Roku Soundbridge - a Squeeze Player Once More

Posted by trig on July 29, 2014

Remember the Roku Soundbridge? Roku launched it in 2004 at the princely price of $300, but stopped selling the range in 2008. By then, Roku had realized that more people watch TV than listen to music, and so they launched their current immensely successful range of Roku media streaming devices starting with the fore-runner of them all, the Roku DVP, which was primarily a Netflix device. 

In an earlier blog, we explained how the Roku 3 and Roku 2 now work quite well streaming music from a Logitech Media Server version 7.8, which is a pleasant surprise, considering that they did not work with the two previous versions, 7.7.2 or 7.7.3. Now the further good news is that 7.8.0 brings the vintage 2004 Roku Soundbridge back to life as well. 

I was busy working at rearranging the chaos in the attic, when I found a Soundbridge M1000 in a box of redundant and forgotten technology bits. On a whim, and perhaps also to get away from moving boxes around, I thought I would try it out on the network. I didn't have much hope.

The specification tells me that the Soundbridge is limited to 16/48 files in audio formats WMA, AAC, ALAC, WAV, MP3 and AIFF - but no FLAC. So if this is going to work, then some transcoding, bit truncation and sample rate conversion is going to have to happen somewhere along the chain. Originally (2004/5) this device worked well with iTunes and with SlimServer. Over the years, Roku seemed to be fighting a losing battle with Apple's frequent changes to iTunes, and eventually had to recommend to users that they should use Firefly media server instead. As a Squeezebox player, it seemed to come and go, and last time I tried, it was gone. 

I just happen, temporarily, to have three Squeezebox Servers running. One is on Linux (Vortexbox) at version 7.2.2, another is on a Mac server at 7.2.3, and the latest is a new Vortexbox 7.8.0 installation running on a very old desktop. So I was able to try the Roku Soundbridge on all three. I used just FLAC files, and all "FIle Type" settings on the servers were left at default, just to see what would happen.

  • 7.2.2: Nothing. The Soundbridge could see the server but couldn't connect. Quaintly, it saw it as "Slimserver" not as "Logitech Media Server".
  • 7.2.3: The Soundbridge saw this one as both LMS and as Slim. Slim didn't work, LMS did but only for CD-quality and 24/48 files, not for 24/88 or 24/96.
  • 7.8.0: The Soundbirdge saw this as LMS, and it worked for all FLAC files: 16/44, 16/48, 24/48, 24/88, 24/96, although of course anything above 16/48 would necessarily have been cut down. 

In summary, the Soundbridge plays all the Squeezebox files the Roku 3 can play. I was hoping that LMS 7.8 was transcoding the FLAC files into WAV or AIFF but it turned out that it was converting the files to highest-quality MP3. Never mind.

How does it sound? The Soundbridge built-in DAC is not brilliant, even though $300 was a lot of money in 2004, so the analog output failed to impress. But the Soundbridge is equipped with both coax and optical SPDIF outputs, so it can feed its PCM bits into a worthy DAC. Yes, that works, thank you. The Soundbridge works as a respectable almost-CD-quality Squeeze player, as does the Roku 3. Nevertheless, used with a good external DAC or SSP, the stereo music sounds rather good. Not audiophile, but OK for casual listening. The Roku 3 sends its bits over HDMI, the Soundbridge over SPDIF. Pairing either device with a suitable DAC or SSP provides much more enjoyment than using the built-in analog outputs.

If you don't happen to have a Soundbridge lying around, then you can buy a used one on eBay or Amazon, but you should shop around because the prices are all over the place: from just a few dollars up to twice the price of a Roku 3. If you really need an audiophile player, skip both the Soundbridge and Roku 3 and wait for the Roku 4. Someone started a rumor that the Roku 4 will actually request and receive a FLAC stream from the LMS and decode up to 24/96. Wouldn't that be good?

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