Logitech UE Air Speaker £299
19th Apr 2012 | 15:49
Logitech makes great speaker docks, so we were excited to test its first AirPlay speaker
We like Logitech's speakers, and we like AirPlay, Apple's technology for streaming video and uncompressed audio over Wi-Fi. In theory, then, we should like Logitech's first AirPlay speaker, the Logitech UE Air Speaker. And we do - but not without reservations.
Let's talk AirPlay first. So long as you have a Wi-Fi network and at least one PC or Mac running iTunes 10.1 or later, or a recent iOS device, you can stream your music to the Logitech UE Air Speaker.
With an iOS device, you can stream to one AirPlay target at a time - this speaker, say, or an Apple TV. But fire up iTunes and you can stream to more than one at once, setting the volume independently for each from your PC or Mac, or adjusting the volume on the speaker and having that update on your computer's screen.
And because it's then your computer that's doing the heavy lifting, you can pick as many of your AirPlay speakers as your network can cope with, and wander round the house gleefully changing tracks and tweaking the volume for all your speakers from the device in your hand.
How many AirPlay speakers you can have depends on your network and environment - Apple suggests it'll be between three and six - but it's a gloriously easy and comparatively cheap way to add multi-room audio to your house.
We say "comparatively cheap" because although we're finally seeing AirPlay speakers turn up in decent numbers, manufacturers are really only putting the technology in their high-end speakers. And while the price tag of £300 in the UK or $400 in the US is cheap compared to a traditional installed multi-room audio system, that's still a fair old chunk of change.
AirPlay, though, is something you can set up yourself, and Logitech has made set up almost laughably simple. Dock your iOS device and without doing anything else, it will prompt you to download a free app to complete the set up process; all you need to know is the password to your Wi-Fi network.
The app even enables you to tweak bass and treble - laudable when iOS's equaliser presets are so inflexible. If you don't have an iOS device, the Logitech UE Air Speaker can create an ad-hoc network to which you can connect your computer in order to configure it.
Performance and verdict
We've consistently been impressed by Logitech's speaker docks, and in the abstract, the audio from this one feels like a credible addition to this tradition.
There's detail across most of the spectrum (the oft-neglected midrange is especially nice, for example), some nice hefty bass, no more lack of stereo separation than we're used to with all-in-one docks, and a general feeling that you're in pretty good hands here.
Note, however, the weaselly language and caveats in that last sentence. There is little actually wrong with the audio from the Logitech UE Air Speaker, and heard in isolation it certainly delights. But there are two problems: put it next to the Altec Lansing inAir 5000, say - a speaker that costs around £100 more, we admit - or the non-AirPlay Philips Fidelio DS9010, and it feels less warm, less welcoming, and frankly less assured.
The second problem is that while we'd be raving about this performance from a speaker that cost £150/$200, with even online retailers asking for twice that as we write, we just feel unmoved. What's more, the low-end drops away at low volumes.
Again, it's competent, pleasant and, in isolation, even excellent, but it lacks the rich, unctuous tones of the inAir 5000 and the sheer unflappable gusto of the Fidelio DS9010.
It's the same thing with the build quality and design touches. The shiny black plastic and nylon-like mesh wouldn't feel out of place on that budget dock we're picturing in our heads, but it does feel a mite cheap here.
And while we love that it has a pop-out dock for charging your iOS device - something many AirPlay speakers lack - there's a disappointing amount of travel both in its own slide-out mechanism and in a docked iPhone or, especially, iPad.
(Note too that if you have a non-iOS iPod or an original iPhone/iPod touch, you have to play audio through the 3.5mm jack in the back rather than using the dock.)
This lack of care makes itself apparent in other ways, as well.
There's a click-wheel on top for changing volume, for example, but not only are the volume jumps irritatingly coarse, its position isn't absolute; you crank it round and round either way to turn it up or down, so there's no visual or tactile feedback about what volume the speaker is set at.
You might think us dreadful old martinets to care about such things, but we think £299/$399 should buy you the right to be pretty damned demanding.
Ultimately, we are disappointed in the Logitech UE Air Speaker. This is, after all, not only Logitech's first AirPlay Speaker, but the first time that the well-regarded Ultimate Ears brand - the 'UE' bit in the name - that it bought in 2008 has been applied to a speaker dock.
There is nothing wrong with it that knocking a hundred off the price wouldn't fix, and if you find a store selling it for under £200/$300 before the end of 2012, it's worth picking up. That, though, is damming with faint praise.
It suffers, in other words, because we were so excited about it, and it failed to live up to what we had hoped for, having enjoyed listening to Logitech docks for years.
This is a good speaker. It is not a great speaker.