With so many wireless options out there, you won't suffer for choice while you're shopping — in fact, there's such a varied array of products on the market, none of them perfect (at least not unless you're willing to shell out a tremendous amount of money), that you'll have a difficult time narrowing down your options. Obviously the ever-expanding universe of Apple's AirPlay is atttractive, but for those who'd rather avoid having a computer in the mix for every listening session — and for a new wave of tablet- and smartphone-centric listeners of the post-PC generation — devices like the PS1/PR1 and Smart Radio make a whole lot of sense.
If you're in the market for a speakerless streamer for your NAS-based music library and you already have an Android device of some sort, the PR1 seems like it'd make for an unbeatable deal. The PS1's similarly attractive if you want speakers, and even fitting out a few rooms in a house or apartment won't set you back all that much. And if Pandora satisfies your streaming needs, the Phorus may well take care of all your wireless audio needs.
If you want radio, of course, you're going to want to look elsewhere — and, as the name might indicate, the Smart Radio might be the unit you want to look at, with enough streaming and Internet radio services onboard that you're unlikely to want for content. Access to your own files — even if they're stored on a network drive — still requires a computer running its dedicated server, which I actually find more frustrating than the necessity of having the Smart Radio connected to the Internet to get those files to play. Sure, in this the Radio functions in the same way as its Squeezebox ancestor, but especially as we enter the post-PC era, the Smart Radio would be a near-perfect casual entertainment device for music enthusiasts if it could act as a full-fledged DLNA player (rather than just a renderer), with access to everything right from its own front panel.
There are some other alternatives (aside from going the AirPlay/PlayTo route and simply using a computer or tablet as a source for a variety of apps). At around the same price point as the Smart Radio is the very similar looking Grace Mondo, which offers more limited streaming options (though not anywhere near as limited as Play-Fi is at this point) with Pandora, and a wide range of Internet radio stations on hand. Grace does, on the other hand, give you direct access to music stored on network drives or computers on your network, without an intervening computer running a proprietary server (and the Mondo even has a USB port so you can just hook up a drive full of content). And it's got RCA analog line out jacks around back, which is handy (especially considering it doesn't sound quite as nice as the Smart Radio).
But the lack of compelling streaming offerings is a downside here, however, and overall performance is a lot wonkier than the Smart Radio's.
I could, of course, get the desired mix of functionality (NAS access plus a myriad of streaming options) and very solid performance, over an independent mesh network, from a Sonos Play:3 (which'll cost you 100 bucks more), but the Sonos doesn't have the Smart Radio's friendly front panel, requiring a controller app, whether it's on a smartphone, tablet or PC/Mac. It does do multizone, which outdoes Phorus' multiroom system but at at the very least that'll run $100 to $150 more per room.
Nothing's perfect, I suppose, and we're still waiting for a perfect do-it-all unit around $200. But for now, depending on your needs. If what you really want is super-simple access to your own files, the Phorus will do a great job (if you're already an Android fan or willing to pick up an inexpensive device like a Fire as a brain), and the possibility of building a reasonably priced, nicely performing whole-house system with it is quite appealing. If you want the fullest possible access to streaming services and radio, appreciate having front-panel controls, and you're willing to do a little work to access your own content, the Smart Radio will serve you just fine, as its predecessors have served legions of Squeezebox fans.
And in both cases, there're sure to be further interesting developments in the coming months. Stay tuned!
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