capsule review

Review: Logitech Z-4i

At a Glance
  • Logitech Z-4i

    Macworld Rating

Earlier this year, we recommended the Logitech Z-3i for those looking for a low-cost sub/sat speaker system. At a street price of $70 to $80, the Z-3i offers decent sound quality in an attractive white-and-silver finish that’s a perfect match for iPods and Apple computers. And the Z-3i’s wired controller puts a nifty volume knob and headphone jack within reach on your desk. Overall, the Z-3i has provided a good compromise between sound quality, style, and price.

As part of the company’s “Fall 2005” lineup, which includes the impressive mm50 portable iPod speaker system, Logitech has released an updated version of the Z-3i, named, logically enough, the Z-4i . (The Z-4i should be available in early October.) Like its predecessor, the Z-4i also lists for $100, with a street price under $80. But is it as impressive a package for the money? The quick answer: Yes on features and sound, maybe on style.

More white, less silver

The Z-4i’s subwoofer is virtually the same size as its predecessor’s, at a miniscule (as subwoofers go) 9" x 9" x 9.4". An 8" driver is powered by a 23-Watt dedicated amplifier. The sides and back of the sub are finished in white laminate, whereas the front surface is iPod-like white plastic with silver trim. (The Z-3i’s sub face is mainly brushed metal). The sub’s gray metal grill completes the iPod/Apple-matching design.

The back of the sub provides a 1/8” stereo minijack input for connecting your computer, iPod, or other audio source, as well as RCA outputs for the left and right speakers. (Like most speakers in this price range, you can’t use your own speaker cables, as the cables are permanently attached to the satellites. Which is too bad, as I found the 6-foot cables to be a bit too short when I placed the subwoofer off to the side of my desk.) Finally, there’s a port for the wired controller’s special 9-pin connector.

The biggest aesthetic difference between the Z-4i and its lesser-numbered forerunner is in the new design of the satellite speakers. Whereas the Z-3i’s sats are approximately 7.8" high x 3.6" wide x 3.1" deep, the Z-4i’s left/right speakers are 9" high x 3" wide x 3.8" deep—taller but narrower. The Z-4i takes advantage of each satellite’s larger body by hosting a single 2” dome driver along with two 2" pressure drivers, which together allow the sats to produce lower frequencies than the previous model. And like the system’s subwoofer, the fronts of the Z-4i’s satellites are iPod-white vs. the brushed metal finish of the Z-3i. As noted below, the Z-4i satellites do provide a bit better sound quality than those of the Z-3i, but I personally prefer the latter’s metal finish and fabric grill covers; the Z-4i satellites’ lack of grills, along with the Logitech logos printed on the actual drivers, make them look less sturdy and just a bit less attractive, in my opinion.

The satellites sit on removable cast-metal stands that place the speakers at a slight upwards angle appropriate for desktop listening. A nice touch is that the stands are removable and the sats include built-in wall-mounting holes.

(Note that the Z-4i system is also available in black and silver in a model called the Z-4.)

More knobs and jacks than before

The Z-4i’s white and silver controller provides the same on/off switch, volume control, and headphone jack as its predecessor, but adds two useful new features: a bass control knob that lets you adjust the system’s bass output without having to reach behind the sub; and a 1/8” stereo line-in jack that lets you connect an additional audio source. The latter feature makes it easy to temporarily connect your iPod to the Z-4i without having to disconnect your computer or, again, crawl behind the subwoofer. (When two audio sources are connected—one to the sub’s input, the other to the controller’s input—the signals are mixed, allowing you, for example, to listen to your computer’s audio and your iPod’s music at the same time.) As a side note, I admit to being a fan of large, smooth-operating volume knobs, and the Z-4i’s controller, despite being made of lightweight plastic, is one of the best I’ve used.

(Slightly) bigger is better—for sound, that is

As I mentioned above, the Z-4i’s satellites are slightly bigger than those of its predecessor, and—to my ears, at least—indeed produce better sound. More specifically, the Z-4i sats have slightly better range, thanks to a bit more treble detail and slightly better extension on the low end. That being said, they still exhibit the classic Logitech “house sound”: good midrange without the best treble extension. (Treble lovers shopping in this price range should instead consider JBL’s Creature II.)

Similarly, with such a small sub, it’s difficult for a speaker system to provide high-quality bass. The Z-4i does produce surprisingly powerful mid- and upper-bass—the range of frequencies that often give bass notes their attack and “thump”—but you don’t get much low bass. (In my testing, the Z-4i’s sub produces fairly flat bass response down to around 85-90Hz, but starts to roll off below that; by 60Hz, bass output has dropped significantly.) The result is bass that, while “thumpin’” and “boomin’” on most pop/rock/hip-hop tracks, is fairly one-note-ish and can be a bit fatiguing over time if you’re used to a higher-end system.

That said, such criticisms are to be expected at this price point, as the only system we’ve heard that clearly sounds better at a similar price is RSL’s Digital Fidelity One —and to accomplish that feat, RSL had to drop all pretense of attractive design and use early-90s-looking beige plastic speaker cabinets so they could spend more money on better audio components.

As for volume, I was able to turn the Z-4i up to earsplitting levels in a good-sized room with little distortion. If you’re looking for lots of volume in a small package, the Z-4i won’t disappoint.

The Lowdown

The Logitech Z-4i isn’t an audiophile speaker system, but at this price, you shouldn’t expect it to be. What it is is an attractive, decent-sounding speaker system for those who don’t want to spend a lot of money on “computer” speakers. And it has some handy features to boot—namely a wired controller that provides more functionality than I expected on a system in this price range.

If you’ve got under $100 to spend and are looking for the best possible sound quality, RSL’s Digital Fidelity One is still our recommendation. But we understand that not everyone will get excited about the Digital Fidelity One’s homely appearance. The Z-4i, on the other hand, like its Z-3i predecessor, offers an impressive compromise between sound quality, style, and low price matched only by JBL’s Creature II. (The Creature II is likely a better choice if you’re a fan of treble, whereas the Z-4i system does a better job in the mids.) For the expected street price of around $75, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more well-rounded option.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Speakers can be mounted on wall
    • Attractive, iPod/Apple-matching design
    • Convenient controller with input/headphone jacks and bass adjustment
    • Low price
    • Impressive volume

    Cons

    • Short satellite cables
    • Bass can be quite “thumpy” and boomy
    • No wireless remote
    • Satellites not as attractive as predecessor’s
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