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Reviews

Logitech Wireless Music System for PC

By Brandon Miniman March 1, 2006, 12:00 am

INTRODUCTION

When the Sonos music system was released, it was a terrific concept executed well, but in a very pricey package. What about the rest of us that want to stream our PC music to another room without breaking the bank? Logitech seems to have the answer with their affordable Bluetooth Wireless Music System for PC. Can it offer good audio quality, range, and performance? We've got the answer ahead!

So, this system promises to have a simple setup, and we all love that, but Bluetooth is not known for very long ranges. How will this system do? How will it handle multiple locations for audio output? Let's sit back and listen.

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WHAT'S HOT

Here's a run down of what's hot with this product...

  • Wireless Stereo Audio anywhere in your house
  • Easy setup with little to no fuss
  • High Audio Quality
  • Long Range (up to 330 feet) with Bluetooth 1.2 using A2DP Profile
  • Frequency: 2.4 GHz
  • Works with or without optional software

SETUP

Box contents include...

  • USB Music Transmitter for PC
  • USB Extension & Desktop Stand (for USB Music Transmitter)
  • Music Receiver & AC Adaptor for listening room
  • Stereo RCA interconnect cables
  • Software CD
  • Quick Start Guide

The system has two forms of setup that you can take. The first and most simple requires no software installation on your PC, the second and only slightly more complex, uses the included optional software.

Option 1 : Just Plug it in...

In this option, assuming you're running Windows XP or later, all you have to do it plug it in and sit back and listen. It really is that simple. Here are the steps:

  • Plug the USB Music Transmitter into an available USB port on your PC.
  • Plug the AC Wall adaptor and connect it to the Music Receiver
  • Plug the RCA Stereo cables into an input on your stereo receiver, or simply connect headphones or powered speakers to the back of the Music Receiver.
  • Launch your favorite audio player on your PC and sit back and enjoy.

Option 2 : With the included software...

  • Complete same steps from Option 1, then install the included Music Anywhere Software.
  • Use the software settings to configure where your audio plays (more about this later

PRODUCT FEATURES

Bluetooth audio is not new anymore, and we've reviewed various Bluetooth headsets with USB dongles to listen to music from your PC. These systems have proven that Bluetooth stereo audio can be high quality, but most have focused on short range where portability is key. The Logitech Wireless Music System for PC takes a different approach, it doesn't assume that you are sitting directly in front of your PC, and it also doesn't focus on pure portability, it focuses on your house. This creates a need for greater range and for remotely controlling your media player, which is likely in a different room. Let's take a look and see how the system accomplishes these goals.

The first component to look at is the USB Music Transmitter. This device gets plugged into an available USB Host port on your PC. Upon plugging in the transmitter, you'll see that your computer enumerates it as two devices. The first is a standard USB Audio device, which is used by the PC to stream audio content via USB. The second is a USB Human Interface Device, which is used by the transmitter to convey remote control signals to the PC, much like a keyboard. Both the USB Audio device and the USB HID device are standard supported components of Windows XP, so they'll work with no additional software required. The transmitter has a button and small LED on it. The LED lights RED when not connected to the receiver, and BLUE when it has an active connection. If the connection is not currently made, pressing the button will cause the connection to be made.

Optionally, instead of inserting the transmitter directly into an open USB port, you can insert it into the Desktop Stand. This stand has a long USB cable on it, so it allows you to position the transmitter for easier access, and better broadcast location.

Most Bluetooth audio systems to date have assumed that the transmitter and receiver are fairly close, and for most of the Bluetooth headsets we've reviewed, that's a fine assumption. In this case however, the assumption is that the transmitter is in one part of your house while the receiver is in another. This means more range is required.

As seen in the picture, the Logitech transmitter is not only larger than the other examples, but it also has an external antenna. Of the 3 Bluetooth A2DP transmitter devices pictured above, the Logitech system easily has the longest range. (From left to right: i.Tech 3.5mm Audio Adaptor, Logitech Music Anywhere Transmitter, i.Tech Multimedia Dongle) My computer lives at one corner of my house, my master bedroom in the exact opposite end of the house. I didn't measure distance, as there are walls and such in the way, but here is a relative listing of the ranges. The audio from all devices was high quality and stable when in the same room. As I went into the next room, both the USB Dongle and 3.5mm Dongle maintained connections, but sporadic breaks in the audio were heard, while the Logitech system continued to have stable high quality audio. As I proceeded into the next room, both the USB and 3.5mm dongles dropped the connection and ceased to stream audio anymore. The Logitech continued to maintain connection and stream audio as I tested different positions in my house. The Logitech worked well in all rooms of my house with the exception of one (located in the attic). Great range, especially for a Bluetooth device.

While most Bluetooth audio products to date have been transmitter to headphones, this system is transmitter to receiver base. This allows you some flexibility, as the base can be connected to a standard stereo system via included RCA cables, or to standard 3.5mm headphones, or to powered speakers (using 3.5mm plug). The base itself is very small, about the size of a deck of cards, so it is easily placed just about anywhere.

On the back of the base are; 1) External Antenna, 2) 3.5mm Stereo Jack 3) RCA Stereo Connectors 4) Power Plug for AC Adaptor and 5) a fixed/variable volume switch. On the front of the base is a small window for the IR sensor used with the Remote Control.

On top of the unit are buttons to control the playback, from your remote listening location. The base and the Remote Control both have the same buttons as follows; 1) Play/Pause, 2) Forward, 3) Backward, 4) Stop, 5) Volume Up, 6) Volume Down and 7) Mute. The base also has one additional button, not found on the remote control; "Connect". This last button initiates a connection between the transmitter and the receiver should the connection be lost or dropped due to inactivity. All the other buttons should be obvious in their function. Just like on the transmitter, the receiver base also has a single LED on it which lights RED when not connected and Blue when it is. One difference however, is that the LED will Flash BLUE when muted, to let you know you're still connected and that the audio is still streaming. Nice touch.

Using the buttons on the Receiver Base or the Remote Control worked flawlessly out of the box. I tested with Windows Media Player 10 as well as RealPlayer and all controls functioned properly. The volume controls did control the volume, but did not affect the settings on the remote player, so it appears the receiver base was handling volume levels on it's own.

Ok, we've introduced the components, now let's see if it all works...

In my first test setup, I opted to not use the included software and just use the system out of the box. This setup worked perfectly, the transmitter and receiver almost instantly connected, audio streamed and the remote control worked fine. I couldn't ask for much simpler, and the sound was great. At this point, I was about as happy as can be with this setup (can you tell I'm going somewhere here?). The drawback with this setup is that — all — audio generated from your PC gets redirected to the Remote Receiver. If your PC is typically only used by one person at a time, this is fine. If however your PC is shared by more than one, this can be an issue. As an example, my PC is a Media Center PC, and it runs the TV and entertainment system. While testing this product, I was in my garage listening to my music collection when suddenly, I heard the audio from the latest episode of "Lost" start playing as well. While I was somewhat amused by this, the person trying to watch "Lost" was less impressed with the new silent version in the living room.

If only there were a way to control the audio playback on a more precise level, so that only some of the audio gets redirected to the Remote Receiver, and other audio stays at the computer... Wait, there is!

The included software promises to do exactly that. Let's see if that helps, next test is to run with the optional Logitech Music Anywhere software. This software claims to be able to route audio from certain media players to the Logitech Music Anywhere Transmitter, while other sounds from your PC stay at your PC and play over your standard audio, your desktop speakers or whatever your normal setup is. This would be a great feature, as it would allow someone to listen to tunes or audio books in another room, while someone else uses the PC and both could enjoy their own audio. Great feature most of the time, but seems to conflict with some security software. More about this below.

The software installs with a basic windows installer, with few options. Once installed, I was prompted to reboot, which I did. After rebooting, the Logitech Music Anywhere applet was visible in the Windows tray. A few quick tests and the system seems to be working. Now let's check out the software.

The Logitech Music Anywhere Software is organized into a simple UI with 4 tabs. Nothing flashy here, but simple to use and understand.

Devices Tab: This tab allows you to manage the wireless audio receivers that are part of the system. This is great, as you can have audio receivers in many rooms, or even connect Bluetooth stereo headphones as part of the system. I attempted to add my i.Tech Bluetooth Stereo Headphones to the system, and it quickly detected them and added them to the list. It however, failed to give me an option to enter the required PIN to pair with them, and thus could not connect and stream audio to them. It did continue to list them in the list of paired devices, but could not transmit to them. Unfortunately, the Logitech system assumes that devices have a PIN number of "0000", and will work if they do. If they have something else, the Logitech system provides you no mechanism to enter the PIN number. My i.Tech stereo headphones have a PIN number of "8888", so I'm out of luck. Of course, other Logitech devices will work fine. That aside, in general the functionality offered on this tab worked well during testing for this review. Management options for your Bluetooth audio receivers are as follows:

  • Add new audio receivers
  • Rename existing audio receivers (to something useful like, "Bedroom", "Garage", "Living Room")
  • Remove paired audio receivers
  • Select a paired audio receiver to stream audio to (Only one at a time is allowed)

Media Players Tab: In this tab, the software shows you a list of media players that it has found, and allows you to configure where audio output goes from each player. This feature only works on what the software refers to as "Fully Integrated Players", such as Windows Media Player or WinAmp. Standard players, such as iTunes and Real Player assume your audio will go to your currently set default audio player, and as such, do not benefit from this precise audio control. In my setup, I'm running Windows Media Player, iTunes, and Real Player. The software correctly detected each of them. Once you select the audio player you want to control the audio output from, you simply select the "Edit" button and the software will present you with the available options. For Real Player, the software informed me that this feature was unavailable. For Windows Media Player, I was presented with a list of audio devices on my machine, the internal hardware audio, my other bluetooth audio device, and the Logitech Music Anywhere Transmitter, very simple. This is an invaluable feature, because it allows someone to listen to tunes in one room, while someone else watches a movie or works on the computer in another, both with the correct audio. As an example, I could be in the garage working on my car with WinAmp is playing my 'CarTunes' playlist, while someone else might be upstairs watching the latest episode of "Lost" in the family room, both off the same computer. (NOTE: This feature works well on most computers, but on some test machines running high security, it had troubles and was disabled from modifying the audio settings. If this happens, see workaround below).

Default Audio Device Tab: This tab is an easy way to modify the default audio device settings on your PC. It serves the same function as diving into your control panel and making manual changes there, but it simplifies the interface and takes you right there. This is a nice thing, so you don't have to dig through all the audio settings in control panel.

Workaround -If the Media Players Tab "Edit" button fails to configure the media players on your computer, you may have security software or PC policies blocking the Logitech Music Anywhere Software. If this happens, here is a simple workaround using the Default Audio Device Tab to get the same functionality manually. This workaround is somewhat of a kludge, but it works. Here's how.

  • With no media players running, change the default audio device in this tab to be your desired remote audio receiver.

  • Start your media player of choice, such as Real Player.

  • Select your playlist and hit play, your audio is now playing remotely to your Logitech Audio Receiver.

  • Go back into this tab, and change the default audio device BACK to your normal settings

  • Now start up your other media player of choice, such as Media Center or Windows Media Player

  • At this point, Real Player will continue to stream to the audio device that was default when you launched it. This will continue until you close that player.

  • Also at this point, your other media player such as Media Center or Windows Media Player will continue to play audio through your normal settings.

  • This allows one person to listen to music or audio books in a remote room, while the other watches the latest episode of "Lost" on the PC and TV.

The Other Settings Tab: This tab allows you to make settings for the Logitech Music Anywhere software interaction with your System Tray. There are only two options:

  • "Allow configuration of Media Players on tray menu"
  • "Show icon in system tray"

The first option is a shortcut to make the same configurations as is done on the Media Players tab. The second option simply adds the software icon to the System tray, but this is a nice thing. From here, you can quickly set the default audio device (useful for the kludge I outlined above) that you want to use, and launch the full tabbed UI if you want to, or configure your media players. When the Logitech USB Audio transmitter is not inserted, the program icon goes away automatically.

HELP SUPPORT

The included quick start guide is clear and useful in setting up the system and getting going. If you opt to run the system without the optional software, this is all you need. If however you opt to install the software, you may find that you need more help. The application itself includes help, which describes most terms and items you'll need to know. It covers the basics, and provides simple procedures for most tasks such as adding or removing Music Anywhere devices.

OPTIONS

The system is expandable, so you can have multiple receivers all over your house. The system will also work with other Logitech Music Anywhere products, so not only are additional receivers available, but so are wireless headphones.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Windows XP or 2000 (SP3 or higher) and an available USB Host Port.

BUGS AND WISHES

When adding new devices, the system assumes it will be a Logitech Music Anywhere device, or at least have a PIN number of "0000." While this assumption takes complexity out for the user and simplifies the pairing operation, it also effectively cuts out some other potentially compatible audio devices. There are more and more Bluetooth audio devices out there, so why not enable them? The system was smart enough to detect my i.Tech Stereo headphones, and even added them to the list of available receivers. When it tried to pair however, it never gave me the option to enter the required PIN number, thus they were excluded from working with the system. Simply adding a PIN number entry to the pairing sequence would enable this, as both are using the A2DP profiles. The ability to use A2DP devices, other than just those from Logitech, would add value to the system and make it more appealing. We're all speaking A2DP, why can't we just get along?

Many wireless headphones include a microphone, so they can double as a handsfree device or headset. If the included software enabled these profiles on the PC, in addition to streaming audio, you would be able to use this for Skype or other VoIP calls. I use an i.Tech USB Bluetooth dongle and Bluesoleil software on my PC, and this enables me to use my i.Tech stereo headphones for music, as well as Skype calls. The Logitech Wireless Music System for PC is intended for music, but the addition of this feature would extend the usefulness and value of this system.

Pros

  • Plug and play simplicity
  • Great range
  • Solid audio quality

Cons

  • System expansion limited by lack of PIN number entry (Logitech Music Anywhere products work however)
  • No handsfree or headset profile support, so cannot use it Skype/VoIP

OVERALL IMPRESSION

For simply getting wireless audio up and running in your house, this works very well. The audio quality is high, and the range is fantastic for a Bluetooth device. In a single user environment, where only one person typically uses the computer, this product works well. In an environment where the computer is shared by multiple people, it could use some help in better controlling the audio output from players to audio devices. In my setup, my Media Center PC is often used by someone in the family room to watch something, while I might want to listen to tunes somewhere else. In this setup, we sometimes ran into audio conflicts, but nothing that couldn't be worked around. This may not be an issue for you and your setup. It's a nice product as it is, and shows lots of potential for the next version. My garage never sounded so good, now I need to get a few more receivers for the rest of the house.

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