Review: Logitech Wireless Boombox for iPad, iPhone + iPod touch
Logitech has produced the industry's best $150 portable iPod and iPhone speakers since 2005, when it entered the Apple accessory market with an unusually wide and powerful little audio system called mm50. Since then, the company has had hit after hit, including the 2007 Pure-Fi Anywhere, 2008 Pure-Fi Anywhere 2, and last year's Rechargeable Speaker S715i, its most capable portable system to date. Now, in the midst of a major industry shift towards wireless speakers -- recently focused largely on Apple's AirPlay standard -- Logitech has made a smart move with its Wireless Boombox for iPad, iPhone + iPod touch ($150), a tweaked version of S715i. Rather than adding in AirPlay support at a huge price premium, or trying to graft an iPad dock into an iPod/iPhone-ready design, Wireless Boombox uses a Bluetooth chip to deliver a very similar experience at a much lower price point. The result is the best portable speaker we've tested all year, trumping even iHome's $300 AirPlay speaker iW1 on sound, while making only small compromises to achieve its comparatively attractive price point.
Very little has changed from S715i to the Wireless Boombox, but we’ll recap the basics from our S715i review: shaped somewhat like an oversized black bone from the back, both systems measure roughly 15 1/4” wide by 5” tall and 2.5” deep, with a pop-out kickstand that increases their opened depth to around 4” at the center. The same eight speaker drivers are found in each unit: twin 1/2” tweeters, two 3” midrange drivers, and four 2” passive bass radiators, which fire forwards and backwards through protective speaker grilles. Logitech includes a user-removable Nickel-Metal Hydride rechargeable battery with both systems, rating the S715i’s as capable of eight hours of docked device playback, and the Wireless Boombox’s as ready for six hours of wireless playback. Each comes with a wall power adapter, and from a distance, you’d barely be able to tell their mixed glossy and matte black bodies apart.
But there are differences. On S715i, the kickstand pops out from the top, exposing an iPod/iPhone universal dock well in the center of three buttons, a power/battery light, and an Infrared receiver for an included remote control. The Wireless Boombox loses the dock, the remote, and the Infrared receiver, gaining a Bluetooth pairing button in the latter’s place, as well as separate power and Bluetooth status lights. In the new model, the kickstand pops out of the bottom back, revealing an even easier compartment to let users replace the rechargeable battery—no screws are required this time to slide the panel open. Both units have a rubber-sealed, pill-shaped hole for auxiliary audio in and power ports, but the Wireless Boombox’s hole is a little larger to give users more room to connect both cables at once. Logitech includes a 3.5mm audio cable with the Wireless Boombox, but not with S715i, which instead comes with a simple soft carrying case.
Only three of these changes are meaningful. By removing the dock from Wireless Boombox, Logitech prevents the new model from charging Apple’s devices, though they can still connect for audio using the 3.5mm aux-in port or Bluetooth feature; pre-Bluetooth iPod users will likely be better off with S715i. Dropping the last version’s not particularly great carrying case means that you’ll have to self-pad the bag you carry Wireless Boombox in. And then there’s the major addition of Bluetooth wireless streaming support, which justifies the small omissions.
Thanks to Bluetooth, the Wireless Boombox connects and receives streams so reliably from a nearby (60-foot or closer) iOS device that we actually found it easier to use with an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch than the aforementioned iW1 system with AirPlay. Logitech doesn’t mention which Bluetooth standard the Wireless Boombox supports, but it appears to be Bluetooth 2.1, as iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches can be paired without entering any PIN codes; one device automatically, quickly re-pairs as soon as the Wireless Boombox is turned on. Unlike AirPlay devices, the Wireless Boombox doesn’t have a one- or two-second synchronization delay upon connection, and we never experienced any signal drops during streaming.
There’s only a single issue with the pairing. The Wireless Boombox has the ability to pair with multiple iOS devices, but can’t switch between them without a manual request being made from the device’s Bluetooth settings menu. Instead, the Wireless Boombox continues to attempt to connect again to whichever device it last paired with until it’s told to look elsewhere. From our standpoint, this is a minor inconvenience, but if you’re looking for a robust multi-source or multi-speaker solution, AirPlay speakers do handle multi-device connections more easily. They’re also preferable if you need a greater distance than 30-60 feet from the streaming audio device.
Sonic performance is another story, and an area in which the Wireless Boombox puts similar rivals to shame. Because of Logitech’s component choices, S715i and the Wireless Boombox are unusually gifted by $150 portable speaker standards. Rather than forcing a total of two or four speakers to try and perform the entire sonic spectrum, Logitech’s eight speakers divide audio up into highs, mids, and lows so that separately optimized drivers can handle each part of a song properly. Both the S715i and Wireless Boombox have the same instantly likable audio balance—equal parts treble, midrange, and bass, with acceptable rather than outstanding low-end performance—and at peak can play music at a high enough volume to fill a small room, with minimal distortion. The Wireless Boombox’s peak volume is just a little louder then S715i’s, and with quiet tracks, a very small amount of high-frequency distortion can be heard in the audio signal. Amplifier noise is minimal, and with typical modern songs, most users would struggle to hear major differences between the Dock Connector output of an iPhone or iPod touch and the Bluetooth output from the same device.
In light of recent AirPlay speaker releases such as iHome’s iW1 and JBL’s On Air Wireless, we want to underscore just how important the prior paragraph’s details are. Neither of those systems sounds as good as the Wireless Boombox, even though they sell for twice or more the price; Logitech’s speaker rivals them in volume and clarity while performing more of the audio spectrum. Conceptually, AirPlay adds Wi-Fi, lossless streaming, and iTunes-equipped computer compatibility to a speaker system, but without superior amplifiers, speaker drivers, and network reliability, most of these differences turn out to be more important on paper than in practice. It’s possible that the first-generation AirPlay speakers will receive firmware or other software-related updates that dramatically improve the user experience, but for the time being, it’s safe to say that the Wireless Boombox is easier to set up and use while delivering superior sound quality to all but the most expensive AirPlay system we’ve tested, Bowers & Wilkins’ $600 Zeppelin Air. B&W’s system is four times as expensive as the Wireless Boombox, amongst many other reasons they’re not directly comparable to one another.
Overall, Logitech’s Wireless Boombox for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch is a truly great new addition to the wireless speaker scene, combining the excellent performance of the earlier S715i with strong, straightforward Bluetooth streaming and a solid rechargeable battery. Despite the recent attention AirPlay speakers have received, this speaker demonstrates precisely why Bluetooth options will continue to be viable for the foreseeable future, particularly when they’re offered at lower price points. The only things we’d like to see in an eventual sequel to this system would be microphone support and enhanced Bluetooth performance, particularly for easier multi-point pairing and even better sound quality. As-is, the Wireless Boombox outperforms both peer-priced and even more expensive models; it is certainly worthy of our rare flat A rating and high recommendation.