Logitech Wireless Music System for iPod
Music streaming made easy?
Review Logitech may be keen to associate its Wireless Music System (WMS) with Apple's ubiquitous digital music player, but the fact is it will happily work with any brand of MP3 player, with a Mac, with a PC and even with a transistor radio if it's got a spare 3.5mm headphone socket. Whatever you connect WMS' compact transmitter to, it will beam to the receiver unit placed anywhere up to 10m away...
This makes for some interesting usages. The obvious one is to link the computer in one room to the hi-fi in another, in much the same way Apple's Wi-Fi based Airport Express box does. More interestingly - and this is the one Logitech is pushing - is to plug one onto your iPod, Creative Zen Vision:M, iRiver T30 or whatever and turn it into a remote control. The bizarre thing: your remote is also your music store. Weird, huh?
Unlike Airport Express, WMS' underlying technology is Bluetooth - version 1.2 in this case, with some clever technology added to the mix to allow it to carry stereo sound. And unlike comparable iPod-oriented products like Griffin's iTrip, which sends songs out on FM frequencies, WMS is legal in the UK.
WMS' transmitter module looks like an early iTrip. It's a shiny white box measuring 5.9 x 3.2 x 1.8cm and sporting a 3.5mm earphone jack. The jack's on a slider, so you can move it from the centre of the transmitter to the outer edge, the better to position it symmetrically on your MP3 player wherever the earphone socket it situated. Next to the jack is a tiny reset button. On one side is the port you connect the bundled battery charger to - the receiver has its own, non-removable rechargeable power cell inside - and on the other is a small connect button and status light.
The receiver is a little larger - 8.5 x 5.5 x 1.9-2.6cm - and has an external antenna which folds up from the back of the unit. The aerial is mounted alongside a 3.5mm earphone socket, left and right stereo RCA connectors and the receiver's own power port.
My test unit also sported an infrared port, presumably for a remote control, and its own set of playback control buttons. However, I understand the unit shipping with the portable player transmitter lacks these. Common to all receivers is the central connect button and red activity LED.
With the transmitter's battery charged and the receiver connected to the mains and to my hi-fi, I plugged the broadcast unit into my notebook, sat upstairs and opened iTunes. I selected an internet radio station - Radio Paradise - and with bated breath I pressed and held the button on the transmitter.
The button's mechanism is so soft it's not easy to tell whether you have pressed it, but after a four seconds or so the activity light begins flashing red, a sign it's negotiating a connection with the receiver. Two seconds later I could head eclectic rock'n'roll flowing from my speakers downstairs and the LED light was now a steady blue.
Logitech claims the transmitter's battery lasts for up to 8 hours - pretty much what I observed - and to preserve its charge, the unit will, after a short time, drop into stand-by mode if it doesn't sense a jack connection.
The sound quality is dependent on the audio source, of course, but the 128Kbps audio stream from Radio Paradise, plus a variety of WAV, AAC and MP3 tracks stored on my PowerBook all produced entirely acceptable results to listeners sitting in front of the hi-fi. Maybe a pair of 'golden ears' could discern a quality drop, but I couldn't. Clearly, WMS is sending and reconverting an analogue signal into digital, transmitting it then converting it back into the analogue domain, but I found no apparent drop in quality to ordinary ears.
I could complain that there's no way of controlling your computer, but that's unfair. This product's for portable music players, which almost by definition incorporate their own controls. Logitech offers a WMS package for PCs, which includes an infrared remote control and sends back control data to the USB-connected transmitter.
With the iPod transmitter in my Vision:M device, I had full control of the system - just set your amplifier to a suitable high volume and reduce the volume control on your player until you get the sound level you like. Whatever track I selected, if the device can decode the format to an analog signal, WMS can beam it to your hi-fi.
Moving my MP3 player around my three-storey home, I found only one location where the sound began to break up, but that may have been a result of the metal around it - radiator, bath, washing machine, boiler - than the distance. Whatever the cause, I wouldn't expect to be controlling my hi-fi from the bathroom under normal circumstances. Like my other remote controls, I'd leave my iPod in the living room.
Logitech sells standalone receivers, but you can only transmit to one at a time, thanks to the limitations of Bluetooth's pairing system. One transmitter can remember and talk to ten separate receivers. Pairing the devices is a painless process, but you do have to do it each time you want to change output locations. So WMS isn't a substitute for a multi-room rig like Sonos' Digital Music System, for example.
Logitech's WMS for iPod is a great way to turn an MP3 player into a stereo's remote control and music source. My only quibble, perhaps, is the price. Logitech wants £100 for the package - the same price, according to its website, as the PC version, which includes a control-equipped receiver unit and a remote control, which of course you don't need with the iPod version.
WMS also lacks the flexibility and support for multi-room set-ups that other, Wi-Fi based music streaming systems do, such as Apple's £89 Airport Express. On the other hand, it does work with your favourite portable music player and allows you to change what you're listening to at any time without the need to buy expensive add-on controller units.
For that, it wins my vote, and while it's about four times the price of a dock - and a lot more than a RCA-to-3.5mm adaptor cable - it beats having to get up from the sofa whenever you want to change songs. Yes, you can get a dock and Apple's remote control for around £45 - less than half the price of the WMS - but that's only a viable solution if you can see the player's screen. And if you don't own an iPod, it's no solution in any case. ®