Wireless Music System for iPod
is the first real competitor to Belkin’s $180 TuneStage, which we reviewed favorably last year (and in fact awarded one of our
2005 Plays of the Year awards
). Like the TuneStage, the Wireless Music System uses a Bluetooth transmitter attached to your iPod to send your iPod’s audio to a receiver connected to your home stereo system or a set of powered multimedia/computer speakers. Although pricier than connecting your iPod directly to your speakers via a dock base and then using a separate remote to control playback, these systems offer the significant advantage of placing your iPod—and its excellent onscreen interface—right in your hand, making it the best “iPod remote” around. However, Logitech’s system differs from the TuneStage in a number of ways, good and bad. (Our review of the TuneStage can be found
Bigger and smaller
Whereas Belkin’s transmitter connects to the headphone/remote jack on 3G, 4G, color/photo, and mini iPods, Logitech’s transmitter—a much larger version that’s apparently the same one used by Logitech’s Wireless Headphones for iPod—plugs into any 1/8″ (miniplug) stereo headphone jack. On the one hand, this means that the Logitech system works with all iPod models. On the other hand, the fit isn’t great with smaller iPods—even though the transmitter’s headphone plug can be positioned either in the middle or off to one side, the transmitter is an awkward match for the mini, nano, and shuffle. And whereas Belkin’s smaller transmitter with two plugs (headphone and remote) fits securely on top of compatible iPods, the larger size of the Logitech version combined with its use of only a single headphone plug means that it tends to rotate freely. This doesn’t affect its functionality, but it can be annoying during use to have the transmitter flopping about—this was my least favorite aspect of the Logitech system.
Another potential drawback of the Wireless Music System’s transmitter, depending on your point of view, is that whereas the Belkin transmitter draws power from your iPod, the Logitech version includes its own internal battery, charged using the included AC adapter. Some users may feel that Logitech’s approach is a better one, since it doesn’t suck power from your iPod’s battery. On the other hand, with Belkin’s design, you don’t have to worry about charging the battery—as long as your iPod has enough juice to play, you’re set. (As for battery life, a fully charged Wireless Music System transmitter should give you around 8 hours of playback.)
The Logitech system’s AC-powered receiver is also quite a bit different from the one used by the TuneStage. For starters, it’s much smaller at only 3.5″ by 2.25″; by 1″. (Belkin’s is 6.5″ by 4.5″ by 1.2″.) But more significant is that although Logitech provides the same stereo minijack and left/right RCA outputs—for connecting the system to your stereo or speakers—as the TuneStage, the Wireless Music System also includes a number of control buttons built into the receiver itself: Play/Pause, Stop, Forward, Back, Volume Up, Volume Down, Mute, and Connect. Unfortunately—and confusingly—not all of these controls actually work when using the system with an iPod; only the Connect, Volume and Mute buttons function. The playback controls are there for compatibility with Logitech’s Wireless Music System for PC, which includes a USB transmitter that connects to your Windows PC and lets you control media applications from the receiver. (Since that USB transmitter can be paired with multiple receivers, Logitech includes the buttons on all receivers. I suspect it’s also less expensive to make only a single receiver model.) I personally avoided the volume buttons on the receiver, as well, since using them means having to match three different volume levels: the iPod, the Wireless Music System, and your stereo/speakers. Instead, I set the convenient Variable/Fixed switch on the back of the receiver to Fixed, which disables the receiver’s Volume Up/Down buttons completely (but leaves Mute functional).
You can purchase additional receivers—for different rooms of your home, for example—for $80. The iPod transmitter can pair with up to 10 recievers, although it can transmit to only one at a time.
(Note that although Logitech’s Web site claims that the Wireless Music System for iPod includes a remote control, our review unit did not include one; in fact, there’s no need for a remote control for the iPod version of the Wireless Music System, as there is for the PC version. I suspect this is a typographical error based on the fact that the iPod and PC versions of the Wireless Music System use similar descriptions.)
Simple setup and playback
The Wireless Music System for iPod is very easy to set up. You simply connect the receiver to your stereo—an inexpensive RCA left/right cable is included; alternatively, you can use the mini-to-mini cable included with most multimedia/computer speakers—and plug in the AC adapter, then connect the charged transmitter to your iPod’s headphone jack. Press the Connect button on the transmitter (not the receiver) until its LED turns on, and you’re ready to go—your iPod’s audio is sent wirelessly to your stereo or speaker system. The only hitch is that unlike Belkin’s transmitter, which automatically turns on whenever you begin playback on your iPod, you need to manually turn on the Logitech transmitter each time you want to listen.
As I noted in our review of the TuneStage, Bluetooth is an excellent choice for transmitting audio wirelessly—it avoids most of the limitations of FM and RF (radio-frequency) transmitters because it doesn’t have to compete for an open frequency and doesn’t fade in and out. As with the TuneStage, the Wireless Music System provided clear, static-free transmission with no drop-outs as long as I stayed I stayed within the system’s range. And that range was excellent: I was able to wander over 30 feet away from the receiver without any static or drop-outs; I was even able to transmit from two rooms away, through two interior (wood/drywall) walls. As with all Bluetooth audio products we’ve tested, the system’s audio was clear until just before its limit was reached. At that point, I experienced an occasional drop-out, and going beyond the system’s range resulted in audio cutting off completely. (I much prefer this to the fade-to-static behavior of FM and RF wireless technology.)
Good sound—but not
As wireless music systems go, the Wireless Music System provides good sound quality—certainly better than any FM- or RF-based product. You hear the full range of your music and, as mentioned above, the audio is static-free. However, a few caveats are in order for those with golden ears. On a general note, Bluetooth audio technology does involve some compression, so if you’ve got mainly high-bitrate, lossless, or uncompressed music files, it’s possible that you’ll be able to detect a slight loss in quality when using a Bluetooth accessory such as the Wireless Music System. Similarly, like the TuneStage, the Logitech system uses a variable output—the iPod’s volume level affects the signal going to the receiver—so you don’t get a true line-level signal. However, I suspect that for most people, these won’t be significant issues; sound quality is still quite good.
On the other hand, when comparing the Wireless Music System to Belkin’s TuneStage—playing the same tracks on the same iPod, with the two systems connected to the same higher-end audio system (a
with NHT satellites)—I found the TuneStage to provide slightly better sound quality. The differences weren’t glaring, but on careful listening, the TuneStage produced slightly better detail and a wider soundstage. Again, with low-bit rate files, or on the type of audio system that most consumers will use, these differences might not be an issue, but if you’re a more discriminating listener, they’re worth pointing out.
Logitech’s Wireless Music System for iPod is a welcome addition to the iPod accessory market, bringing the benefits of Bluetooth iPod-to-stereo connections to owners of all iPods—as well as any other device with a standard headphone minijack—at an MSRP $30 lower than that of Belkin’s TuneStage. You get static-free audio transmission with excellent range, even through walls, and simple plug-and-play setup.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a 3G, 4G, mini, or color/photo iPod, I still prefer Belkin’s TuneStage system because of its slightly better sound quality, its transmitter’s smaller size and better fit, and the high-quality included audio cables. (A version of the TuneStage that attaches to the dock connector on all dockable iPods is in the works, but likely won’t be available for some time.)