Logitech UE Boombox, Bluetooth streaming on the go
Early attempts at streaming music to a speaker set from a portable device were a bit clumsy. A rudimentary, and low powered, FM transmitter plugged into the audio port of any given device and if the user lived in an area with an uncluttered radio dial, it was easy to listen to iPod-contained music on a home stereo, or other such receiver. It\'s ten years later now, and Bluetooth speakers dot the landscape replacing the rudimentary first efforts to cut the audio cord. Just like wired speakers, there is a large range of performance, and associated costs to sort through before purchasing a wireless set. Peripheral manufacturer Logitech purchased Ultimate Ears, or UE, in 2008 with the express purpose of rolling out its own line of wired and wireless streaming devices. The Logitech UE Boombox is the fruit of that purchase. Where does this $249 device fit on the ever-expanding line of Bluetooth streaming devices aimed at the music enthusiast?
The technical specs of the speaker set are excellent. Maximum sound level is 102 dB, with a 55hz through 20kHz frequency range. Two half-inch tweeters are paired with two three-inch woofers and four 2.63-inch passive radiators. Eight bluetooth devices can be paired to the boom box, with three operating at any given time. A 1/8-inch jack can be used to directly connect an audio source to the boom box if desired. According to the specifications, a full battery charge lasts for up to six hours of playback between charges, but our testing found this to vary somewhat based on volume and ambient temperature, but never less than five hours.
The speaker is visually attractive, but not what one would call striking. The perforated aluminum invokes the G5/Mac Pro tower, and the blue end caps strike this reviewer and another Electronista staffer as calling back to the Blue and White G3 front panel. It has style without flash, and neither stands out nor detracts from its surroundings. This is both good and bad -- the design choices make it clear that it is supposed to be a fancy speaker, but it\'s not so spiffy that its a head-turner. This all said, we\'re not sure what the Boombox is missing from a design standpoint, but it is lacking something.
Design cues only take an audio product so far. We tested the Logitech UE Boombox with a variety of musical styles and compositions including classical, modern rock, classic rock, adult contemporary, rap, heavy metal, and dubstep. All tracks were ripped from an original CD, at four different bitrates: 128kbit MP3 encoded using iTunes 10.6.3, average 256kbit AAC VBR with Max 0.9.1, 256kbit AAC with iTunes 11, and Apple lossless with iTunes 11. Following this reviewer\'s personal assessment of the device, we used our five-person testing panel, as we did with the Geneva Model XS and Model M, and comparatively listened to nearly eight hours of music.
Audio quality is excellent at very low volumes to about 80 percent of maximum, with less emphasis on bass than most streaming sets we\'ve tested. Heavier bass tracks distorted slightly at very high volumes -- but the volumes that the device distorted at approached pain level at close range to the speaker, so this isn\'t a major problem. This box is very loud, suitable for parties, and other venues where clean, loud music is needed.
We did try to alter the performance of the speaker with uneven power, and didn\'t experience any problems. If the power drops below the level where the battery is required, there is a momentary drop of the audio stream, but it is nearly immediately picked up. The sound reproduction isn\'t quite as pristine as the Geneva Model M, but this isn\'t a bad thing. Our testing panel preferred listening to live performances on the Logitech UE Boombox than on the Model M because of a very, very slight \"dirtiness\" to the streamed music.
Some minor \"user interface\" issues, for lack of a better term, manifested themselves during our testing. One of the blue panels is the local control of volume for the device. While it is pretty clear that the + raises volume and the - lowers it, there\'s no audible clue that the volume is changing, and the increments of the volume shift are very, very small, and can be imperceptible. Similarly, there needs to be a clearer indication that the battery is running low. Yes, there is a LED signal, but this needs to be made more clear to the user.
This isn\'t the first Bluetooth audio streaming device we\'ve reviewed, and it certainly won\'t be the last. Every manufacturer has an angle, a market segment that is the target for the product, and Logitech is no exception. The UE Boombox isn\'t the Bose Wave, nor a Geneva device, but it isn\'t trying to be. Every speaker set is different, and as always, Electronista recommends side-by-side comparisons pre-purchase for individual judgement. We found the Logitech UE Boombox to be a solid set, with excellent audio playback -- only the nature of doubly-compressed music with the A2DP streaming and some relatively minor human interface issues ding an otherwise excellent, affordably priced, product.