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Logitech UE Air Speaker Review
The Logitech UE Air Speaker is a solid wireless AirPlay dock at moderate volumes, but pump it up, and you’ll hear distortion.
(3.5 out of 5)
- Attractive, simple design
- Quality audio performance at moderate volumes
- Streams music wirelessly from Apple iOS devices via AirPlay
- Easy setup with free, auto-downloading app.
- Distorts on deep bass tracks at high volumes
- No remote control for operating docked devices.
The ever-expanding field of wireless speaker docks has a new addition from Logitech—and it’s the first ever speaker system from the manufacturer’s UE line. “UE” stands for Ultimate Ears, the earphone company Logitech acquired in 2008. The Logitech UE Air Speaker ($399.99 direct) uses Apple’s Wi-Fi-based AirPlay to stream audio from iOS devices and computers, and also has a physical dock for iPods, iPhones, and iPads. At moderate volumes, the system offers a quality audio experience, but at louder volumes on tracks with deep bass, the UE Air Speaker suffers from distortion issues that shouldn’t happen in this price range.
Measuring 5.5 by 6 by 20 inches, the UE Air Speaker is a typical-looking AirPlay dock, with a front panel covered in a black cloth to protect the speaker drivers, and a minimalist black-and-metal design with few buttons or visual flourishes. The rear panel, which houses two ports to push out air created from the movement of the drivers, is matte black plastic, while the slanted area that leads to the top panel and surrounds the spare controls is a glossy black. The dock itself, which slides out from the front panel when pressed, features a nice swivel base for the 30-pin connector. The design allows iPhones in larger cases, or bulkier, earlier models of iPods, to fit without damaging the connection.
The UE Air Speaker’s front panel is adorned with the UE logo, as well as an LED indicator that glows green when powered up or orange when there are network issues. The top panel houses only three controls—a large volume dial flanked on either side by a Mute button and the Power button. All three are metallic and unlabelled. The only other button is on the rear panel—a Wi-Fi connect button for setup with a computer, though if you have an iOS device, setting up via the free app is easier and quicker.
On the back panel, there’s also an Ethernet port (for direct connection to a network), a 3.5mm Aux input, and the AC power connection. A power adapter is included, but there’s no remote control. You don’t need one when streaming from an iOS device, which acts as its own remote, but it would be nice to have one to control docked devices.
The UE Air Speaker’s audio performance is solid at low to moderate volumes. An included app lets you tweak the treble and bass, but I found that leaving the settings flat provided the best balance, as the system isn’t particularly bass-heavy or too bright. This is not a booming, subwoofer-powered dock; its audio output is more refined, with an articulate low-end that plays second fiddle to the crisp, clear mids and highs.
It’s unfortunate that songs with deep bass distort—pretty intensely—at top volume. The Knife’s “Silent Shout” sounds fine at moderate levels, but raise the volume to about 75 percent, and distortion starts to kick in. At maximum volume, the UE Air Speaker is a mess on this and other tracks with deeply resonant bass. At this price level, that’s a pretty significant issue. The good news is, if you don’t usually listen to tracks with extremely heavy bass presence, you can probably raise the volume to maximum without much, if any, distortion. Basically, most hip-hop and electronic music, and some rock, will cause distortion at high volumes, but all other genres are probably safe.
John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” a modern classical piece, sounds clean and fantastic at top volume—classical music is mastered at lower levels than pop, so even at top volume, it isn’t an ear-piercing experience. Generally, the UE Air Speaker lends itself better to instrumental pieces like this, offering a nice roundness to the lower register instruments without going overboard, while the highs have great definition, allowing wood percussion and higher register strings to stand out.
The wireless setup process is probably the quickest and easiest we’ve encountered on an AirPlay dock yet. It involves no computers—just your iOS device, which prompts you to download the free app the first time you dock it, and your Wi-Fi network. It only takes a minute or two and you’re set to stream. Unfortunately, the app is fairly useless after this. It does include the aforementioned EQ adjuster—one fader for treble and one for bass, but that’s about it. Not that this is an issue, as many of the free apps that come with AirPlay devices try to do too much and border on bloatware.
Overall, the Logitech UE Air Speaker has plenty going for it including a lower-than-average price, but if you listen to bass-heavy music, it’s not the best choice. The recent iOS update from Apple eliminated the streaming issues many AirPlay docks suffered from earlier in the year.That means the enters a crowded field of solid choices including the same-price Audyssey Audio Air Dock ($399.99, 3.5 stars), which offers more bass without the distortion. The Klipsch Gallery G-17 Air ($549.99, 4 stars) is a fantastic option, but it’s a full $150 more than the UE Air Speaker, and the stunning Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air($599.95, 4 stars) will cost you even more. Only slightly less expensive than the Klipsch system is the non-AirPlay, Bluetooth streaming JBL OnBeat Xtreme ($499.95, 4.5 stars)—our most recent Editors’ Choice for wireless docks.
By Tim Gideon, PCMag