New Gear: The New Logitech UE Personal Audio Lineup

Logitech's 2008 acquisition of IEM leader Ultimate Ears was an interesting move given the ultra-high end and music professional orientation of the brand, and even more interesting is the fact that while the new Logitech UE lineup does include an IEM offering, the majority of the rebranded line lives outside the ear - and well outside it, in some cases. Under the new Logitech UE banner you'll find a full platter of personal audio products - full-sized headphones, Bluetooth speakers large and small, and even a rebranded connected audio player, carrying on the legacy of Logitech's much-loved Squeezbox line.

Across the board, the accent's on good styling and ergonomics, at reasonable price points - and while we can't comment authoritatively on all of the products yet, judging from what we've heard so far, Logitech UE is definitely on the right track.

UE Reaches Beyond the Ear Canal

The new headphone lineup includes three traditional headphone models: the on-ear Logitech UE 4000 ($99.99), the over-the-ear Logitech UE 6000 ($199.99) and an everything-and-the-kitchen sink Bluetooth noise canceler, the Logitech UE 9000 ($399.99).

We got to check out prototypes of the full lineup in an NYC demo a few weeks back, and we're at work on full reviews on several of the units. We can say right off the bat that Logitech UE definitely thought through the ergonomics of the new headphone line - all three on- and over-the-ear models are as lightweight as can be without seeming flimsy, and earpad shapes were immediately comfortable, even with glasses, which is no small feat. And they're good looking as well

We've gotten in some listening time with the 4000; and our early assessment of its comfort has held up - as makes sense for an on-ear-portable, it's suitable for the longest train commute or flight. It sounds good too, with a tonal balance that tends to the dark, but with plenty of detail, especially for a $99 headphone (and that's with a removable mic/remote cable and a zippered carrying case; not givens at this price point by any means).

We didn't get a chance to hear full production versions of the 6000 or 9000, but we're definitely looking forward to doing so as soon as we can, based on our experience with the entry-level model.

The single in-ear monitor in the new lineup, the quadruple-balanced armature, universal-fit Logitech UE 900 ($399.99) is very appealing in that it not only features replaceable cables (and even includes both a plain and mic/remote cable in the box), but comes in at around $100 cheaper at MSRP than the popular and similarly spec'd Shure SE535 and Westone 4r multiple driver universal IEMs. And they ship with three sizes of Comply foam eartips, along with five sizes of silicone tips. Throw in the UE heritage of these IEMs, and you have a potent little package.

Bluetooth Boomboxes

We've been saying for a while now that portable Bluetooth speakers are the new headphones, and Logitech UE's entered that increasingly crowded competition as well, with a pair of products, the party-sized Logitech UE Boombox ($249.99) and its miniature, travel-oriented little brother, the Mobile Boombox ($99.99).

Logitech UE paid a lot of attention to styling with these units; the big Boombox in particular, with its die-case case and brushed aluminum finish, integrated handle (why don't we see this more on larger portable Bluetooth products?) and nicely integrated control buttons getting a lot of oohs around the office.

With a pair of 3-inch woofers, two 1/2-inch tweeters, and four passive radiators, the Boombox develops impressive levels and very convincing bass for such a small unit (we cranked up Captain Beefheart's "I'm Gonna Booglarize You, Baby" and managed to get the desk shaking). While the low end isn't as tight and focused as we would like, and is a little muddy and blurry, with a bit of evident resonance from whatever EQ they're using to get bass response (the subsonic intro to Holly Cole's version of "Temptation" came off as a bit one-notey on the Boombox) it's definitely present.

Voices and mid and higher register instrumentation actually sounds darned good. Coltrane's tenor, Lee Morgan's trumpet, and Curtis Fuller's trombone come through loud and clear on "Blue Train" (auditioned from the newly minted 24/96 HDtracks/Blue Note release), though the sizzle on Philly Joe Jones' ride sounds a bit fuzzy.

Switching to the Mobile Boombox, things got (as you might expect) a lot smaller - the tonal balance shifts perceptibly towards the upper registers. On "Blue Train," Paul Chambers' bass solo is certainly audible, but doesn't have the authority it does on the full-size Boombox. Horns and piano still sound natural and convincing, though, and given the miniscule size of the unit, it's pretty impressive. It doesn't quite develop the volume of the larger Braven 650, but the overall tonal balance is warmer and more natural - more in line with Soundmatters' FoxL v2, with perhaps a bit more low end from the deeper, ported enclosure.

I'd have to say from this short audition that with both units, given the restrictions of enclosure size and Bluetooth connectivity, Logitech UE's doing a pretty nice job here.

Obviously, the two Boomboxes are positioned against Jawbone's market-leading Big Jambox and Jambox, respectively, and on their merits the Boombox and the Mobile are competitive - they lack the Jawbone boxes' app universe, but score plenty of style points, and - most significantly in this ever-more-competitive market, the Boombox costs $50 less than the Big Jambox, and the Mobile is half the price of the Jambox. Things are certainly heating up in the Bluetooth corral.

Mama's Got a (Brand New) Squeezebox

For audiophiles, the new Logitech UE Smart Radio ($179.99) is likely to be of great interest, perhaps not in itself but as a harbinger of things to come - it's the first in a revamped line of Logitch UE-branded connected products set to replace the venerable Squeezebox (it replaces the old Squeezebox Radio). While like its predecessor the new device is a meant as an everyperson's table radio (there's no digital output here, for instance), it supports a wide range of formats, including ALAC and FLAC, and Logitech tells us that further, audiophile friendly connected products are forthcoming. We're very curious to see what develops.

Functionality will feel familiar to Squeezebox enthusiasts: you'll find user-friendly search and browsing of the music library you have stored locally on your computer, as well as easy access to Internet radio. There's also a refreshed Smart Radio Controller app for iOS and Android devices that lets you operate the Smart Radio (naturally) remotely. Since it's dependent on network services for Internet radio and local library playback, the Smart Radio isn't exactly "portable," but the device includes (it's not an extra accessory, as it was for the older Squeezebox Radio) a rechargeable battery with around six hours of runtime for around-the-house luggability.