Logitech UE Air impresses, but audio quality is just decent
At a Glance
Logitech’s $400 UE Air Speaker gets an awful lot right. The UE in its name stands for Ultimate Ears, the formerly independent headphones company Logitech acquired back in 2008; Air refers to Apple’s wireless AirPlay technology, which the speaker uses superbly to play streamed music. Add to that a hideaway iPhone/iPod/iPad dock cradle, brilliantly easy setup, and very nice audio, and you get an impressive, easy-to-recommend speaker.
The UE Air is sleek and shiny, sporting a piano-black finish on the sides and back, with a black-mesh front. (The downside to piano black is that it’s no good at hiding fingerprints.) But you’ll need some room for the Air, as it’s nearly two feet wide. Specifically, the curvy speaker measures 23.1 inches wide, 9.2 inches tall and 9.2 inches deep at its deepest point. It weighs just under ten pounds.
On the angled top surface of the UE Air sit three metal controls, offset nicely in silver. The middle one is an oversized volume dial with a small dimple for your finger. On each side of that control sits an unlabeled smaller button: Mute on the left, and Power on the right. A glowing LED next to the Power button helps you tell the buttons apart when the Air is in sleep mode. (In that mode, the LED pulses green.) When the Air is in sleep mode, it wakes up nearly instantly when you press the Power button; if you turn off the system completely (by holding down the Power button for five seconds), it takes a bit more than half a minute to turn on again.
A second LED is in a recessed area in the base of the unit—recessed enough that I needed to crouch down slightly, or angle my head back a bit, to see it. This LED glows green when everything’s okay and the unit is powered on; glows orange if there’s a problem with the Wi-Fi connection; and pulses (with the color depending on the network status) when the the Air is asleep.
Push in on that section of the base, and a hidden dock-connector cradle slides out. You can use the cradle for charging and for playing music directly from your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. (Logitech says the dock does not provide enough juice to fast-charge an iPad.) The dock will even accommodate some protective cases—I successfully docked my third-generation iPad with its Smart Cover wrapped around the back. Of course, if you dock an iPad, you can no longer reach the Air’s hardware buttons without reaching around the iPad.
On the back of the UE Air you’ll find an ethernet port, a Wi-Fi Connect button, a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) stereo-audio line-in jack, and a connector for the included AC adapter.
Getting the UE Air online is a snap if you use an iOS device. Just dock the device in the Air’s cradle, install the free Logitech UE Air app when prompted, and then follow the app’s instructions to connect the UE Air to whatever Wi-Fi network your iOS device is already using. If you don’t have an iOS device handy, you press that Wi-Fi Connect button in the back, connect your computer to the Logitech UE Air Speaker Setup wireless network that’s created, and then visit a specific URL on your computer to configure the speaker.
Of course, if you’ve got an ethernet network that’s connected to your Wi-Fi network, you can use the Air’s ethernet port instead. But in my testing, AirPlay streaming over my home wireless network was smooth, with nary a dropout or other audio problem.
One added benefit of using the iOS app is that the app also lets you adjust the Air’s treble and bass levels—in fact, it’s the only way to do so. I nudged the treble up just a smidgen, and the bass from the default setting of 50 to about 60.
The UE Air has no trouble reaching loud volume levels, and I didn’t hear any distortion, even with the volume cranked all the way up. Without the aforementioned bass and treble adjustments, I thought the Air’s bass was too soft; dialed up a bit, it sounded fine. Everything about the Air’s audio quality was, in fact, best described as fine—it was better than passable, but not jaw-droppingly impressive. Surprisingly, despite the Air’s nearly-two-foot wingspan, I was a bit disappointed by the system’s poor stereo separation.
Macworld’s buying advice
The UE Air is a good AirPlay audio system, but it falls short of great. I appreciated the Air’s easy setup, its integrated dock-connector cradle, and its sleek appearance. But a speaker is all about the sound, and the Air doesn’t sound as good as other $400 speaker systems I’ve tested. For example, Audyssey’s Audio Dock Air also costs $400, but it occupies a significantly smaller footprint and it sounds better (though it lacks the UE Air’s dock cradle) Put simply, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by the UE Air’s audio, but you won’t be awed by it, either.