Logitech and Ultimate Ears Birth a Dandy Litter of Portable Gear Page 2

Headphones
As noted, the folks I met with from Logitech UE readily admit that this line of devices is made for the person who "lives for music" but not necessarily the audiophile. Ok, fair enough, but that doesn't mean headphones need to sound like crap, and it seems that the engineers at Logitech UE get this. Across the line of new phones, they have been voiced for the kind of warm, euphonic response that tends to be a real crowd pleaser. These phones are not meant to be neutral (whatever that means) or flat, but rather have a slight accent on the bass with highs extended as far as reasonable. That tends to suggest a sacrifice of the mids, but the guys claim that clear mids were also their goal. Good luck with all that! To be fair, though, Logitech UE is being refreshingly honest about its approach here. So they don't lure audiophiles, but perhaps they get more music lovers into the hobby. That's a good thing.

The basic approach to the product line is a simple decision tree for the consumer. Do you want wired or wireless phones? Do you want on ear or over ear? Between 3 new headphones, you should be able to find what you want. Build quality across the board seems high and the style tends toward a more minimal presentation than some of the bling we've seen other manufacturers sling at the masses, which is a welcome relief. And there are little details that show some real thought on the part of Logitech UE: detachable cables, remotes (for iOS devices), nice packaging, cases, and included splitters. Logitech UE seems to seriously want to get you rocking right out of the box.

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Logitech UE 4000 ($99.99)
The 4000 is the entry level headphone of the new lineup. It is an on-ear headphone that comes in three colors: black, white, and purple. The earpads have memory foam and faux leather surfaces. This is a corded headphone, with a nice feature at this price point: a detachable cable. The stock cable has an inline volume control that will also work as a microphone so you can take phone calls without missing a beat--as long as you have an iOS device. The 4000 also comes with a microfiber-lined travel pouch.

The Logitech UE guys explained that this headphone focuses a bit more on the lows/bass, which is probably to be expected for a phone at this price point that is geared more toward younger listeners (can you see me shaking my cane?). I had a chance to hear these briefly, and they didn't offend at all. My very preliminary impression is that bass is not bloated as often is the case when a manufacturer decides to offer a "bassy" can. Of course, more in-depth listening sessions are required to make any sort of judgment regarding sound quality.

The build of the 4000 is plasticky but solid. And the headband can take a fair amount of twisting abuse. I don't love the way they look--a bit lacquer-y for my tastes, but they at least trend toward a minimalist design that is clear throughout these products. So while a bit shiny, these definitely do not belong in the bling headphone category and I like that.

Specs: Headphone type: On-ear Driver units: 40 mm Impedance: 32 ohms, 1 kHz Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL/mW, 1 kHz Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz Connector: 3.5 mm (1/8 inch) Noise isolation: 26dB

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Logitech UE 6000 ($199.99)
Getting a bit more serious here. This corded, foldable, over-the-ear headphone features the increasingly popular "protein leather" (faux leather) with memory foam. This is an active noise-canceling headphone, but Logitech UE has wisely decided to make it work in passive mode, too. And they claim to have designed it so that passive mode also sounds good, making the point that it takes a fair amount of engineering to do that. The 6000 uses rechargeable batteries (regular alkalines would be too heavy/clumsy according to the reps). And because the headphones can be used in passive mode, "the music will never stop" with the 6000. And that's a central concept with this new product line. Logitech UE is aiming to provide its customers with music on 24/7.

The cable entry is one-sided. Remembering Tyll's recent article on cable-entry, I asked the Logitech UE guys if there was a conscious decision about which side. The answer was yes, and it all had to do with balance: which side has the electronics in it, and which side could use the additional weight of the cable. Essentially, it all comes down to balance and comfort rather than a preference for a particular side. I did not actually listen to this phone, but it has a solid build quality and also shows that Logitech UE is thinking about durability with this line.

The cable also includes a remote and on-cord mic that will work with your iOS device. The 6000 also comes with a case and a splitter.

Specs: Headphone type: Around the ear Driver units: 40mm Impedance: 32 ohms, 1 kHz Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL/mW, 1 kHz Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz Connector: 3.5 mm (1/8 inch) Noise isolation: 26 dB

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Logitech UE 9000 ($399.99)
Lots of tech going on in this one. The 9000 is an around-the-ear Bluetooth wireless headphone--which will connect to the Bluetooth device of your preference. It is an active noise canceling phone, with 10 hours of battery life with its rechargeable batteries (no alkalines). Interestingly (and smartly), the 9000 also comes with a cord, so you can use it in a wired application. Nice touch. Some other neat features include the ability to take a call and open up a mic to speak to someone (e.g., a flight attendant) without removing the phones. And they fold flat, too.

The 9000 features controls on the headset itself. Located on the right earpiece, the controls include the typical iOS remote functions including the aforementioned mic and call functions. I like this idea, but found the controls slightly difficult to operate in my few minutes with the 9000. But it's hard to make a firm determination on these ergonomics without living with them for a while.

One thing that is not hard to confirm is that these phones are comfortable. They ooze build quality and feel very free and natural on the head. Protein leather and memory foam on the earpads feel good. And articulating joints help secure a nice fit. Though I am generally skeptical about wireless headphones, I enjoyed the freedom from a cord much more than I anticipated. Sound was good--rich and satisfying. I didn't have enough time to say more than that, but I certainly think they're worth further investigation and hope that Tyll adds them to the roster of noise canceling can reviews.

Specs: Wireless range: Up to 50 feet Headphone type: Around-the-ear Driver units: 40mm Impedance: 32 ohms, 1 kHz Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL/mW, 1 kHz Frequency response :20 Hz - 20 kHz Connection: Bluetooth or 3.5 mm (1/8 inch) Noise isolation: 26 dB

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Logitech UE 900 ($399.99)
So here's one that's close to my heart. Most of you are familiar with the UE Triple.Fi 10 Pro. What you might not know is that I actually named that IEM. True story. I won the contest on Head-Fi held by Ultimate Ears to help name their then-new flagship universal IEM. That was a good sounding headphone. But they weren't perfect. Ergonomics weren't great (think Frankenstein bolts sticking out of your ears) and they had some reliability issues. Enter the Logitech UE 900, the new flagship universal IEM in the Logitech UE product line.

The 900 is a quad-armature design with a three-way crossover and dual-bore audio paths. The guys from Logitech UE pointed out that they have improved the design of these bores, leading to a smaller profile IEM, which is a welcome development. The 900 comes with two pairs of 48-inch detachable cables, with the familiar UE braid. One pair includes a remote and mic to use with your iOS device. The other cable omits these controls for the audio purist. Thoughtful touch. The 900 comes with 8 pairs of tips: 5 silicon (XXS, XS, S, M, L) and 3 Comply tips (XXS to L).

I listened briefly to the 900 and clearly heard that these are targeted to a different audience than the other phones described above. This is a much more "audiophile" type sound. Very detailed and clear, with impactful, but not boomy bass. In fact, my initial impression was that the low end could be tipped up a bit more, but this would need to be confirmed in a longer sample period. Mids and highs were well articulated and balanced. And the 900 is MUCH more comfortable than the Triple.Fi 10 Pro. And, mercifully, they don't stick out from your ears like pencils.

Specs: Earphone type: In-ear Internal speaker configuration: 4 proprietary precision balanced armatures Impedance: 30 ohms, 1 kHz Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL/mW, 1 kHz Frequency response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz Connection: 3.5 mm (1/8 inch) gold plated Noise isolation: 26 dB Cable lengths: 48 inches Weight (cable and earbudsw/ eartips): 17.7 grams Sensitivity (mic): -58 dBV/Pa

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Logitech UE Smart Radio ($179.99)
It's important to remember that Logitech had some audio chops of its own prior to the UE acquisition. It's Squeezebox and Transporter line of wireless network music players have been streaming audio in many high end audio rigs over the last several years. The folks from Logitech UE state that the company remains committed to the Squeezebox platform. As part of this new product launch, Logitech UE will introduce the Smart Radio. On the outside, this is the Squeezebox Radio. But with this launch the Smart Radio gets a major software and user interface overhaul.

The Smart Radio is a Wi-Fi music player that can be used to stream and listen to the tunes stored on your Mac or PC, internet radio, or online music services like Pandora or Spotify. Operating on built-in rechargeable batteries, the Smart Radio is highly transportable at 5.1" x 8.7" x 5", and gets up to 6 hours of playback on a single charge---like the rest of the battery-powered UE Logitech products, it comes pre-charged. The Smart Radio has a 2.4 inch LCD color screen that shows album art, track, and station info. And there are buttons on the device so that you can store your favorite channels and playlists for easy access. It also has an alarm clock. You know...like a clock radio.

I like the amount of control available on the device itself. These days, a lot of devices are shipping that can only be controlled via a supplied remote. But Logitech UE understands that both are convenient and has created apps for both iOS and Android devices that will control the Smart Radio. And if you lose your Wi-Fi connection, there's a 3.5 mm line-in stereo jack so you can hard wire a music player into the unit.

The Smart Radio has two speakers: one .75 inch tweeter and one 3-inch woofer. It is a bi-amplified class D design with a digital electronic crossover. This device isn't going to rattle the windows, but it should provide pleasing enough sound for its intended use. Logitech UE sees this product as an appliance, but one with lots of tech under the hood that sounds pretty damn good.

Conclusion
With this new product line, Logitech UE has embarked upon an ambitious effort to leverage the sound quality of Ultimate Ears with the engineering and manufacturing resources of Logitech. This first litter of Logitech UE branded products is intended to cover the listener from first thing in the morning until head hits the pillow. With the exception of the new IEM, the Logitech UE 900, these are not "audiophile" devices and they aren't meant to be. Logitech UE has designed a suite of easy-to-use, good sounding products for people who want things to work simply and work well. When overall sound quality is improved in mass market offerings, the overall audio "discourse" is improved and we all win. Perhaps one day this will lead certain online music vendors to stop peddling compressed audio as "CD quality" and give us the lossless versions of our music. (Are you listening Apple?)

I've been thinking about the intended audience for these products. Like many of you, I often get asked by friends and family for audio recommendations: "What headphones should I get?" or "I need a speaker dock for my iPhone." There are lots of good products out there to recommend. But I think Logitech UE is being really smart here. They are introducing a solid series of products that can satisfy all of that user's needs. So when someone comes up to me and asks about their headphones, iPhone speaker, etc., I'll definitely be telling them to check out Logitech UE's new puppies.

The proof of these products will be in the listening. I've only had a few minutes with most of these products, but I liked what I heard enough to say confidently that it's worth giving them a chance. But, as always, trust your own ears. The new products should be available this month from Logitech and Apple stores exclusively, though I was told that availability would expand relatively quickly.

Resources
Press release for new Logitech UE products.
Main Logitech UE page for new product family.
Product pages for Mobile Boombox; Boombox; 4000; 6000; 9000; and 600.

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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