Review: Logitech Pure-Fi Express Plus
A couple of years ago, Logitech introduced the $130 AudioStation Express, a slightly less expensive alternative to its more impressive $150 mm50 portable speaker. Soon thereafter, Logitech renamed its AudioStation products "Pure-Fi," and rebranded AudioStation Express as Pure-Fi Express. Now, there's a new Pure-Fi Express in town -- the $100 Pure-Fi Express Plus -- and the older model has dropped in price to $80.
Despite the complicated name, Pure-Fi Express Plus is a very simple speaker system to understand: it’s very affordable, sounds great for the price, and works with both iPods and iPhones. Measuring roughly 13.75” wide by 4.25” deep and 4.5” tall, Express Plus is wider and taller than its predecessor, but similar in depth, employing an array of four total speaker drivers that can be heard with roughly equivalent clarity from the cloth-covered front and back speaker chambers in the system. A similar four-driver array was featured in mm50, and then in its highly similar “Pure-Fi Anywhere” successors; these four speakers can together provide more detailed and balanced sound than most of the two-speaker $100-$150 audio systems we’ve tested.
As was the case before, Pure-Fi Express Plus includes a wall adapter and remote control, the latter clean and streamlined with the same shuffle and repeat play buttons found on the main unit’s face, plus a power button and iPod play, track, and volume controls. There’s also a compartment on Plus’s bottom that enables it to run off of six AA batteries. Logitech doesn’t aggressively advertise the system’s portability, but Plus still runs for its predecessor’s roughly 10 hours of play time, even though it no longer includes a soft carrying case. We got the impression that the company designed Express Plus to be a desktop system first and a portable system second, contrasting with the current Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 system, which is designed primarily for portability and includes a rechargeable battery, but can also serve as a desktop speaker.
Other than the obvious dimensional and shape changes to the cabinet, Logitech’s biggest changes are in materials and a newly added feature. The company has preserved the prior model’s oversized power and volume dial, replacing the black plastic with a silver swirled metallic version, and added below it a simple alarm clock with an amber screen. While there’s no radio functionality in Express Plus, and the clock and alarm features aren’t as sophisticated as in the company’s Pure-Fi Anytime and Pure-Fi Dream systems, you do get a single beeping alarm that can be set for any time. That’s fine for a desktop clock, but many bedside users will probably want added conveniences, such as a snooze bar, radio, and more alarm options that were deliberately left out here.
Apart from the limited clock, Pure-Fi Express Plus has been designed to deliver a lot of performance for the dollar. Though it’s $30 less expensive, it’s highly comparable sonically to the Pure-Fi Anywhere 2, only a little more capable in the bass department thanks to its greater depth and larger speaker chambers, but a little less in the apparent treble department, most likely because the added bass is counterbalancing the higher frequencies. From an audio standpoint, the only thing you really lose in Express Plus relative to Anywhere 2 is the latter’s faux 3-D spatializer, which most people won’t care about; conversely, you gain the ability to hear music from behind the unit, making Plus a better choice to sit in the middle of a room rather than at one end of it.
Though we’ve made the point in prior mm50 and Pure-Fi Anywhere reviews, it’s worth noting at this point that Logitech’s portable audio systems deliver some of the very best sound quality we’re heard at their prices, and Pure-Fi Express Plus is in the same league: you’ll be hard-pressed to find something that both sounds and looks better than this for a $100 MSRP, particularly if you want an iPhone-shielded audio system. Express Plus sounds better than the $100 non-portable clock radios we’ve tested, including even Logitech’s Pure-Fi Anytime, and better than the $150 iHome iP99. You’re getting the sound quality of what used to be a $150 portable speaker for $100 here, the next logical step down the chain once Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 debuted at $130. The only compromises you’ll make are on thinness, the lack of a built-in rechargeable battery, and the omission of a carrying case.
Overall, Pure-Fi Express Plus is one of the rare speakers that’s worthy of our high recommendation: it ups the ante on sound quality, design, and features for its budget $100 price, and only compromises on size to achieve these goals. Though it’s not targeted at audiophiles, it’s one of those great bang for the buck systems that will please virtually any iPhone or iPod owner looking to spend $100 or less for a docking audio system; it’s certainly one of the best audio systems we’ve seen this year. Consider it seriously as a desktop system if occasional portability or simple alarm clock functionality suit your needs.