Logitech and Ultimate Ears Birth a Dandy Litter of Portable Gear
Editors Note: I love living in Montana, but there are a few drawbacks. One big one for me at the moment is that all the PR junkets introducing new products usually happen thousands of miles away in New York. Bummer. Fortunately, a good friend and and long time headphone hobbyist Dinny FitzPatrick (known as "The Monkey" on Head-Fi) lives there, and has volunteered to lend a hand scouting out the new gear that shows up in the Big Apple. Last month he attended the release of a bunch of new gear from Logitech/UE. His report follows...and just like a monkey, it's quite entertaining.
But, again, like a Monkey, he's likely to be rather difficult to restrain, so I've given him a long leash, and we're likely to see a variety of writings from him. Welcome aboard Dinny! The banana budget is approved, write to your heart's content.
Logitech/UE Introduces a Bevy of New Portable Audio Gear
Back when Logitech purchased Ultimate Ears, there was a collective groan among headphone enthusiasts. UE was the IEM darling-manufacturers of THE statement IEMs. Logitech was a...computer mouse company? But that initial reaction was a misconception. Logitech itself had some serious audio chops, especially for a company that most people knew for its PC peripherals. For example, the Squeezebox. That's an audiophile-grade platform. So, maybe the pairing made a bit more sense than is seemed at first blush.
Fast forward a few years. UE and Logitech have continued to offer some excellent audio products, but have operated in many ways as separate entities distinct product lines...until now. It appears that the integration is complete. The manifestation of this marriage is not just a new headphone, but an entirely new personal audio product line; the first to be branded as Logitech UE. And I think there's reason to be excited.
I met with senior executives from Logitech UE as they did their East Coast tour supporting the new product line. A few things became apparent to me almost immediately: these guys knew what they were talking about; they had a very clear vision for this product line; and they didn't bullshit. That's a good combination.
Logitech UE emphasizes that this product line is not necessarily aimed at or tuned for the "audiophile." Rather, Logitech UE has in its sights music lovers who simply want to have access to their music 24/7, whether it's in a communal sharing mode like a speaker, or a more immersive experience like a headphone. The product line runs from wireless speakers and a smart radio, to headphones and IEMs.
Logitech UE wanted these products to be simple--to just work out of the box. So products that rely on battery power come pre-charged, a nice touch. I appreciate Logitech UE's honesty here: these are not audiophile-grade products (whatever that really means), but they are products that they believe will make music lovers happy.
As headphone enthusiasts/audiophiles, it may sound like a step back for UE, with Logitech focusing on the more mid-fi section of the market. But let's be honest, that's where the money is. And I believe there's a benefit here to Logitech UE's focus on the more mainstream market. Consumers are finally understanding and demanding better sound from their personal audio devices and the stock buds that come with them. Perhaps now it's time for the next step in the "audio education" of the masses. And that next step is not a Sennheiser HD 800 or a used Stax 007 mk1--along with the expensive amps to drive them. That's not a logical transition for the casual listener who wants better sound. Rather, mainstream audio gear purchasers are ready to buy more products that sound good in every aspect of their various listening environments. The reason that's good for us is that it ups the stakes across the board. By raising the baseline expectations of what is "good" audio, we all win. In this sense, I see this as a sort of trickle-up phenomenon. More listeners listening to better products will create further demand, which will lead to more innovation and, in the end, more audiophiles. And that's good for our hobby.
In my meeting with Logitech UE, I got to do some very limited listening, not enough to draw definitive conclusions, but the products sound promising and well-suited for their intended audience.
Now, just what the hell are these new products and how do they work?
Logitech UE wants its customers to have their music with them all the time. Inside, outside, wherever. Part of this ecosystem includes boomboxes, which are certainly not a novel concept in this crowded field. But Logitech UE has given a considerable amount of thought to the operation and design of these devices that could easily make them compelling to consumers. They connect wirelessly via Bluetooth to your tablet or smart phone, have pre-charged rechargeable batteries, and are platform agnostic, which means that they don't care whether you have an iPhone or a Droid.
Mobile Boombox ($99.99)
True to its name, the Mobile Boombox is a small, rugged wireless speaker. It has a rubberized outer skin with metal speaker grills, and comes in 5 different color combos. Simple touch controls (volume and power) are big soft-press buttons on top of the device. The device measures 4.4" x 2.6" x 2.4" (L x W x H), weighs just a shade more than half-a-pound, and has a solid feel while remaining very easily "just throw it in your bag" portable. The Mobile Boombox actually feels good in your hand.
With a claimed 10 hours of battery life, the Mobile Boombox is recharged using its micro USB charger. You simply pair your smart phone or tablet with the Mobile Boombox via Bluetooth--which has a range of up to 50 feet. A nice touch is that the Logitech UE Boomboxes support multipoint pairing, which means that more than one person can pair their Bluetooth smartphone at a time with the boombox. In the case of the Mobile Boombox, 2 users can pair their smartphones at a time. Have fun dueling DJs!
Though small, the Mobile Boombox sports two active 1" full-range drivers and one passive "radiator," which Logitech UE further describes as a "bass pressure driver." That's a fair amount of oomph in a small package, and you can hear it. From my brief listening session, the sound is rich and clear, and didn't seem to clip or distort at higher volumes, one of the failings I've noticed on other models with similar aspirations. This would make an excellent lounge chair device or speaker for shared listening in a smallish environment. Further, the Mobile Boombox can act as a speakerphone for voice or video calls due to its built-in microphone. The device is smart enough to pause music when you get a phone call and start up again when you're done yappin'. I'd be very curious to try this device as a PC speaker because I'm always trying to find a small speaker(s) that sound good but won't make my wife crazy by taking up our already limited desk space. (The Mobile Boombox can also be connected to a source via an analog 3.5 mm cable.)
At 99 bucks, I think this product has a chance to be that kind of device that people didn't know how they did without.
The Mobile Boombox's big brother is the Logitech UE Boombox. It is a wireless Bluetooth speaker with a wireless range of up to 50 feet. It will also accept a 3.5mm audio input. A sleek stainless steel body with rubberized accents and an integrated aluminum handle will remind many of the various Apple designs. So will the fit and finish, which is excellent. The Boombox is not small, but it is easily transportable, measuring roughly 15.2" x 3.1" x 6.5 (L x W x H) and weighing in at about 4.5 pounds without the power adapter.
Fittingly, the Boombox will be available exclusively through Apple and Logitech (as with the rest of the product line) upon introduction, but that lock-up should not last too long and I would expect to find them at other retailers within weeks (not months) after launch.
Like its little brother, the Boombox comes out of the box ready to rock--its rechargeable batteries come fully charged. Logitech UE claims up to 6 hours of battery life on a single charge. The Boombox also supports multipoint pairing. However, this time you get to pair 3 separate Bluetooth devices simultaneously with the bigger Boombox--and up to 8 overall. More DJs = MOAR FUN! I can see this being a very useful feature, especially in a group or party setting where access to different libraries is a real benefit.
The Boombox contains 8 drivers--two 0.5" tweeters, two 3" woofers, and four 2 5/8" passive radiators. This is not a timid device. It plays clear and it can play loud. I see this as a viable pool party rocker, or even a simple dorm room system. Again, I would be interested to see how it could perform as a PC speaker. While well built and heavy, the Boombox is easily transportable. In the future, I would like to see an even more robust rubberized treatment similar to the Mobile Boombox, but that would take away a bit from the aesthetic.
There are competitors in this space, and the Boombox is not cheap. But from the build quality and sound, you can at least be satisfied that you will not be getting some piece of crap. This unit should satisfy music lovers in multiple environments.
But what about headphones? What the hell happened to those?! No worries, Logitech UE has that covered. Turn the page for the scoop.