Review: Logitech Pure-Fi Elite High-Performance Stereo System for iPod
Pros: A cosmetically, functionally, and sonically tweaked refresh of 2006’s best $300 iPod speaker system, continuing its predecessor’s tradition of delivering a better overall sonic and feature package than anything else at its price level. Default sound delivers impressive clarity and bass/mid/treble balance, with better overall performance than peer-priced alternatives, and the ability to alter the sound with built-in bass and treble controls. High-volume, low-distortion capability remains impressive. Multi-lingual user interface with digital clock and good AM and FM radio tuning capabilities; new remote control is backlit and more comfortable than prior version.
Cons: While improved, system’s look remains more masculine than certain popular alternatives; similarly, while system’s overall default sound and clarity are at least as impressive as last year’s model - and better than same-priced competitors - bass performance is ever-so-slightly constrained by comparison with prior AudioStation. System’s menus could be easier to use.
In 2005, Logitech released mm50, a class-leading portable speaker system for the iPod, which was followed in 2006 by AudioStation, a similarly superb all-in-one desktop iPod speaker system. Last month, the company announced that it would discontinue both systems in favor of newer, better replacements: mm50 was being refreshed as Pure-Fi Anywhere ($150), and AudioStation as Pure-Fi Elite ($300), names designed to better reflect their purposes. Each was retooled cosmetically and electronically, supposedly fine-tuning characteristics that had previously won them awards. Did Logitech succeed at making great speakers even better, or did it stumble?
As the rating above indicates, the company succeeded in both cases: the two Pure-Fi speakers are extremely impressive speaker systems for their respective prices, and with the exception of certain aesthetic touches, the very best iPod portable and desktop systems we’ve seen overall. Pure-Fi Anywhere is a marked step up from mm50 sonically, with even better clarity, treble, and faux 3D spatialization, while Pure-Fi Elite remains on the same impressive level as AudioStation, but tilts its bass output in favor of more controlled sound.
Like the portable Pure-Fi Anywhere, Pure-Fi Elite is a four-driver speaker system, but the concept here is different: measuring 16.25” wide by 7.5” tall by 4.75” deep, it’s significantly bigger, not at all portable, and designed to deliver much bigger, clearer audio. It runs only off of wall power, and comes with a large external power brick, as well as two other external attachments—separate external AM and FM radio antennas, neither of which are included in Anywhere. Elite also packs two 1” tweeters and two 4” woofers, while Anywhere has two 2” active full-range drivers and two 3” pressure drivers for bass. Combined with the larger, deeper chambers, the bigger drivers in Elite produce louder, richer sound; the smaller drivers help with better high-end performance, as well.
Whereas mm50 and Pure-Fi Anywhere barely look alike, Elite and AudioStation are almost twins—and still very masculine ones, at that. Because they’re based upon the same general black plastic chassis and components, the same digital LCD screen and clock face is found in each middle, changing to display AM and FM radio tuners, as well as a simple on-screen visualizer. The new design features detachable metal front grilles rather than cloth ones, new pressure-sensitive front buttons, a detachable remote control holder for the system’s back, and a brand new remote control. Logitech’s new face buttons remedy issues that some users had with the prior capacitive controls, and look good on the unit’s face, if not as invisible as before. Still, we’d give Elite the edge visually, mostly thanks to the metal front grilles, which make the all-black system look more modern than AudioStation. Pull them off the front and the two systems look nearly identical, as they do from the back. As with last year’s model, women aren’t going to love Elite’s body, but they’ll be impressed with the way it sounds.
Visual and small functional changes aside, audio performance has changed—generally for the better—in each system. Pure-Fi Elite starts from an enviable position: the AudioStation was, at the time we tested it last year, unrivaled in audio performance and features for its $300 asking price: putting aside the AM/FM radio and digital clock, peer-priced speakers such as Bose’s SoundDock couldn’t touch it on overall sound quality, especially when you played with AudioStation’s bass and treble controls, tweaking them to your liking. Pure-Fi Elite preserves the clock and radio advantages of its predecessor—we actually found the AM and FM radios to be a little better in Elite—while making a few changes to the AudioStation’s sound characteristics.
First, there’s the volume control: Elite sounds louder at its midpoint than AudioStation, but the systems reach very similar top volumes. Elite may be a hint louder, but only a hint; both generate more than enough volume to fill a room and hurt your ears—way more than the $150 Pure-Fi Anywhere. When Elite and AudioStation are adjusted so that they’re both at the same actual amplitude, Elite’s default sound tends to be slightly crisper and more treble-proficient than AudioStation’s, which is a little deeper and flatter sounding. On the flip side, try as we did, we couldn’t make Elite sound as bass-boomy as AudioStation at its maximum bass level; we found this to be a small difference, compared with the more noticeable, and positive tweak to Elite’s treble.
We think that most users will never know or care about the differences between the two systems, but we preferred the way songs sounded with Elite; bass fanatics might prefer a more bass-heavy approach. Our impression is that Logitech has either changed its equalization to produce more dynamic results out of the box, or modestly constrained AudioStation’s low end in the name of lower distortion and enhanced clarity, in either case the type of change that has pros and cons. This is the only reason the otherwise substantially improved Elite flirted with an A- rating, but ultimately, we felt that the sound quality and other features remain so excellent that the flat A is more appropriate.
As a final note on Elite and AudioStation differences, Logitech’s newly updated remote control is almost a study in how to take a generic remote control and make it cooler. Last year’s simple rectagular body with simple rectangular buttons has been transformed with rounded curves and buttons into something that feels more comfortable in the hand and works better two. Each button is now light red backlit for easy viewing at night, and the company has added 6 playlist-toggle presets, shuffle and repeat buttons, and a conspicuous clock setting button to the prior design. The sleep timer button has been made larger, the iPod controls more iPod remote-like, and everything but the menu and select buttons easier to understand. Unfortunately, those buttons are a bit more confusing than before, hiding Elite’s treble, brightness, and language controls; Logitech could have made them easier to access.
It’s worth only a brief note that Logitech, like other iPod speaker makers, was apparently caught unaware by Apple’s decision to lock the video-out functionality of the most recent iPod nano, classic, and touch models. Pure-Fi Elite features a rear video-out port that works with color 4G and 5G iPods, but like virtually every other iPod speaker out there, not with the latest iPods. Other than this, it’s entirely compatible with the latest and greatest iPod models, and features an auxiliary input port for shuffles, too.
Overall, Logitech’s 2007 high-end and portable speakers are almost entirely better than the already great models they replaced: Pure-Fi Anywhere delivers superior sound, a more packable power supply, a better remote, and arguably better styling in a package that’s as affordable and portable as 2005’s mm50, while Pure-Fi Elite offers at least slightly better styling, controls, and sound than the AudioStation it replaces, as well. Though Logitech could have done well by merely reducing the prior models’ prices, we can’t knock it for deciding instead to improve both products and keep their prices the same, which is an equally reasonable alternative. Both of these Pure-Fi models are fully worthy of their $150 and $300 asking prices, as well as our flat A high recommendations.