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?

Boomboxes
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.

120905_NewProducts_UELogitech_miniboombox2

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.

120905_NewProducts_UELogitech_boombox

Boombox ($249.99)
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.

COMPANY INFO
Logitech UE
7600 Gateway Blvd.
Newark, CA 94560
510-795-8500
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
CarlSeibert's picture

>"The folks from Logitech UE state that the company remains committed to the Squeezebox platform."

Given that the Squeezebox Touch has disappeared from their website without a word of comment or explanation, it would be interesting to find out exactly what this means.

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

It's a good point and I hadn't noticed before I met with them.  I'll try to follow up.  Given the direction in which they are moving, it is quite possible that committed means they are committed to some sort of streaming tech but not necessarily to the full-blown high end platform.  However, I did attend the launch party and my distinct impression was that at least some of the team (not sure how far up they are) are still interested in the high end.  

I'll see what I can find out because I know people were disppointed.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I've got a Transporter and an old Squeeze box running off a Vortexbox and remote controlling it with iPeng on my iPad, usually listening to MOG.com.

I couldn't live without it.  I'm very encouraged to hear the Logitech/UE stuff seems to be remaining compatible.

I hear-by claim dibs on reviewing the Smart Radio.  I wanna play with one.

Willakan's picture

It would seem that the rise of the smartphone has led to a significant reconsideration of Logitech's audio range, the new Radio replacing the entire Squeezebox line, at least for the moment. The emphasis is now on streaming the music on your mobile/iPod/insert trendy portable device here rather than serious wireless music playback systems.

According to those on the official Squeezebox forums, including a Logitech employee, the new software for the UE range is so focused on mobile as to actually shed features in an effort to simplify for the mass-market, including the extensibility (many plugins that were functional in LMS can no longer work under the new architecture) of Logitech Media Server. There is absolutely no backwards compatibility to speak of (save the one exception detailed below), and the old LMS is no longer developed apart from for remaining bug-fixes: all the new features and rewritten modules for later versions will now be abandoned.

The Radio isn't even new hardware. It's the old SB radio, but with new software. This means a possible software 'upgrade' path might be laid in place for Radio users. (Everybody else is ignored) I can't imagine why they would: the new software is seriously limited.

I suppose the writing was on the wall: simple and limited always trumps complex and full-featured in consumer tech...

The staggeringly ironic part is that both the Touch and the old Radio both massively exceeded Logitech's sales expectations, despite a complete failure to market them properly. They just don't fit into their overall strategy. The Squeezebox forums are full of former Logitech employees taking the opportunity to mouth off about how Logitech managed a line a lot of them seemed genuinely passionate about. To quote one:

"Watching Logitech take a long, slow, steamy crap on all of our hard work was incredibly demoralizing."

From what I've read, if the Squeezebox line had remained in development by a small, independant team, we'd probably be far better off.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

After reading some of the comments here, and digging around a bit in the Squeezebox forums, I find myself quite depressed at the moves made by Logitech/UE regarding the line.  Why can't marketers 'get' the fact that users are quite a bit more sophisticated than they think, and the fact that it's the fully featured and versatile nature of the old products that made them so wildly successful despite weak marketing efforts. 

*sigh*

Interesting note and comments over at AudioStream on this subject here.

Willakan's picture

For those willing to do a bit of DIY electronics, the obvious successor is the 2nd-revision Raspberry Pi. It already works with SqueezeSlave (a Squeezebox client) and their new board exposes the I2S interface, perfect for wiring in an external DAC or a S/PDIF board. You could even box it all up and add a touchscreen.

I fear that the replacements from other companies, directly targeted at the former Squeezebox market, may be somewhat expensive, with a decent snake-oil dip to justify the price hike - AudioStream recently ran an article on audiophile ethernet cables (just think about that for a moment!), so it's the approach I'd take if I wanted to sell such streamers, TBH.

deckeda's picture

... but the blog announcement is finally getting lit up like a Christmas tree over this.

http://blog.logitech.com/2012/08/29/new-lineup-from-logitech-ue-brings-p...

Notice that a few precient questions near and dear to our hearts were raised, including the plea to not abandon digital outputs or more to the point, the Slim Devices product ethos.

The staggeringly ironic part is that both the Touch and the old Radio both massively exceeded Logitech's sales expectations, despite a complete failure to market them properly. They just don't fit into their overall strategy.

The WSJ reported yesterday a 40% share loss over the last 2 years and that they are in the midst of a "turnaround" effort. Whatever the Touch and radios accomplished wasn't seemingly enough to keep that product line around.

The core products remain mice and keyboards and related OEM contract work. These "extra" dalliances (Slim Device buyout/abandonment/ Google TV debacle/headphones??) can't be accomplished without additional cash, so Logitech must have plenty of it.

And frankly, headphones and IEMs have nothing to do with any of the core lines, either. There's nothing -- zero -- evidence Logitech will know what the hell to do in this area. They lack both the experience and willingness to give it full reign. But headphones are hot and trendy so what do they care if that bubble bursts in a few years?

I certainly don't care whose name is one the front panel or how they got into the streaming music player biz, but fer Chrissakes if you're going to do it don't piss away what makes you special.

deckeda's picture

This new line replaces it. They made no statement and we're to believe they don't exist. Logitech's "commitment" to it means the server software and forums are still online.

From their site:
"EVERYTHING WE DO IS IN SERVICE TO THE MUSIC.

OUR RELENTLESS COMMITMENT TO HONORING MUSIC DRIVES US TO PUSH THE BOUNDARIES OF AUDIO ENGINEERING, WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY, AND INDUSTRIAL DESIGN. ALL TO CREATE PRODUCTS THAT DELIVER MUSIC TO YOUR EARS IN ITS PUREST, MOST UNDILUTED FORM."

This new slogan bugs me because it's just so much marketing blather. Oh, and with hi res streaming gone with the Touch and Transporter, it's arguably wrong.

I'd been to the new web site and read a little about these new models but until this blog entry did not know that UE stood for Ultimate Ears. Here's hoping this mouse and keyboard company doesn't do to them what they did to Slim Devices. This UE kitchen radio stuff is a world away from say, the Transporter.

Alondite's picture

How did you come up with the name "Triple.Fi 10"?

 

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

I believe my reasoning was something along the lines of, the IEM was the successr to the super.fi 5.  The new IEM had 3 drivers as I recall, which was a big deal, hence "triple."  I included the 10 because the hope (and I think UE' stated goal) was that they were voiced closer to the UE statement IEM at the time--the UE-10 Pro.  I had a couple of other suggestions as well, but can't remember them.  I'll try to dig up the thread on Head-Fi, where you are also welcome to search.

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

http://www.head-fi.org/t/188981/win-a-free-set-of-ue-10s-and-help-name-our-newest-product/240

n_maher's picture

Nice article Dinny. Clear, easy to read, conveyed the important stuff without too much fluff but not in such a drab fashion as to be boring.  Welcome to the IF family, you're a great addition.

rsgladwin85's picture

Nice job on the article.  Can't wait to see many more from you Dinny.  It's very refreshing to know that UE is being so upfront about their target market for their items.  Also nice to see a new top tier IEM from them.  I never made a purchase of the Triple.Fi 10 Pro due to its fit and aesthetics.  Wonder if they'd be willing to relinquish a few pairs to some of us Head-Fi'ers for a good listen?

Also: Tyll, love the site, keep up the good work.  I read your and Steve Guttenbergs articles regularly.

If you get the chance some of us might be interested in a comparison between the UE 4000 headphones and the recently reviewed Noontec Zoro's as they are priced similarly.

Dinny FitzPatrick's picture

Logitech UE confirms that these new devices are all iPhone 5 compatible.

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