For the past eight months I've listened to music in my digital workspace/home office through a review unit of the Logitech UE Boom Speaker, connected via Bluetooth to my Mac Mini.
A handsome, distinctively styled object, roughly the shape and size of a tall beer can (7" high, 2-1/2" diameter), this Bluetooth speaker puts out a lot of high-quality sound. Though designed primarily for outdoor/travel use — hence its water-resistant, impact-resistant construction — via connection to portable devices such as an iPhone or iPad, it can definitely serve double duty at home.
I don't consider myself an audiophile, so I don't share the dissatisfaction of some reviewers who find it lacking in bass response. No doubt that's true, as it would be with just about any unit this size. But I suspect those critics listen to a lot of rock and hip-hop and other music with rattle-your-fillings bass lines — the sort I hear rumbling from SUVs that drive past my house with their windows rolled up and shaking.
I listen to a weird mix of jazz (mostly through the 1960s), rock (Leonard Cohen, Björk, Dylan, Tim Buckley), roots music old and new, world music (traditional, contemporary, fusion), electronic and concrete music (Stockhausen, Schaeffer), classical old and new (John Cage, Kronos Quartet, Gregorian chant), nature sounds (whale songs), and more. A fair amount of this music features the contrabass and the electric bass prominently, so a speaker that didn't handle that well would disappoint me. Not the case with the UE Boom.
Right now, for example, I'm listening to Bass on Top, a 1957 small-group jazz date featuring bassist Paul Chambers at the head of a quartet with piano, guitar, and drums. Chambers solos extensively on the album, both bowed and pizzicato. Whether soloing or comping behind his colleagues, I find his lines as prominent and I'd want them to be, even with the volume set at roughly one-third of max. The clarity of sound that the UE Boom achieves gives its output a satisfying sense of presence, even with music like this, recorded monaurally 57 years ago.
I also find a convincing sense of aural space in the Boom's output. Every recording studio has its own distinctive character, and every sound engineer has his own style. LPs from Riverside records didn't sound like LPs from Columbia, which didn't sound like LPs from Blue Note and Prestige recorded in Rudy Van Gelder's studio. I can hear those differences via the Boom.
Logitech designed the Boom for use in outdoor spaces and social situations: beach parties, pop-up private raves, and such. It puts out a lot of volume – ferociously loud at peak, especially if you're in close proximity in an enclosed space. So much so that if I set the two Booms on my desk to their maximum volume (you press and hold the + button on the side, and it gives a loud beep when it gets there), even the very lowest volume setting on my Mini – yes, I mean one-quarter step above silence – proved too loud. (Depending on what I'm listening to, and what I'm doing at the time, I make microadjustments to the volume by using the keystroke combination Shift+Option while pressing the Volume keys on my keyboard. This lets me adjust the volume in quarter-steps.)
So I lowered the volume on the Booms two steps each. Now the lowest volume setting on my Mini provides an unobtrusive background-music level that lets me really concentrate when necessary and doesn't disturb my wife at her desk across the room (if I'm playing some of the weirder stuff I enjoy; we have different tastes). And I can raise it incrementally when I'm working more casually, or playing music I know she enjoys, or she's not around.
I did encounter two problems with the UE Boom, for which I couldn't find solutions for months — even an email to Logitech support elicited no response at all.
Problem 1: A peculiar, recurrent "popping" sound from the speaker, particularly noticeable during quiet passages. No apparent relation to any particular instrument, volume level, or other factor. Logitech's support FAQs for the UE Boom don't mention this. Eventually, repeated online searches led me to an advisory at the Apple forum, which provided a simple fix, the insertion into Terminal of a single instruction:
"defaults write com.apple.BluetoothAudioAgent "Apple Bitpool Min (editable)" = 50.
Problem solved — a problem created by Apple's default settings, I should add.
Problem 2: Logitech graciously sent me two review units of the UE Boom, in two different colors. Yet no matter how I tried, I couldn't get them to work together when paired with my Mac Mini. Logitech has a free app that enables this easily on any iOS or Android device; with that app, you can "double up," either duplicating the output in both speakers or enabling true stereo when using two Booms. But they offer nothing to make that possible on Mac computers. Once again, they have nothing useful on this in the FAQs.
Eventually, I came across the following at the Logitech support forum, at the very tail end of an explanation of the "double up" app, dated 6/7/2014:
1. Pair the FIRST speaker with your Mac.
2. Go to System Preferences > Bluetooth.
3. Press and hold the Bluetooth button until a tone is heard, it should appear as UM BOOM, pair it. (Note: This "tone" sounds like a short drum roll.)
4. Start playing music.
5. On the device now playing music, press and hold the + and the Bluetooth keys until a tone is heard. (Note: the + button is on the side.)
6. On the SECOND speaker press the Bluetooth button twice quickly. (Note: Quickly means quickly.)
7. After a few seconds both speakers will join together.
8. They are only added as an identical pair, NOT Left and Right stereo.
Once again, problem solved quickly, after months of hunting for a solution. Since each UE Boom offers "360° sound" — meaning that, when stood on end as intended, it projects sounds in a full circle — I don't know what its stereo effect would sound like with two of them close to each other on a desk. However, now at least when I sit between them I get sound coming into both ears.
How hard would it be for Logitech to add the above two advisories to their FAQs? How hard for Logitech support to answer an email query? How hard to enable true stereo when using two Booms with a laptop or desktop computer?
They have a terrific sound system here. I recommend it to you. They can improve it with better customer service. I recommend that to them.
One final thought: It may be possible to set up the stereo pairing via an iOS/Android device, then have that carry over to use of that pair on a Mac. I refused to go that much trouble, and don't think I should have to. Also, Logitech has a UE Boom Updater you can download free at the UE Boom site. This runs separately from the "Double Up" iOS/Android app. To update a Boom, you use the included USB cable that normally goes to the charger and plug it into your Mac instead, then run the updater. I don't see any indication that this is necessary in order to create a non-stereo pairing, but I did the update before trying that pairing and suggest you do the same.
The MSRP is: $199.99. They'll send you a "pre-used" one for $149.99 if you want to save some money.
A.D. Coleman, posted 6/18/2014
For more information on the Logitech Ultimate Ears Boom visit: www.ultimateears.com
For more information on Paul Chambers' recording Bass On Top visit: www.amazon.com
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