Editors' Note: As of fall 2007, Logitech has released a successor model to the AudioStation reviewed here. The Logitech Pure-Fi Elite utilizes the same basic design as the AudioStation, but offers metal grilles, more tactile control buttons, and a much lower price.
The AudioStation, which carries a list price of $300, is an all-black affair that caters to owners of black iPods, but white and other colored iPods don't clash too badly with the system; they'll just stand out against the black background rather than meld into it. Color prejudices aside, this is one of the sleekest iPod speaker systems we've tested. We like its clean lines and minimalist--but not too minimalist--design, which includes an easily readable LCD screen and touch-sensitive, backlit control buttons located just below the display. The 8-pound system measures 16 inches wide (at the front), 7.25 inches high, and 4.25 inches deep, which makes it shelf-friendly.
In its promotional materials, Logitech makes a point to show the system with its speaker grilles off, exposing the speakers' 1-inch dome tweeters and 4-inch "long-throw" woofers. It's hard to say whether going with or without the grilles looks better, but the fact that you can remove them if you want is a nice plus. We also like that Logitech chose to go with a larger remote than the credit card-size remotes that ship with competing models such as the Bose SoundDock. The buttons on the glossy black remote aren't backlit, but they're clearly labeled and thoughtfully laid out. The only gripe we had with the clicker was that it could be a bit finicky at times. Raising and lowering the volume wasn't an issue, but skipping tracks forward and back on the iPod sometimes required a certain degree of finesse (you have to tap the button instead of simply pressing it down). You also can't navigate your iPod's menu system from the remote, but that's usually the case with these systems.
The only major design gaffe we noted was that the S-Video port on the back of the unit is recessed, which makes it difficult to plug in many S-Video cables to watch iPod video and photo slide shows on your TV. We were easily able to connect a standard composite cable (you know, the yellow video cable), but S-Video offers better quality, so you may have to shave down the plug on an S-Video cable to make it fit the connection. We should also point out that the included power adapter is pretty bulky. We suspect this has something to do with having to power an 80-watt system (that's the number listed in the specs anyway), but just beware that it isn't all that easy to hide.
The AudioStation is one of the more feature-rich iPod speaker systems we've encountered to date. More standard features include iPod charging while it's docked and an auxiliary input for connecting other audio devices. Aside from the aforementioned ability to display videos and images stored on your iPod, you also get a built-in AM/FM radio and a clock with a sleep timer, though no alarm, unfortunately. Impressively, you can store up to 8 preset stations for AM and 16 for FM--8 for FM1 and 8 for FM2. We'd have liked some sort of dedicated buttons on the remote for presets; as it is, you have to toggle through three different ways of selecting radio stations (we had to consult the manual to figure out how to store a preset station since it wasn't immediately evident). On a more positive note, the AudioStation has fully adjustable bass and treble levels, and they're easy to tweak with a couple of button presses on the remote.
As for sound quality, the AudioStation quickly established itself as one of top performers in the iPod speaker category. To be clear, if you were to compare the AudioStation to a decent $300 home-theater-in-a-box system (or even to certain $200 HTIBs), which usually has a separate subwoofer, the Logitech would probably come out the loser. But compared to other compact iPod audio systems, this little guy can belt out tunes with a decent amount of gusto and clarity. And while it doesn't possess the kind of tight, thumping bass that a good subwoofer delivers, the low end holds together well enough at higher volumes.
Like a lot of speaker systems of this type, the AudioStation has very little in the way of stereo separation since the speakers are essentially next to each other. But Logitech has equipped the unit with a 3D stereo feature to help widen the sound field. To call the effect "dramatic," as Logitech does, is a slight exaggeration, but we definitely heard a difference for the better.
Because these types of tabletop/shelf systems' strong suits are generally in the midrange and treble, we didn't expect the AudioStation to have a problem with acoustic albums like the Pretenders' Isle of View. The bigger test came when we fired up Prince's Sexy M.F. and followed it up with another Sexy--Justin Timberlake's currently overplayed SexyBack. For good measure, we then threw in a Snoop Dogg's Drop It Like It's Hot and gradually increased the volume. We weren't blown away by what we heard, but we came away feeling that most buyers' expectations would be satisfied, as long as those expectations weren't too high to begin with.
Three hundred bucks is a lot to spend for an iPod speaker system, but if you're trying to decide between this model and the Bose SoundDock, the AudioStation certainly holds its own in terms of style and sound quality (some might even argue it's superior on both fronts), and it far and away surpasses the Bose in the features department. In other words, if you have $300 to blow on an iPod speaker system, this model is a strong contender for your money.