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2012 Head-Fi Holiday Gift Guide (Desktop Audio)













(Yes, Loudspeakers!)

Even Head-Fi'ers occasionally hang up their headphones and want to listen to loudspeakers from time to time. CNET Audiophiliac blogger Steve Guttenberg recently reviewed the PSB Imagine mini loudspeakers, www.psbspeakers.com, on Head-Fi.org. You can read the complete review by clicking here. About the PSB Imagine mini speakers, Steve said:

"...no in-ear or full-size headphone images as naturally as the Imagine mini. The mini resolves dynamic shading better than headphones, and you feel more viscerally connected to music over speakers."

The PSB Imagine mini loudspeakers start at $760/pair, and require a separate amplifier to power them (they do not have built-in amplifiers).








I picked up a Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air ($600) iDevice dock with AirPlay (www.bowers-wilkins.com), and to say I’ve been using it a lot would be an understatement--I actually bought a second one to use at the office. Being able to hop on iTunes on any of my Macs, or on any of my several iDevices, and wirelessly stream music (losslessly) to the Zeppelin Air is killer. It is the best-sounding iDevice dock I've yet heard, and it can play loud, with 150 watts of total amplification (each of the five drivers with its own amplifier).

The biggest downside of the Zeppelin Air for me is the lack of flexibility that comes with a single-chassis unit. Obviously, the speakers can't be separated to improve imaging. And make sure to read the instructions to find out how to adjust the Zeppelin Air's bass level, as it can be a bit heavy at its default setting (for my tastes).







  I also have the tiny Bowers & Wilkins MM-1 ($499) active (self-amplified) loudspeakers on my desk at my home office, and they sound beautiful. They do not, however, play very loudly, which is fine for me, because I rarely listen at high volume levels. Also, despite being so small, they manage to sound surprisingly full--just don't expect deep bass. As little desktop nearfield monitors, the MM-1 system is wonderful, with nice, neutral mids, and a surprisingly refined treble.  






  At my office can be found the Audioengine P4 loudspeakers (starting at $249 a /pair), audioengineusa.com, and Audioengine's N22 amplifier ($199). This system is not as refined sounding as the Bowers & Wilkins MM-1, but it still sounds very good for the price, and it plays much louder, and has deeper, more impactful bass. The N22 has the added benefit of a built-in headphone output, so, in addition to being very affordable, it's also very Head-Fi-friendly! For the price, this Audioengine P4/N22 system is easy to recommend.  




Ultimate Ears Is Really Branching Out

As if Ultimate Ears (ue.logitech.com) diving full-on into the over-ear headphone market wasn't news enough, I found out they're also venturing into loudspeaker products--even one that is essentially a smart internet radio alarm clock. Did I have reservations when I heard the news? Yes. I was afraid that perhaps Logitech was stretching the UE brand out just a bit too far. It turns out my concerns were unfounded. The speaker products UE released this year--at least the few I tried--are fun and worthy expressions of UE's expertise in sound.







  The first UE speaker product I encountered was the new Logitech UE Mobile Boombox ($99.99), a tiny portable, rechargeable Bluetooth wireless mini stereo loudspeaker that lets you play music from any Bluetooth-enabled device from as far as 50 feet away. (It will support up to eight pairings, with up to two connected at the same time.) Though your next house party won't be powered by your UE Mobile Boombox, its two 1" full-range drivers do a better job of playing music than I expected from drivers that could fairly be described as two dots. Though I use it for music on occasion, it has seen just as much use playing the sound for movies or shows I watch on my iPad while traveling. The UE Mobile Boombox can also serve as a Bluetooth speakerphone (though its call quality is only so-so).  







Getting you closer to house party music levels is the Logitech UE Boombox ($249.99), which is a portable, rechargeable Bluetooth wireless stereo loudspeaker with two 2 5/8" passive radiators, two 3" woofers, and two 0.5" tweeters. The built-in rechargeable battery can keep the UE Boombox playing for as long as six hours between charges. The UE Boombox will allow up to eight Bluetooth pairings, with up to three of them connected at the same time.

The UE Boombox is a very sleek, simple, attractive looking speaker, that, as one reviewer put it, looks like a nod to designers Dieter Rams and Jonathan Ive. Spanning its entire length is a thick, beautiful, wraparound aluminum carrying handle that looks to me like something that helps form a tough chassis.

As for its sound quality, it's actually very good for a battery-powered portable boombox--especially if you take even just a minute to experiment a bit with placement. The uses for the UE Boombox are easy to find. Since I don't have patio speakers, the UE Boombox finds itself in that role. Rockumentaries on Netflix, on an iPad? Yeah, it works great for that, too. The UE Boombox is loud music with you. It's fun.








The last of the UE speaker products I tried was the Logitech UE Smart Radio ($179.99). You know what this one is? It's an alarm clock for Head-Fi'ers. On those occasions I need an alarm clock to wake me up, the UE Smart Radio wakes me up to my music on MOG (it also support many other streaming stations and services). I also use the UE Smart Radio to play music while I'm changing in the bedroom.

One cool feature I do use on the UE Smart Radio a lot is the free bank of "Sounds & Effects." There are some nice nature sounds (some more convincing than others), as well as other effects, my favorite being the sounds of a city downtown. I'm out in the suburbs, so running the city sounds makes me feel like I'm in a downtown apartment with my windows open. I also occasionally use the city sounds as my alarm tone, as it's a fairly relaxing effect to wake up to--and it also has the occasional entertaining side effect of making me wonder (for just a few confused seconds) where the heck I fell asleep the night before. (Some of these effects, including the city sounds, work well via the UE Smart Radio's headphone jack, too.)

It hasn't been all peaches and cream with the UE Smart Radio, though. Some problems I've run into with it include failing to get it to pull from my iTunes library--I'm at a complete loss at this point to understand how to make that work. Also, I tend to prefer using the UE Smart Radio's companion app on my iPhone to control it, as I find that far faster and more intuitive than using the control panel on the radio itself.

Still, these glitches haven't come close to undoing the charm of using what feels like a clock radio built for Head-Fi'ers.

So, yes, Logitech is definitely branching out with the UE brand, but their moves in that regard--based on my experience with the products they're branching out with--convince me that they're so far staying true to UE's "POWER TO THE MUSIC" motto.




Comments (2)

1st commenter, my comment is useless.
moon-audio showing 3 incredibly expensive cans there..
Head-Fi.org › Articles › 2012 Head-Fi Holiday Gift Guide (Desktop Audio)