Roku SoundBridge M1000

By Naomi Graychase

February 22, 2006

Music fans looking for a stylish and highly compatible media player will appreciate the M1000.

In the wireless network music player market, Roku’s SoundBridge M1000 ($199.99) stands out for its features and its affordability—and its good looks certainly don’t hurt, either.

Released by Palo Alto-based Roku in 2003, the M1000 is the last remaining network music player in what used to be a three-model line. The entry-level M500 and the larger (17” vs. 10”) but identically-featured M2000 were discontinued earlier this year due to the much greater popularity of the M1000.

SoundBridge is an excellent choice for those who want to listen to their digital music collections (or Internet radio) without being within earshot of their computers—or in some cases, even turning them on.

Roku Soundbridge M1000The M1000 is a lightweight aluminum cylindrical unit with a modern industrial look to its design. It sports a 5½” x ½” (280x16) VFD (Vacuum Florescent Display) that is easy to read from almost any angle, and it comes with a small base mount and remote control. The size, design and base mount make SoundBridge easy to move from room to room. Its settings are saved when unplugged, so users can move it from bedroom to kitchen to living room to backyard as needed. The only limit is the strength of your network’s range.

The remote control is ergonomically designed, comfortable to hold and not overly large, but many of its buttons are not intuitive. Users will likely need to spend some time experimenting or reading the manual to put it fully to use. Since it’s the only way to interact with the device, this is definitely worth doing.

The M1000 streams music from your PC (or Mac)—or radio direct from the Internet—over 802.11b/g networks; it also has an Ethernet (10/100 RJ-45) port for wired networks. The M1000 is only a music player; it doesn’t have any storage capacity of its own.

To access stored music, it requires access to a music server, which most users will already have installed on their systems. SoundBridge is compatible with Windows Media Connect, iTunes, Rhapsody, Musicmatch Jukebox, and SlimServer, for example.

Once the player is configured, users can tune in to a handful of pre-programmed Internet radio stations, including an '80s station, a world news station, and a jazz station, without turning on their computers. To access other stations, at least one computer must be on, with a compatible music server running and sharing enabled.

SoundBridge plugs directly into powered speakers by 1/8” cable, or to a stereo system’s Aux (or other Line Input port) using RCA (red/white) audio cables, which are included. (SoundBridge also has coaxial or optical SPDIF digital connectors, but cables are not included.)

Once the unit and the speakers are powered on, SoundBridge will automatically search for a Wi-Fi network. If it finds only one and if that network has no security keys set, it will automatically connect to the PC with the server software installed. If it detects more than one network, users are prompted to enter the correct SSID. If a security key is required, users must do a bit of detective work to find the point where they can enter the information. The prompt for entering WEP keys is vague, and a bit of scrolling is necessary to locate the right menu, but once it has been chosen, configuring and connecting are quick and easy. For users who aren’t able to locate the correct menu selection on their own, the user’s manual is exceptionally clear and well-written, with instructions that are genuinely helpful for each phase of setup and use.

Support for a long list of formats is among SoundBridge’s strongest selling points. It supports WMA, AAC, MP3, WAV and AIFF files. It also features built-in support for iTunes, Rhapsody, Windows Media Connect and Windows Media 10, as well as any UPnP server such as Musicmatch or Twonkyvision. Playlists, including iTunes’ Smart Playlists, are accessible, searchable and browsable, although some of the browse and search features vary depending on the type of music server used. 

Overall, Roku stacks up well against its competitors. It sells for $100 less than both the similarly-featured and attractive Slim Devices’ Squeezebox v3, and the bulkier, Ethernet-only SkipJam iMedia Audio Player. It’s significantly less expensive than the higher-end Sonos Digital Music System, which costs more than $1,000 for multi-room configuration (and requires that the first $500 unit be plugged directly into a router via Ethernet, likely putting it in close proximity it to a computer it doesn't even need, which is odd considering that the whole point of network music players is to get away from the computer). With a system like Sonos, users are paying for the extra sound quality. But for users who already have a stereo or good speakers, SoundBridge should more than satisfy.

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