A mobile Squeezebox: iPeng
My home music network is generally, as we say in the UK, sorted. I've music players in my lounge, kitchen and office, all working off the same Squeezebox Server, so I can browse and enjoy all of my music all of the time.
But what about when I'm not in one of those rooms? What about when I'm doing housework (a rare event, I grant you), DIY or gardening? What if I'm out of the house, in a record store browsing CDs and want to check I don't have a particular album or recording? I need a mobile Squeezebox, a way to browse and listen to music from my Squeezebox system wherever I am at home, or away from home.
What are the requirements? The mobile squeezebox must be portable and navigable enough so I can browse my full music collection. It needs to be able to playback music from my collection, if possible. And of course, I want to be able to see all the cover art in my Squeezebox collection.
The Squeezebox Radio is an official Logitech product. It has an integrated speaker, (optional) rechargeable batteries and a colour screen that you can navigate your collection on. Best prices in the UK at the moment are about £100.
I think the main advantage of the Radio is its integrated speaker which lives up to the generally good reputation of Squeezebox products. Unfortunately, its other features don't really satisfy my other requirements. It's too bulky to take out of the home, making it a mobile in-home solution only. Its screen and control are not really optimised for extensive navigation and the screen itself is rather small, limiting how fast you can search for music. The battery pack is actually optional, further limiting the portability unless you pay out the extra for the pack. The Squeezebox Radio appears a good device for occasionally moving from room-to-room, but it's not the fully mobile solution I'm looking for.
Enter iPeng. iPeng is not a hardware device, like Squeezebox Radio. Instead, you install it on either your iPad or iPhone. It's available on the App Store, so installation is easy.
Once started up on your iDevice, and assuming your iPad or iPhone is on the same network as your Squeezebox Server, iPeng can automatically discover and connect to your Squeezebox Server, a bit like how the Squeezebox devices themselves do. If you're not on the same network or you want to access your server remotely, perhaps while out-and-about, you can add in the external IP address. Of course, you must make the Squeezebox Server available remotely yourself, and this normally requires a few firewall rules be setup.
Browsing music is in a different league to the Squeezebox Radio. While the Radio requires you to use the fiddly buttons on the device and a small screen, with iPeng you benefit from the large screen, high resolution and capacitive touchscreen of the iPhone or iPad. It becomes almost a joy to flick through your music, and your album art appears in all its high resolution glory.
Music playback is a new feature for iPeng. You can use the internal speakers on the iDevices, but you're best off with some decent headphones or plugging into some of the many external speakers available. One thing to watch out for is that if you are on your cellular/mobile network and your music is in a lossless audio format then you will need to 'transcode' (convert) on the server into a supported format. This is because lossless music files are so large, and to transfer them would be take a long time, leading to 'buffering' problems, and also cost you a lot of money depending on your data plan. To transcode music on a Squeezebox Server, you can use LAME. There's no such restriction over Wi-Fi, of course.
From a portability point of view, iPeng inherits the characteristics of your iPhone or iPad device. Suffice to say, iPeng is highly portable and ideal for taking around with you while you browse for new music, wherever you are.
At $10 from the App Store, it's also a lot cheaper than the Squeezebox Radio. Look at it this way: you are re-using the hardware you've already purchased in your iPhone and iPad. This makes it much more cost effective, I think.
Overall, the iPeng is a much better fit to my mobile Squeezebox requirements. It's a developing piece of software with a strong community, so I advise any iDevice and Squeezebox owners to check it out.