Kevin Hunt: Post-Squeezebox, Logitech Shifts To UE Smart Radio And Boombox



Only die-hard loyalists noticed when Logitech quietly killed its Squeezebox media players in August, which probably explains the snuff job.

Techies and critics loved the Squeezebox — I ended a review three years ago of the just-issued Squeezebox Radio by saying there has never been a clock radio like it. But the Squeezebox's complex setup and quirky operation might have flummoxed the everyday electronics consumer.

Logitech's new UE series, a byproduct of its 2008 acquisition of the Ultimate Ears earphone company, includes a retooled and simplified Smart Radio, wireless speakers, noise-isolating earphones and headphones in search of a bigger, broader audience.

Here's a quick look at two UE products.

UE Smart Radio

Since that 2009 review, I have yet to see another Internet-connected radio better than the Squeezebox Radio. That includes Logitech's dead-ringer UE Smart Radio, a slightly dumber Squeezebox with a ready-to-use menu and more elegant smartphone app that, indeed, should make it less intimidating to newbie users.

The Smart Radio still connects to thousands of Internet radio stations and premium music services like Spotify, Slacker and MOG over a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection. It also streams music from the owner's in-house music library, even wakes you each morning to music of your choice.

To add the music services or play your own music over a home network, you must install the UE Music Server on your Windows or Mac computer. Just as the new radio is the old radio, the new UE server is the old Squeezebox server without some of the features techies loved, like third-party plug-ins with an "app gallery" and controlling the radio via the server.

Casual users will not miss those features, but Squeezebox Radio owners fear abandonment by Logitech. The company says it will still provide troubleshooting and support for users of the old radio and the old server, but it's encouraging Squeezebox Radio owners to move to the UE server, and its lesser features, with a firmware update.

The UE Smart Radio, at $180, also includes a built-in battery, a $50 option with the original Squeezebox Radio. That obviously makes the Smart Radio more mobile, but how mobile can it be with a Wi-Fi connection. For a truly mobile device, you're better off with a battery-powered Bluetooth speaker that will play anywhere your smartphone goes.

As a bedside clock radio or as table radio for the kitchen or den, the UE Smart Radio is still better than anything I've seen since the Squeezebox Radio.

UE Boombox

The $250 UE Boombox, with its sculpted aluminum handle and perforated-metal grille, is a clear upgrade from Logitech's $150 Wireless Boombox.

Though it can powered by an nearby electrical outlet, the UE Boombox is foremost a portable speaker that uses Bluetooth technology for wireless music transmission from a smartphone or tablet. the A2DP Bluetooth audio profile guarantees two things: swift pairing with almost any Bluetooth-compatible device and highly compressed audio.

The UE Boombox's sound panders to populist tastes — the most distinguishing characteristic is its bass. Unfortunately, it's not adjustable. The minimalist Boombox has only an oversize rubberized volume control, plus or minus, that takes up the entire left side panel.

Yet the Boombox never sounds obnoxiously bottom-heavy. The amount of sound coming from this portable speaker, about 15 inches long and only about 3 deep, will surprise. Logitech, with Ultimate Ears, designed it with two half-inch tweeters and a trio of 3-inch drivers for lower frequencies, all powered by a 15-watt Class D amplifier. The lowest frequencies come from four 2.75-inch passive radiators, not powered by the amplifier but moving to the energy of the other drivers' movement.

The UE Boombox encourages communal listening too: The Bluetooth button, on the right side panel, allows the connection of up to three mobile devices simultaneously. That's the boombox spirit.

khunt@tribune.com

What: Logitech UE Smart Radio

Price: $180, ue.logitech.com

Hot: A simplified, easy-to-use successor to the Squeezebox Radio. Good sound for its size and, with all its music options via the Internet, an exceptional modern radio.

Not: Sooner or later, owners of the original radio likely will lose the features that made the Squeezebox a cult favorite.

What: UE Boombox

Price: $250, ue.logitech.com

Hot: Great looks, good sound in a portable Bluetooth speaker.

Not: Bass, sometime overpowering, not adjustable.

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