Review: Logitech AudioStation
At a Glance
Like Tivoli Audio’s iYiYi, Logitech’s $300 AudioStation is a premium “desktop” speaker system. As with most speakers in this class—compact, one-piece systems that require AC power—the AudioStation offers bigger (and better) sound than most portable iPod speaker systems. But the addition of an AM/FM radio and a clock, along with an attractive design and very good sound quality, make the AudioStation a compelling product that bests even the excellent iYiYi in some areas. At the same time, a few minor issues keep the AudioStation from being an obvious choice for everyone.
At 16.3 inches wide by 7.3 inches tall by 5.8 inches deep, the AudioStation is wider but thinner than the iYiYi. But the most immediately-noticeable difference between the two is in their designs. Whereas the iYiYi features a retro look with a glossy finish and physical buttons, the AudioStation provides a more understated—and more attractive, in my opinion—appearance. Although most of the system’s body is matte-black plastic, much of its front face is covered by two removable mesh-fabric speaker covers. In between these covers are an iPod dock (which uses Apple’s Universal design and charges your iPod while docked; 8 dock adapters are included for accommodating most dockable iPods); a large, backlit LCD display; and seven touch-sensitive, backlit buttons—volume up, volume down, source, power, select, up, and down—on a gloss-black panel. (These buttons generally work well, but, like many touch-sensitive buttons, sometimes it takes a couple attempts before your “touches” are recognized.) The screen features large, easy-to-read characters, and you can choose different brightness levels when the AudioStation is on and off; so, for example, the display can be very dim (or even off completely) at night when the system is turned off, but bright during the day when you’re listening.
(Note that Logitech doesn’t include the third-generation iPod—the first iPod with a dock-connector port—in the AudioStation’s compatibility list. Although the 3G iPod will play through the AudioStation, you won’t be able to control playback using the AudioStation’s remote, nor will a 3G iPod be able to charge while docked.)
Behind the mesh speaker panels hide four speaker drivers: left and right 1-inch tweeters and left and right 4-inch woofers. Each tweeter is powered by one of two 3-watt class-AB amplifiers, with each woofer powered by one of two 32-watt class-D amps; total power for the AudioStation is a whopping—for a desktop system—80 watts. The AudioStation uses tuned, sealed enclosures instead of ported ones; the latter usually provide improved bass response compared to similarly-sized sealed enclosures, but since the AudioStation uses relatively large woofers, its sealed speakers provide better bass response than the ported ones found on most desktop iPod speaker systems. Each speaker driver is surrounded by a smooth, silver bezel.
Overall, the AudioStation is the most attractive desktop/one-piece iPod speaker system I’ve seen, with or without the mesh speaker covers attached. (Removing the covers gives the AudioStation a more “techie” appearance; leaving them on provides a more traditional look. There was little, if any, audible difference in sound quality due to the mesh covers.)
The back of the system features a captive audio cable (which connects to a rather bulky external power supply); a stereo auxiliary-input minijack for listening to an external audio source; two video-output jacks (composite and S-video) for watching video and photos hosted on capable iPods; and AM and FM antenna connectors. When you take the AudioStation out of the box, you’ll notice that connected to the AM-antenna connectors are two wires leading back into the body of the system; these lead to the AudioStation’s internal AM antenna. You can remove these wires and connect an external antenna, such as the included loop model, to improve AM reception. The FM-antenna jack uses an unthreaded coaxial connector; included is an inexpensive single-wire FM antenna with a coaxial connector on the end, but you can replace it with an after-market antenna, if necessary. Conspicuously missing is a data port for syncing your iPod with your computer.
The AudioStation’s backlit display isn’t the clearest I’ve seen—there’s some “ghosting” during use—but it’s good enough that it doesn’t interfere with the system’s use and it’s large enough to view from a good distance. And that’s important, because much of the AudioStation’s functionality is accessed through this screen. For starters, like the iYiYi, the AudioStation provides a large, easy-to-read clock. (On the other hand, unlike nearly every other system we’ve tested that provides a clock, the AudioStation doesn’t include an alarm function, an odd omission that prevents the AudioStation from being a nearly-perfect bedroom system. Although you at least get a sleep function that automatically turns off the system after as little as 5 or as many as 180 minutes.)
You can control many of the system’s functions using the touch-screen buttons below the screen. During audio playback, pressing the Select button cycles between displaying the clock, a “spectrum analyzer” visualizer, or, in the case of the radio, the current frequency (and, optionally, FM RDS information). Accessible using the remote control’s Menu button are onscreen menus for adjusting bass and treble levels; screen brightness (as mentioned above, separate settings for when the system is on and off); and iPod backlight (when this feature is enabled, your iPod’s backlight is turned on whenever you use any of the AudioStation’s controls).
The AudioStation’s radio can tune from 87.9 to 108.1 in increments of 0.2 on the FM band, and from 520 to 1710 in increments of 10 on the AM side. Overall radio performance is decent as iPod stereo systems go. On stronger stations, the AudioStation’s FM tuner pulls in a clear, static-free signal; however, the tuner isn’t as sensitive or selective as that of Tivoli’s iYiYi—likely the best such radio we’ve tested—so weaker stations were received with a good amount of static. AM performance was only fair, with only the strongest of local stations being listenable, even when using the included loop antenna instead of the internal antenna.
The AudioStation’s radio offers three tuning modes: Step (the normal frequency-by-frequency tuning mode, which is fairly slow), Scan (which searches for the next “tunable” station), and Preset (which cycles through presets you’ve saved—up to 8 AM and 16 FM); you switch between modes by holding down the Select button for approximately one second. My only complaint here is that the Scan mode is a bit too sensitive; most of the frequencies on which the radio automatically stops aren’t clear enough for listening.
In FM mode, you can opt—via the Select button—to display RDS data (station name, track and artist name) on the screen. Unfortunately, this feature didn’t work consistently in my testing, as the AudioStation failed to display RDS information for a good number of RDS-enabled stations that other radios, such as the iYiYi, handled without problems.
The AudioStation’s remote is larger than most of those included with iPod speaker systems. That’s generally a good thing, as the remote is comfortable to hold and the buttons are large and easy to press. You get the standard Play/Pause, Back, Forward, Volume Up and Down, Mute, and Power buttons, but you also get buttons for sleep mode; direct source selection (iPod, Aux, AM, FM); and “3D Stereo” mode; as well as Up, Down, Select, and Menu buttons for navigating the AudioStation’s onscreen menus. In my testing, the remote worked well up to 20 or so feet away directly in front, and reasonably well—from five to ten feet away—off to the side. One undocumented feature of the remote is that during iPod playback, the Menu Up and Down buttons toggle shuffle and repeat modes, respectively; even the chart in the manual explaining the remote’s button functions omits this information.
The AudioStation is among the best-sounding one-piece speaker systems we’ve heard. Unlike most desktop systems, it has no glaring weaknesses, offering very good detail and good midrange along with better bass response that any similar system. The ability adjust treble and bass levels is a relatively rare feature that lets you further tailor the sound. And although the “3D Stereo” mode doesn’t offer as dramatic an improvement in stereo separation on the AudioStation as it does on Logitech’s portable mm50, the technology does provide a bit more “space” to certain tracks. Finally, the AudioStation is one of the few one-piece systems we’ve tested that can even come close to putting out as much volume as Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi without distorting.
Compared to Tivoli’s iYiYi, the most similar system out there in terms of features, the AudioStation offers sound that’s more balanced, thanks to better bass and lower-midrange, and the “3D” effect gives the AudioStation slightly better stereo separation. A closer competitor, in terms of overall sound quality, is JBL’s Radial, the best-sounding desktop system we’ve thus far seen. Although the Radial doesn’t have the same range of features—most notably, it doesn’t include a radio or clock, although it does offer a superior RF remote that lets you navigate your iPod’s menus—it provides audio quality that’s roughly comparable to that of the AudioStation. Both offer good bass response for a desktop system, as well as very good detail. I personally prefer the sound of the Radial—slightly—due to a bit more presence in the midrange that results in a richer, more natural sound on certain tracks. However, it’s a close enough call that I suspect some people will prefer the AudioStation, especially given the latter’s adjustable bass and treble levels.
The AudioStation is a standout product in the crowded field of one-piece, “desktop” iPod speaker systems. Like Tivoli Audio’s iYiYi, the AudioStation includes useful non-iPod features such as an AM/FM radio and a clock. But it also competes with JBL’s Radial as one of the best-sounding systems in this category. Although the lack of an alarm function is puzzling, and fans of radio will likely prefer the iYiYi thanks to its superior performance in that area, the AudioStation offers an impressive combination of features and audio quality at the same price as its main competitors.