Pros: A highly simplified, lightweight one-piece portable audio system that resembles a slanted version of Apple’s larger, more expensive and more powerful iPod Hi-Fi. Includes a carrying case, remote control, and audio cable, plus adapters for its top-mounted Universal Dock. Good sound quality for the price.
Cons: While still good, sound quality and portability are diminished from the company’s earlier, only slightly more expensive mm50 speaker system, which includes more than enough extra features to justify the price difference. Requires six AA batteries for only 10 hours of play time.
Most iPod-specific speaker systems we’ve reviewed have an obvious “reason for being,” but Logitech’s new AudioStation Express ($130) doesn’t, in our view: the company already makes an outstanding portable speaker called mm50 (iLounge rating: A-) with similar physical dimensions, specifications, pricing, and performance. By comparison, AudioStation Express offers a package that’s slightly less expensive, impressive, and convenient for travel – one that appears to have been designed appeal to people who are cosmetically looking for a “desktop speaker that can also go on the road,” rather than a “portable speaker that can also sit on your desktop.” At today’s pricing, we think the mm50 is a clearly superior option for the dollar, and as such, our review of AudioStation Express is relatively brief.
To get the basics out of the way first, AudioStation Express is essentially a fusion of mm50’s slanted body with the design sensibilities of Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi, which similarly mixed a white plastic body and large black speaker grille into a single, largely rectangular box. Unlike the large, heavy Hi-Fi, AudioStation Express is lightweight, measures only 11.75 inches across by 3.4 inches tall and 4.5 inches deep, and runs on six AA batteries or an included wall adapter.
It’s an inch narrower and almost imperceptibly shorter (about 1/5 inch) than the mm50, but substantially thicker – two and a half times the mm50’s 1.75” depth. The added thickness makes AudioStation Express less suitable for packing in ultra-thin bags and briefcases, but provides room for an internal ported bass chamber. As with mm50, Logitech includes a carrying case for Express, here softer and capable of being kept on the unit while it’s in use.
Like the Hi-Fi, AudioStation Express places a Universal iPod Dock on its top and includes a collection of Universal Dock Adapters, an evolution of sorts from mm50’s front-mounted, sizer-dependent iPod dock. The controls have been kept extremely simple: there’s a push-in dial that turns the unit’s power on or off, and adjusts the volume. That’s it, unless you use the included white remote control, which includes six standard buttons: power, play/pause, track backwards and forwards, and volume up and down. This Infrared remote is enough like mm50’s to be able to control both devices simultaneously – Express works from a couple of feet more than mm50’s roughly 15-foot remote distance – and the only thing missing is mm50’s seventh “3D Stereo” button, a feature that’s not available on Express.
Similarly, the backs of both units are reasonably threadbare – both have three total ports, and Express also has a storage slot for its remote.
AudioStation Express has a power port, an audio input port, and an RCA-style video output port, contrasting with mm50’s power, audio input, and Dock Connector pass-through ports; both systems include power adapters and minijack-to-minijack audio cables, but nothing for video or data transfers. Put another way, if you have a need for iPod video output, AudioStation Express is the better choice; if you prefer the ability to synchronize your iPod on the go, mm50’s a better pick.
Cosmetics and the “3D stereo” button aside, there are two other omissions in AudioStation Express relative to mm50: one’s the battery, and the other’s audio quality. Both systems run for around 10 hours off of battery power, but mm50 includes a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, while you’ll need to replenish Express’s six AAs after every drain down – somewhat of an issue given that most other portables currently on the market run for 50-150% longer on as many or fewer batteries. Along with the mm50’s more conveniently sized frame, its inclusion of a rechargeable battery in our view is a reasonable justification for the modest price difference between the models.
The bigger justification is the difference between the models in sound quality. In short, Logitech got it right the first time with mm50: by using four drivers that are still relatively large by portable standards, and adding the “3D Stereo” button, the company was able to create impressively detailed, full-range sound that had enough treble sparkle and staging to stand out over numerous muddy competitors.