In answer to second part of your question:
Yes you can access your entire library on you ATV using a itouch, which will display track info and album art. Additonally anytime you add music on to your PC the ATV is updated wirelessly on wifi everytime you open itunes
you don't connect your AppleTV to the PC it wirelessly will grab the iTunes accounts from up to 5 PC's and manage them all. It's very cool and easy to use. IF you have iTunes it is super easy to use, and does movies, YouTube....
I love mine.
In answer to the first question about the Squeezebox, there is a setting on the player to choose either fixed level output or a variable level that can be controlled with the remote.
However, the subject has been discussed in great detail on the Slimdevices forum and the designers state there is no loss of detail as long as the volume is kept in roughly the top 40% of its range if you choose to use the variable output.
I have a Squeezebox 3 (now called the Classic) and a Duet player. Both are great and I'm satisfied with the user interface and extremely pleased with the audio quality through my external DAC. I've absolutely no urge to switch to anything else.
Basically a lifestyle choice - all about how you want to interface with your music.
The SB has to get the files from somewhere - there is no way to rip directly into Squeezebox... so you rip into iTunes and access the library through the SB browser, or you rip to something else (FLAC if you are a PC person) and do the same.
This is a classic Mac versus PC thing - Mac is Apple Lossless. PC is EAC to FLAC. You are pretty much stuck with the OS. The big difference here is that the SB will do FLAC...
Apple TV can be linked to your master library and/or you can download any combination of media up to the capacity of the ATV you purchase. Personally I replaced an SB3 with an ATV preferring the HDMI link to my pre-pro in my HT rig, but that was more about engineering then sound quality.
Please note that the ATV itself has no impact on sound quality. It is a question of what you connect it to.
In comparison, the SB offers the choice of using the built-in analog or feeding SPDIF to an external DAC.
I found that by the time Wayne at Bolder gets done with a power supply upgrade and an analog upgrade you have a wonderful source for much less then most name DACs. On the other hand if you already have a DAC you are happy with and it has an available input, that could tip the scales and would certainly save you the mod cost.
Obviously both the SB and the ATV can be connected via Ethernet or WiFi so that's a push.
I would have to give the SB a slight edge if your goal is a multi-room setup with each room being able to access its own music.
You can navigate the ATV with an iPhone or iTouch, or simply do it on screen if you are set up that way. There are various PDAs that can be combined with 3rd party software to navigate the SB browser. There is no way that I know of (which don't mean jack) to put the SB browser on anything but a computer display.
If you are also an iPod user, I think that it makes sense to keep it all in the Apple family.
Hope this is somewhat helpful. As I said at the top,this is a lot more about how you are going to use it and what else you have going on.
If you do run multiple Duet receivers (I do) you can sync them to play the same music as well. Not always useful but in the summer with the house opened up during a party or cookout, you can play the same music everywhere.
I have to say that using an external DAC makes a HUGE difference in SQ. I'd suggest always using one with a Duet. You don't have to spend that much either, as some very good DAC's like the Musical Fidelity V-DAC, and CA DACMagic work very well for not that much $$.
My vote would be to go with a Sonos system. It's got the best reliability, a great iTouch remote ap (free), and it's got fixed or variable outs either analog, coax or optical. So you can connect it to pretty much anything and everything. And you can use iTunes to rip your cd collection and get most of the album art to show up.
I haven't compared them to SB, or ATV, but a recent review by Steven Stone who did review all three came down in favor of the Sonos system. It's worth checking out.
Another vote for Sonos, especially if you ever plan on adding more that one zone. Sonos is the clear winner when it comes to whole house music. I just setup mine this weekend and it was unbelievably painless. My only complaint is that it doesn't play WMA lossless only Apple and FLAC lossless formats, and is expensive... but you get what you pay for and the Sonos just works, always... period.
...and the Sonos just works, always... period.
Except for those people who post to the Sonos forum asking for help because their system doesn't work. ;-)
Seriously, I've been involved with both computers and music reproduction systems for a very long time and no option is guaranteed trouble free.Sonos has tried hard to make their system easier to use, albeit at a higher price and with reduced flexibility in certain areas compared to other options, but you still can't pretend that some users aren't going to have difficulties with setup and operation.
The best bet is to find stores that sell each of the products you're considering and get a live demo.
Like you, I was considering the SB Duet and Apple TV. The detailed article, "Music Servers for Audiophiles," which appeared in the August 2008 edition of The Absolute Sound, was extremely helpful in allowing me to make an informed decision. That particular issue of TAS is titled, The Digital Issue, and features many articles on music servers and digital playback. The aforementioned article compared the Duet and the Apple TV, complete with The Sonic Shoot-Out, Features, benefits and shortcomings. I dont know if TAS has a digital archive, but if you can find that particular issue of TAS, I think you will benefit from the information/articles. Either way you go, I can tell you that you are going to love having a music server.
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful and quick replies. In the end, having little Apple experience (other than iPOD), I chose the Duet. My plan is to pair it with a VortexBox NAS as this will allow me to run the setup without a PC. In fact, the guys at VortexBox say that if I have no need for more than 2 zones, I don't need the SB receiver at all. (Too late as I already purchased the Duet which has both the Controller and Receiver).
Nevertheless, I appreciate your comments! MW
I run an Apple TV through the Cambridge DacMagic and the sound is fabulous, (huge improvement over the Apple TV's internal DAC.)
Advantage of Apple TV over Squeezebox is that you also have a video feed that you can play through an HD monitor that gives you an excellent menu including all album art. (And the advantage of having your photos on screen as well, playing to music.)
Apple TV also allows you to sync music to be the same coming out of all the boxes if you've got a computer streaming the music. Just set the speakers to multiple. (Similar to Sonos "party" mode.)