Logitech's Wireless Music System for PC ($150 list) is the first digital media receiver we've seen that uses the Bluetooth A2DP wireless audio streaming protocol. Its two main components are a transmitter dongle that connects directly to the PC where your music files are stored and a receiver unit that connects to your home audio system. The headline feature of the Wireless Music System is that it can play any sound your PC outputs, regardless of digital rights management (DRM) or copy-protection issues. By contrast, virtually all previous digital audio receivers were limited to supporting only certain file formats and PC audio server applications. The Wireless Music System's biggest drawback is that the receiver unit doesn't have a front-panel display or any kind of visual user interface. There is a remote control, but there's only so much you can do without a display. The idea is to fire up a playlist or a "live" stream, such as an Internet radio station, on your PC and then go to the room where the Wireless Music System is installed. Alternatively, you could set up the receiver unit in the same room as your PC and the transmitter just for the sake of going wireless.
Aesthetically, the Wireless Music System is diminutive but attractive. The transmitter unit essentially looks like a USB thumbdrive with a swiveling antenna. It has a single status LED, as well as one button that can be used to establish a wireless link with the receiver unit. Logitech thoughtfully includes a cradle with extension cable for the transmitter, although it's not required. Measuring 1 by 3.5 by 2.25 inches (HWD), the small black receiver unit has four top-mounted buttons--play/pause, next track, previous track, and stop--arrayed in a circle, similar to the iPod Shuffle. It also has volume up/down, mute, and wireless link keys. Audio outputs are strictly analog: a 1/8-inch minijack and RCA plugs (red and white) enable connections to any stereo, receiver, or boombox with a line-in port. The tiny remote control, measuring 3.5 inches long by 1.25 inches wide, has the same assortment of controls as the receiver unit.
The transports (play/pause, next track, previous track, and stop) on the receiver unit and the remote control work only with applications that support multimedia keyboard commands. These include the following (or later) software versions: Windows Media Player 9, Musicmatch 9, iTunes 4, RealPlayer 10, and Winamp 5. However, such players as Yahoo Music Engine or Rhapsody are not supported. Unlike most other current digital media receivers, the Wireless Music System has neither a front-panel display nor a TV output, so you'll want to set up playlists on your PC as a workaround for flying blind.
Setting up the Logitech Wireless Music System is a snap. To get started, you plug the USB transmitter dongle into your PC (with or without the cradle). That versatility makes it especially easy to swap the transmitter between different PCs. All you do to install the receiver unit is connect its outputs to your A/V receiver or other playback device and plug in its power adapter. The transmitter and receiver units automatically establish a connection with each other. You know the link has been made when both devices' LEDs go from flashing red to blue. Additional receiver units are available for $79 each. Logitech claims you can pair as many as 16 of them with one USB transmitter. The company also offers other products in the same product family: the , which transmit to cordless headphones rather than a base station, and the , which transmits music to your stereo directly from your iPod.
By default, whenever the Wireless Music System's transmitter is plugged into your computer, all computer audio is rerouted to the Wireless Music System and is not output through your computer's local audio jacks. Installing Logitech's included Music Anywhere software configures the Wireless Music System to transmit only audio that originates from Windows Media Player, Musicmatch, or Winamp and automatically routes all other sounds solely to your computer's audio jacks. If you use iTunes, RealPlayer, or another audio player that's not supported by Music Anywhere, the only way to switch from wireless audio transmission to local playback is by unplugging the USB transmitter from your PC.
Wireless streaming performance was very good. We enjoyed largely hiccup-free performance with the transmitter and receiver installed approximately 30 feet apart with a thick plaster wall separating the two. (Logitech claims a wireless range of as much as 330 feet.) Initially, interference sporadically manifested itself as stuttering in the audio, but disconnecting our 2.4GHz wireless phone or keeping it away from the Wireless Music System seemed to eliminate the problem. At one point, the wireless link died, and the only way we could fix it was by reconnecting the receiver unit's power adapter. We tested the Wireless Music System with headphones, connected directly to NHT Pro M-00 powered studio monitors, and hooked up to our A/V receiver and home-stereo speakers. With all three setups, the sound was pleasantly crisp and unmuddied. And, equally important, our listening choices were unhindered by copy-protection issues. Purchased iTunes songs, personalized online radio services such as Pandora and Last.fm, the Web streams of Sirius and XM satellite radio stations, and even DVD soundtracks all worked perfectly.
In terms of DRM-free music-streaming solutions, the only real competition to the Logitech is the . That system utilizes your existing Wi-Fi or Ethernet home network and offers coaxial and optical digital outputs, which don't increase quality but offer more flexible connectivity options for advanced users. The setup process can be somewhat troublesome and the software is a bit flaky, but the Linksys can be purchased for less than $80. Alternately, our favorite wireless network audio receiver, the , includes a front-panel display and remote control--but it costs more and lacks the universal compatibility of the Logitech. In the final analysis, it comes down to what you're going to listen to. Those who have a favorite music service or Web radio station that's broadcast in an obscure or proprietary format will likely find that the Logitech Wireless Music System's easy setup and universal compatibility outweigh its limited control over PC audio applications and the absence of a display on the receiver unit.