|At a Glance|
|Product||Logitech Wireless DJ Music System|
|Summary||Wireless Bluetooth-based audio streaming system that handles ripped and DRM-protected files with equal ease|
|Pros||- Beautifully constructed
- No DRM woes
- Up to four receivers supported
- Easy to set up and use
|Cons||- No search feature
- Limited range; susceptible to Wi-Fi interference
- Only one stream at a time for multi-room setups
- Unresponsive monochromatic screen
- Song list scrolling poorly designed
With the possible exception of a couple of supremely awkward years in junior high, I was fairly entertained by the eighties. I have the full collection of brat pack movies and a shameful affinity for techno music to prove it. However, as much as I enjoyed the eighties I'm happy to see that one technology that originated in the eighties is slowly, (ever so slowly) trundling its way out the door. Compact disks were great in their day, but let's be honest: the CD has outlived its usefulness.
Most of us have already switched exclusively to compressed audio formats - such as MP3, AAC and WMA - for listening to music on the go. In fact, unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you probably have a hard drive full of MP3s.
Unfortunately, according to market research firm Parks Associates, most of us still choose to haul out our collection of CDs when we want to get our groove on in the comfort of our own living rooms. They found that 40 percent of households play music files on their computers and 33 percent of households that are connected to the Internet listen to Internet radio. Out of all of these people, only a slim 10 percent are playing all of this music through their main stereo systems.
Now CDs are fine, but their quality advantage over MP3s doesn't make up for the pain of using them. They skip, they scratch, and they have a limited capacity of at most 15-20 songs per disk. On the other hand, MP3s are easy to manage, they don't skip, the "lossless" versions can produce excellent sound quality, and most importantly your whole music library is at your fingertips.
Fortunately, Logitech has developed a slick little wireless system designed to bridge the gap between our computers and our main stereos. It's called the Wireless DJ music system; let's see how it shapes up.
The Wireless DJ is a completely self-contained audio streaming system based on Class 1 Bluetooth 1.2 Advanced Audio Distribution Profile technology. Everything needed to transmit and receive music wirelessly from your computer to any stereo or powered multimedia speaker system is included in the box, so there's no need to have an existing wireless setup in your home.
The system consists of three components: the Bluetooth transmitter that plugs into your Windows PC; the remote cradle / receiver that connects to your audio system and charges the remote; and the remote itself.
The Bluetooth transmitter is powered by the USB port when it is plugged into the PC. It is painted to match the remote, and is made to be tucked away on a shelf or desktop. An LED light changes from red to blue indicating that it is in use.
The Wireless DJ receiver acts as a charging station and cradle for the remote, and receives the digital signal from the transmitter. It also handles the digital to analog conversion for output to an audio system connected via standard coaxial (RCA style) cables. The receiver is made of plastic painted to match the remote, and has a strip of the same black reflective plastic found on the top half of the remote. Much to the chagrin of my audiophile friends, the Wireless DJ does not contain S/PDIF outputs. In all fairness, however, when it comes to simple 2-channel stereo sound, an S/PDIF connector would do little more than clean up a little electrical noise that most people wouldn't notice anyway.
RCA style coaxial outputs are located on the back of the remote cradle / wireless receiver.
The Hardware, Continued
The charging contacts on both the remote and the receiver are designed to function without needing to be snapped together. The remote rests snugly against the two contact points on the receiver. Side-to-side movement is restricted by the curved sides of the receiver, preventing a loss of contact with the charger's contact points.
The remote charges on the base / wireless receiver when not in use.
Note that up to four receivers can be added to the Wireless DJ system, but only one room can be actively receiving a stream at any given time. (Add-on receivers can be purchased separately.)
A view of the Logitech Wireless DJ remote.
The remote is definitely eye catching. Constructed of lightly brushed aluminum and glossy plastic, it has a sturdy feel and a pleasant weight. It balances comfortably in either hand, placing the thumb comfortably at the perfect angle to access the most frequently used buttons. The unique mechanical jog wheel located in the center of the remote is used to scroll through the information displayed on the monochromatic LCD screen, such as song titles, artist names and so on. The LCD is lit by three blue LEDs, creating a soft blue glow. The area surrounding the LCD screen is very shiny reflective plastic with a metallic inlayed "Wireless DJ" logo.
The power button, which is also located in the area surrounding the LCD screen, is quite small (about 2mm wide) but was not difficult to press. When the remote is powered up, the LCD screen is bright and the blue text is crisp and easy to read. Unfortunately, the screen is not very responsive - as soon as you begin scrolling, the text blurs significantly. The blurring is bad enough that it becomes difficult to keep track of the text unless you stop scrolling at regular intervals to check your progress.
The Hardware, Continued
In use: The blue backlit screen is striking but lacks responsiveness.
I placed the remote next to a photograph to show the reflective plastic area.
The Wireless DJ sports 13 crisp and responsive buttons, including the mechanical jog wheel, which produces a soft clicking sound when in motion and contains a center button that acts as an "execute" key. Most of the buttons are backlit, so the remote is easy to navigate in low-light situations. Nothing on the remote feels out of place or flimsy. Even the battery cover is impressive, gliding smoothly on tight-fitting rails before snapping closed with a satisfying click.
The stealthy battery cover provides access to the battery without ruining the overall classy look of the remote.
A rechargeable 4.2V Li-ion battery reportedly offers up to a week of normal use. I didn't have enough time to fully test the battery during this review, but after 3 days of regular use, the battery level display showed about 2/3 full, so it seems feasible that the battery life could extend to a week of intermittent use.
Setup And In Use
I installed the Logitech StreamPoint software on the following system:
|Table 1: Test System|
|Processor||AMD Athlon 64 3800+|
|Motherboard||MSI Platinum K8N Neo 4|
|Memory||2x 512 Corsair PC3200 (1024MB)|
Logitech's StreamPoint software aggregates the music content on your PC by searching the music libraries of your media player software and compiling a list of unique audio files. It will also search any user-defined file folders for additional content. It then transmits tag information - song titles, album names, artist genres and so on - which is displayed on the Wireless DJ remote's LCD screen. The user selects from the list of songs on the remote, and the StreamPoint automatically determines which media player software is most appropriate to use in order to stream the content to your stereo. It accesses the selected software, and in a matter of seconds you are playing music from your PC on your stereo.
During the initial setup StreamPoint searches for media content
The whole process is very slick. After completing a very simple setup wizard and plugging in the transmitter and receiver - which took me about 10 minutes - you'll be playing MP3s on your stereo. Once it's configured, StreamPoint manages the Wireless DJ system from behind the scenes in the system tray. Everything is automated, to the point that it's easy to forget that StreamPoint is even installed at all.
As much as I hate the idea of another app crouched in my system tray eating up resources, the benefits of StreamPoint outweigh the slight cost. When inactive, StreamPoint doesn't use any CPU cycles, and consumes only about 1.5 megabytes of system memory. (To put that into perspective, my motherboard monitoring tool is currently using nearly 14 megabytes of system memory!) When in use StreamPoint consumes a very small percentage of the CPU's capacity, averaging roughly 3%, and not exceeding 5%. My test system is rather modest by today's standards, so I'd imagine that most PCs wouldn't have any trouble running StreamPoint in the background.
Logitech recommends the following system configuration:
|Table 2: Minimum System Requirements|
|Processor||Pentium III 500MHz (1 GHz Recommended)|
|Operating System||Windows XP (SP1), Windows 2000 (SP3)|
|RAM||128 MB RAM (256 recommended)|
|Hard Drive Space||300 MB available|
|USB||Available 1.1 or 2.0 port|
|Optical Drive||CD-ROM drive|
File Type And Player Support
StreamPoint supports MP3, AAC and WMA file types played in Windows Media Player, iTunes, and Musicmatch Jukebox media players. One of the benefits of the StreamPoint software is that there is no need to worry about whether DRM protected files will play on the Wireless DJ system - now or in the future. The Wireless DJ does not decode any DRM protected content internally and neither does the included StreamPoint software. When it comes across a song that is protected with DRM, StreamPoint automatically plays it through the application that contains the proper DRM decoder, and the audio file's usage license. The output is then streamed to your stereo.
Unlike some devices, StreamPoint does not pipe all audio from the PC directly through to your stereo. In fact, you can usually play music on your PC using Windows Media Player while someone else is listening to music in another room through StreamPoint. However, if StreamPoint needs to use iTunes to stream a DRM protected file, the person at the PC must wait until StreamPoint switches back to Windows Media Player before they can play music with the iTunes player. (This limitation with iTunes does not apply to Windows Media Player, though - I was able to stream one song with StreamPoint and play another song on through WMP on my PC without any trouble.)
Internet Radio, Subscriptions, Podcasts
Internet radio, podcasts, and audio subscription services such as Rhapsody can also be accessed easily through the Wireless DJ. Any Internet radio stations that are marked as "favorites" on your media player software appear as a menu item on the Wireless DJ remote and can be accessed and played as easily as playing an audio file. Subscription services need to be configured to download content to your PC's hard drive, so that the StreamPoint can locate and add them to the library; podcasts appear under "podcasts" in the genres menu.
Those who like to make a playlist for every occasion will be pleased to find that playlist support is also built into the Wireless DJ system. Any existing playlists that have been set up in any of the three supported media players on your PC can be accessed through the Wireless DJ remote. There is also a dynamic playlist that can be created by the Wireless DJ remote called the "DJ list"; as one song is playing, other songs can be queued up to play using the DJ list. This is a handy feature, since it often takes quite a while to find the song you're looking for.
The Wireless DJ is rated to be able to transmit at a range of up to 165 feet (50 meters). For most of this review, I placed the transmitter and receiver one room apart, about 15 feet away, and the system performed flawlessly. However, to test its range, I moved the receiver to another room about 45-50 feet away from the transmitter - this put 3 indoor walls between the PC and the stereo.
The sound became jumpy when I did this, so I adjusted the direction that the transmitter and the receiver were facing as recommended by the manual, and then placed them at the limit of their cords away from any other electronic devices. I also shut off my wireless router and went so far as to shut off my Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, to try to reduce all possible interference sources. After all that, the signal appeared to gain a little strength, but I wasn't able to completely eliminate the interference. (In fairness, one other factor that I wasn't able to control is the high wireless traffic in my building - I can usually pick up 5 or 6 strong wireless connections at any given time in my apartment...)
The manual recommends that the wireless DJ be placed well away from any wireless networking devices and I did notice a slight increase in performance when I shut my own router off. I talked to Logitech about this problem and they stated that the Wi-Fi traffic could definitely play a part in decreasing the overall range of the wireless DJ system. Those who live in apartments with the potential for a situation similar to mine should keep in mind that they might not have as much flexibility when it comes to range.
Anyone who uses iTunes on a regular basis knows that message boxes periodically pop up to inform you of available software updates, to let you know that there is a blank disk in one of your optical drives, and so on. When StreamPoint automatically loads iTunes to play a DRM-protected song, the offending message box prevents iTunes from playing media until it is closed. When this occurs, an error message is displayed on the Wireless DJ remote and you're forced to go deal with the message box on your PC before StreamPoint can continue to stream files. This is, at worst, a mild annoyance that does not occur often.
However, the more serious weaknesses of the product will quickly be revealed to anyone with a large digital music library. First, there is no search function on the remote. If you want to locate a certain song using only the remote, get ready to wear out the jog wheel as you try to scroll down the list to find it. The lack of a search function might not bother someone with a couple hundred songs, but many people have thousands. Scrolling slowly through thousands of songs to find one track quickly becomes tedious.
Also, since the menu system on the remote does not work in a loop, attempting to locate a song in the lower half of the alphabet by starting with Z and scrolling backwards is not possible. I have approximately 4500 songs on my PC (about 300 albums). On average, scrolling as fast as I could, it took me a little over a minute to get through all of the songs starting with the letter 'A'. At approximately one minute per letter it would take me over 20 minutes to locate a song that begins with the letter 'Z'. Currently, the only way to narrow your selections down is to search through the genre, album, and artist lists, or stick with your PC defined playlists.
I contacted Logitech to find out if they're planning to fix this problem and they assured me that they are working on a patch that will enable the user to skip to each letter of the alphabet without needing to scroll through all of the songs in the library. The patch will be released before the end of the year, and will make finding songs much easier.
Most people have a collection of compressed audio hanging around on our computers. We transfer the files to our MP3 players and make playlists on our PCs, but why should we stop there? Compressed audio offers many conveniences over CDs, not the least of which being that every song that we own can be accessed almost instantly at any time. There's no need to dig up a CD by searching through a mountain of unorganized jewel cases, only to find that the one you're looking for is either badly scratched or missing. There's also no need to repeat that CD search after listening to 15 or 20 songs.
With the Wireless DJ, many of the conveniences associated with the compressed audio library on your PC can be transferred to your primary audio entertainment system with minimal effort. The Wireless DJ components are beautifully constructed with noticeable attention to detail. They are very classy looking, and the remote interface is simple and intuitive. The remote's LCD screen conveniently allows you to retain the benefits of browsing through song titles as you would on your PC, and as soon as the patch is released this feature will improve greatly. The StreamPoint software consumed few PC resources, so it won't bog down your computer while it streams files. It worked flawlessly as it switched back and forth between media players to access DRM protected content.
All things considered, the Logitech wireless DJ music system is an impressive product and ideal for anyone who wants to listen to their digital music without being chained to a PC. And because everything you need comes in the box and sets up easily, it's especially suited for those who aren't networking savvy. Highly recommended!