned to pick up a Squeezebox Classic and add a pair of powered speakers. But in the end, I went for a Squeezebox Boom for the bedroom, and I'm very happy with my choice.

'Boom' is a terrible name for the product, because it makes you think that they audio quality is going to be dreadful. In fact, despite the small, integrated speakers and consequent inevitable lack of stereo separation, the audio quality is remarkably good. The sound is balanced and clean, with none of the boomyness or tinniness you might expect. Of course, it doesn't compare to listening to music through a good amp and floorstanding speakers in the living room, but it's very good and listening to music or the radio is very enjoyable.

The unit is beautifully designed, and surprisingly solid and weighty. It has been designed as a bedroom music player, so there is a dedicated snooze button on top, and the display automatically dims and brightens so that it does not light up the bedroom at night. You can set multiple alarms to go off on preselected days, and you can use a playlist or internet radio station as the source. For years, I have woken up to Radio 4, but — while using Awaken on the iPhone as an interim alarm clock — I came to enjoy waking up to a specially selected 'Morning' playlist. I've chosen some uplifting but fairly gentle tracks, and I find it quite a treat to see what the shuffle feature has delivered for me to wake up to each morning. I got 'Space Girl' by The Imagined Village on my birthday, which was great, and on a recent, gloriously sunny morning, we woke to 'John Ball' by Chris Wood which felt like a blessing of some kind.

There are lovely touches to the design. The unit slopes backwards on the upper surface, but there is a rubber-covered area around the snooze button and the indentation behind. This is magnetised, so that the slim remote sticks to the indentation and doesn't fall off. The buttons on the machine are gently illuminated with white light, but when it is on standby only the power button (the only one you need at that point) is lit up. The SqueezeCenter server software also allows a lot of customisation of the menus and displays, so you can set it up how you want.

The story doesn't quite end there. After I'd bought the Boom and enjoyed it so much, I started to think that it would be even better if I could also listen to music through a Squeezebox in the office. Oh how the hi-fi compulsion spreads once it has got a foothold... I happened to see an ex-demo Squeezebox Classic on eBay for a very good price, still with a two year warranty. I couldn't resist, so I now have a Classic in the office, hooked up (for now ^1^) to my existing Logitech computer speakers. It sounds great, and what is even better is that I can sync the Boom and the Classic, so that I have seamless music all through the top floor of our house.

The consequence of all this is that I am listening to my music collection much more now. I still enjoy sitting down and listening 'properly' to music on my system downstairs, but the reality is the the time I can allocate to just listening is limited. The Squeezeboxes upstairs mean that I can get a lot more listening in while doing other things, which was my main intention. I love music, and I love being surrounded by it. As a bonus, the new Squeezeboxes link up to my Last.fm account and scrobble all the music I play on them, so if you follow that, you'll get a much more accurate picture of my musical taste than before.

^1^ "For now" is my brain's weaselly way of already earmarking the speakers for upgrading to something better as soon as I have the money, without actually acknowledging to myself that that's what I'm planning to do.