The Logitech UE Air bears the Ultimate Ears (UE) moniker previously reserved for the company's in-ear headphones. Operating on Apple's Airplay streaming media platform, the UE Air captures music wirelessly from iOS-powered devices and iTunes software without sacrificing fidelity. An ambitious price tag ($399) may drive you to consider cheaper Bluetooth wireless speakers instead, but the UE Air is worthwhile if room-filling sound is your top concern.
Design and features
The obtuse bend of the low-profile UE Air gives it a shape similar to a stingray, with smooth curves around the glossy black plastic backing that runs all the way around to the covered foam speaker on the front. Its side profile is slim and beautifully contoured, and there isn't much action up front aside from the push-button dock that slides out from the bottom for your iOS devices like an iPhone or an iPad. It also features four rubber feet on the bottom that gives the speaker a slight lift.
Flip it around and you'll find an auxiliary input jack that lets you play music from any source with a compatible 3.5mm wire (not included), as well as a power port for the accompanying AC brick, and finally an Ethernet port for a direct connection to a network. Unfortunately, since Logitech designed this speaker to use as a stationary shelf accessory in your home, the UE Air lacks a rechargeable battery and must remain permanently tethered to the power cord during operation.
The leaning design of the UE Air hides the top-mounted controls from view, but take a look behind the upper lip and you'll see three silver dials: a mute button, a non-notched volume rocker, and a power button that also puts the speaker in sleep mode for quick-start access. It's also worth noting that although the volume knob feels especially sensitive, Airplay allows users to simultaneously adjust volume levels on the source as well as the speaker, so refer to your iOS device to fine tune these adjustments.
Logitech assumes that most users will pair the UE Air to a wireless network, so it makes the setup process nearly foolproof -- just seat your iOS device into the dock on the front, and the Air will prompt you to install the accompanying Logitech UE Air app that will guide you through the Wi-Fi connection process. Remember to latch your device onto the strongest network available and select the same one in the app. Once that's finished, the three devices will shake hands and you'll be able to quickly play music and fine-tune simple equalizer functions like bass and treble levels.
Despite excellent hardware, however, the company falters on the hardware design of the dock itself. The connector sits on a spring to accommodate a wide range of case sizes, but the rotating hinge makes it difficult to properly seat and remove a device without feeling like it's about to break off in your hand.
Once you establish a connection with a device, the UE Air will remember the handshake and recognize you the next time you walk into the door. When you're ready to listen to music, just press the up arrow button to the right of your phone's music player and select the UE Air.
You may notice that the speaker takes a second or two to buffer your song selections and volume adjustments on your phone/tablet, but you should know that this is a symptom of AirPlay itself, not Logitech. If you're a frequent track-changer, you'll likely prefer the snappy response of a Bluetooth speaker, especially if you purchase one with similar sound quality such as the SuperTooth Disco.
Ethernet aside, you actually have a third wireless connectivity option if you don't own an AirPlay device. The instruction booklet details a slightly more complicated method that involves navigating to an IP configuration page in a Web browser, selecting your network, and entering a password. Once the UE Air finishes a reboot, you should be hooked up.Performance
While the SuperTooth Disco and other Bluetooth speakers are ideal for an individual auditory experience, the UE Air really shines in a group setting like a party or a barbecue where it can flex its powerful double rear-mounted subwoofers. The unit can blast music at astoundingly loud volumes that will likely turn you deaf before blowing out, and your sweet tones will capably reach across large, open spaces thanks to the dual tweeters in front.
The bass on The Dream's "Fast Car" blasts out of the introduction with gusto, and the UE Air keeps tempo with clean thuds and a satisfying rumble that complements the lower spectrums of the synthesizer solos. As stated, the UE Air iOS app lets you add incremental bass and treble boosts, but the quality of the wireless stream achieves such sonic gains over Bluetooth that there's really no need to fiddle with micro-adjustments.Conclusion
The Logitech UE Air speaker features impressive audio performance thanks to the AirPlay wireless standard. It makes an excellent bookshelf speaker, but be prepared to pay a premium for the relatively new technology. If you simply can't get past the price, however, a Bluetooth speaker like the SuperTooth Disco may fall more within your reach.