Review: Logitech Wireless Music System for iPod
Pros: A powerful wireless audio system that enables you to use your iPod as a remote control and jukebox for a home stereo system. Electronically compatible with all iPods and capable of broadcasting clear sound from distances markedly exceeding its promised 33-foot range. Receiver is small and easy to set up and use; transmitter draws no power from iPod’s battery.
Cons: Transmitter mounts oddly on certain iPod models, not properly staying in place on the iPod mini, 5G or nano when headphone plug is moved as shown in instructions. Lacks the receiver-side controls, Dock Connector connectivity, and more diverse feature set of top-rated (though more expensive) alternative.
Over the last couple of months, our First Looks section has previewed several iPod Bluetooth accessories that were originally developed for use with iPod 3G/4G/mini models, so we’ve held off on reviews in the hope that their manufacturers would quickly release improved iPod 5G and nano-ready replacements. Last week, Logitech - maker of earlier Wireless Headphones for the iPod - released an updated version of its Wireless Music System for iPod ($150), a combination of a white iPod-mounted transmitter and small black receiver designed to wirelessly broadcast iPod music to a stereo. Our review looks at the key details of the System’s history and performance, omitting detailed discussion of its Bluetooth functionality, as Logitech doesn’t market or brand the system as a Bluetooth-compatible device.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of Bluetooth wireless systems, we’ve posted an Introduction to Bluetooth Wireless Accessories primer here. In brief, Logitech’s Wireless Music System falls into the “non-portable Bluetooth system” category, and is designed to let your iPod serve as a wireless remote control and jukebox for a pair of speakers 33 feet away.
Each Wireless Music System set we’ve tested consists of six main pieces - the transmitter, the receiver, separate AC power adapters for each, a black stereo RCA-to-RCA cable, and a white pass-through audio cable for the transmitter. Current versions of the System ship with the simplified black receiver shown above, as explained in subsequent paragraphs; older versions include the more complex receiver pictured below. In any case, you connect the AC adapter and stereo cables to the receiver, then connect the cabled receiver to your stereo system, and flip up its rear antenna. The transmitter contains its own rechargeable battery, which you power up with the second AC adapter before using the transmitter with your iPod. Logitech includes the white extension cable just in case you want to use the transmitter with a non-iPod device that otherwise wouldn’t physically fit against its boxy body. (Notably, the “remote control” listed on Logitech’s site as a pack-in is just a typo; each receiver has an Infrared sensor that’s not used by any of the included components.)
It’s obvious that the release of the fifth-generation iPod and nano threw every maker of Bluetooth accessories for a major loop; Belkin, Griffin, and others were forced to redesign their transmitters just as initial iPod 3G-, 4G-, and mini-compatible versions were coming off the production lines, while companies such as Bluetake and Wi-Gear released outdated transmitters and hoped for the best. Most of the new transmitters we’ve heard about will mount on the iPod’s bottom, but they’re taking time to manufacture. So Logitech’s redesign solution was simpler: it took the old top-mounting iPod transmitter packaged with its Wireless Headphones and, like Apple, simply removed the proprietary extended connector from next to the headphone plug. Initially, it left the Wireless Music System receivers the same, including buttons for all of these features even though the iPods couldn’t use them. The latest System receivers ship with only one button: “Connect,” a difference shown in these photos.
From an audio standpoint, the solution works as well as before: music sounds as good as it can coming out of your iPod’s headphone port - virtually identical if you flip between wireless and wired output to the same set of speakers. Though the Bluetooth 1.2 standard is capable of only near-CD quality audio reproduction, Logitech makes the most of it, delivering great sound that will satisfy all but the most finicky listeners. More impressively, Logitech’s system actually achieves performance beyond its promised range of 33 feet - in one set of tests, we were able to place the iPod in a stable position over 45 feet (and one wall) away and still hear its music through the speakers, with breakup issues coming up around the 60-foot mark; moving around with the iPod only caused temporary signal interference past the 33-foot mark. This was really impressive.
It’s also worth a note that in addition to its RCA-style left and right-channel outputs, a minijack-style stereo connector on the receiver’s rear enables easy single cable connection to multimedia speakers, as well. We mention this only because you have the option to add additional “Add-On Receivers” to the base system; they will apparently be sold for $80, and allow you to move your iPod from room to room and receiver to receiver. Unfortunately, you can’t broadcast to more than one receiver at a time.
The Wireless Music System’s strong broadcasting performance is counterbalanced by two negative consequences of Logitech’s last-minute design changes. First, even though the new transmitter’s headphone plug can be moved from the bottom center of the transmitter to its bottom right (with an included plastic insert to lock it permanently into either position), and conceivably mounts on everything from 1G iPods to the shuffle and nano, it hasn’t been tooled properly to stay stable on certain iPods. Specifically, if you switch it to the right side for iPod 5Gs and minis, each of which has a right side-mounted headphone port, it flops off their tops. In each case, though the transmitter always maintains an audio connection, its weight pivots in the iPod’s headphone port with greater ease than most headphone plugs. The right-side mounted headphone plug on nano has similar issues. For that reason, you’ll actually need to move the plug to a central position and have the transmitter hang loosely, but less offensively, off of the iPods’ sides. Thankfully, on 3G and 4G iPods, the transmitter mounts properly, locking into these iPods’ Hold switches so as not to spin loosely around. We consider this a serious enough design problem for the 5G, mini, and nano that our rating distinguishes sharply between these iPods and others based solely on this fact - it’s just not properly matched to these models.
The second change is electronic. Because it used the iPod’s extended headphone connector, Logitech’s initial concept for the Wireless Music System was capable of transmitting track, volume, and play/pause commands from the receiver to the iPod, just as its Wireless Headphones (and TEN Technology’s competing naviPlay (iLounge rating: A-)) controlled those features without you touching the iPod. Now that the connector is gone, the feature is gone, and the receiver and transmitter alike feature only one Connect (pairing) button a piece. On the bright side, using these simple buttons to establish a connection between the transmitter and receiver is effortlessly easy, and once established, it’s solid. That said, the absence of the original feature set remains unfortunate; as with naviPlay, a bottom-mounting transmitter would have solved this problem.
From a big picture perspective, Logitech’s Wireless Music System for iPod delivers appropriately clean and impressively powerful audio broadcasting from an iPod to a stereo, rating less than great overall only by comparison with TEN’s naviPlay, which offers better receiver-side controls, a more diverse portable/non-portable feature set, and a more appropriate design for use with Dock Connecting iPod models. Given the performance of Logitech’s underlying wireless audio technology, however, we have every reason to believe that its next take on this theme will be world-beating.