• Hunter Valley road-trip with the Logitech UE Boombox

    We've just got back from a week-long, two-thousand kilometre road-trip from Brisbane to the majestic Hunter Valley wine region in New South Wales. We set off in search of locally produced wine, boutique beer and to visit the Estate that makes virgin olive oil that Renée sells at the markets. We had our usual arsenal of iPhones for communication, searching for good coffee and playing music in the car, our compact Nikon P7000 for snapping some holiday shots, and the iPad for downloading and viewing those photos. But on this trip we had an extra hi-tech traveller, Logitech's battery-powered bluetooth enabled UE Boombox.

    The first day started at dawn, driving through misty countryside south-west of Brisbane, when before long the mist lifted to reveal long stretches of black tarmac battered and bruised by months and months of rain, floods and little-to-no maintenance. Roadworks appeared frequently, but not nearly as frequently as the pot holes, the ruined sections of road, and many, many of Skippy's nearest and dearest lying road-side in awkwardly brutal positions—again a side effect of too much rain.

    The UE Boombox (the UE is apparently a new range of co-branded products since Logitech bought Ultimate Ears, who are better known for high-end in-ear monitoring for live performance musicians) simply came in a box with a charging adaptor and that's it. So while the charger made it into my clothes bag with the other iDevice chargers, the Boombox sat in the boot of the car and bounced along with the rest of the luggage on the New England Highway's many bumps, twists and turns. The quite attractive and easy to grab handle that runs across the top of the Boombox kind of encourages you to just grab it, and go—without really considering putting it into any sort of bag or case. The handle and grille over the speakers feels like die-cast alloy, while the base is a thick, heavy rubber that feels very sturdy.

    After stopping in Stanthorpe for breakfast and Tamworth for a late lunch, we rolled into Potters Brewery in the Hunter Valley around twelve hours after we had set off. So let's just say the beef and beer pie and the rich, dark beer I ordered at the on-site restaurant after we checked in went down a treat. We were exhausted but glad to have arrived. We headed back to our unit afterwards where Renée set about planning the days ahead, so I decided to fire up the Boombox that was sitting patiently on the table. No need to find a powerpoint in an unfamiliar room, just switch it on and a guitar strum noise indicates that it's on and ready. With my bluetooth enabled device at the ready, all I had to do was hold down the bluetooth button for a few seconds until it started flashing, then the Boombox appeared on the device list on the iPhone. After tapping to select the Boombox, a short ‘blonk’ noise indicated we had a connection. This has been the easiest pairing of an audio device I've experienced, ever. Acid jazz fusion suited the mood, and even at quite low volume the Boombox delivered balanced sound with impressive low end (especially considering its size) and easily filled our room with some soothing chill-out music.

    Next day we went exploring. After visiting the Hunter Valley Gardens for a few hours, we needed alcohol. First we headed to Tyrrell's Wines which was established in 1858 making it one of the oldest in the country ... and they still make a good drop all these years later. After a tasting the Boombox had some new friends in the boot. Then to Tamburlaine Organic Winery which was less about picking the good wines, but rather picking the ones that were slightly less than exquisite—in order to take only a dozen bottles home with us. This was by far our favourite winery, and as a result the Boombox now had lots of friends in the boot. We stopped and had lunch at Oishii, a Thai Japanese fusion restaurant, and then grabbed another couple of traveling companions from Tempest Two for our now tightly packed in Boombox.

    The design of the Boombox is sleek and minimalistic, and is roughly the size of two horizontally stacked wine bottles. The die-cast alloy handle over the top is glossy and metallic. The grille that covers the speakers runs right over the top of the body in a symmetrical fashion—even though the sound clearly comes from the side marked with the 'UE' logo. The rubber base is sturdy and helps to project the bass from ... hell, I don't know where the bass comes from in this tiny little speaker ... it really is astonishing. The right hand side features a giant volume rocker switch which literally takes up the whole space. On the left side is a beautifully symmetrical line of four components. The top push button is the bluetooth button which when held for a few seconds pairs the speaker with a new device. It can have up to three devices paired at the same time, so swapping between audio sources is easy. The next slider button is power on and off, which as I mentioned before plays a nice little guitar strum when powering on and off. The hole below that is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack input where you can plug virtually anything in (CD player, iPod, radio, TV, PlayStation, computer, etc.) and it will just start playing without you needing to change any other settings. The hole below that is where the included power cable goes to charge and/or run the unit on 240 Volt power. And that's it. Simple, no fuss, everything you need and nothing more. Perfect.

    After a bit more touring we headed back to Potters to sample a flight of four boutique craft beers, ranging from light, fruity, dark through to a coffee infused brew on the end. We retreated to the room for some rest and some straight jazz before heading out to the Reserve restaurant for dinner. The Boombox—despite the name making me feel compelled to crack out some parachute pants, chuck on a giant gold chain, and go all MC Hammer on your asses—actually sings the most sweetly with jazz and more acoustic based music.

    The bass is impressive for its size as I said earlier, but it doesn't go deep. It's the strongest at around 70 to 80 hertz, has volume but lacks oomph at 60 hertz, and then drops right off at 50 hertz, but remains audible right down to about 35 hertz (30 hertz is very distant). Play some Jamie Cullum or Stacey Kent and you'd be mistaken that a much larger system was playing the music. Whereas if you put on some more dance, trance or heavy rock type music, it is still clear as a bell, but just lacks the ability to pump out bowel-emptying frequencies. So if you're a sucker for Skrillex or Pendulum ... this may not be your beast of choice. Having said that, this relatively small all-in-one system punches out some serious sound, and would likely beat the pants off most other non-portable micro hifi systems for clarity and bass reproduction.

    Unless you've got really big speakers or some kind of separate subwoofer, you're not going to get rumbling bass. Personally I think they've done a marvelous job considering its size and portability (plus it can also run on battery) and most music I've listened to on it sounds clear and balanced at low, medium and high volumes (there's eight active drivers crammed in there somehow), with only a touch too much mid-range for my personal tastes. The only similar size systems that would trump this one come from companies like Bose and others too expensive to mention here.

    The next day all the luggage, wine and Boombox went back into the boot of the A3 and we set off in search of Pukara Estate where Renée had been invited to a staff get together. We sampled their olive oils and vinegars, saw the whole process from tipping olives into the processing machinery to watching the fresh olive oil pouring out the other end, and finished with a Master Chef style cooking challenge and drinks around a massive bonfire built inside an old coal sifting basket. The next day saw us hit the road once more to start the journey north.

    We turned off from Armidale and headed up what must have been the windiest, bumpiest, most pot-hole ridden stretch of road I've ever driven on. Nearly 300kms of it. And just when it was starting to get dark, the road got narrower, darker and much, much twister. We're talking 180 degree hairpin bends, sections of road that went to dirt, cattle grids, and if that wasn't bad enough I came around a hairpin bend to see two large things standing on the road. I was probably going about 60 or 70 and somehow the car just squeezed between them. It wasn't until I'd already gone through them that my brain had time to put the image together and realised that I'd just passed between two massive cows standing in the middle of the road. I hit the brakes as we came towards two more cows standing near the side of the road. Coffee may keep some people alert while driving, but the near-miss-cow thing works even better to awaken one's soul and underpant region.

    After the hectic drive, we finally got to the Cosy Cow farm stay (which was up another dirt road with cattle grids) where we were met with a beautiful room with comfy bed and massive spa bath. A home cooked meal made with beef from the property, some red wine, and some tunes on our Boombox ... the evening became instantly relaxing. After dinner, we picked up and moved the Boombox into the massive bedroom area where candles and spa bath were waiting. The Boombox nicely filled the room with music and the timber floor really helped to enhance the deeper tones to create a full sound.

    The actual design of the Boombox is quite unlike other speakers I've had and used before. Most speakers have delicate parts, thin material mesh covering the speakers ... just generally not very strong. This one on the other hand has a real rough and tumble feel to it. Not that I'm recommending it throwing it around or chucking it down the stairs, but it is quite well made and survived the epic cow-featuring drive alongside bags, shoes, boxes of wine amongst other things without any issue at all. There are a few cosmetic friction related marks on the the top of the handle and grille (just where the paint has rubbed a bit) and the rubber base has a few marks and light scratches, but honestly you wouldn’t even see them unless you were looking really, really closely. So top marks for durability.

    After our wonderful stay at the Cosy Cow, we only had a few hours to drive back to Brisbane, so stopping off at Iluka and late fish and chip lunch at Evans Head made a nice finish to the trip.

    Since getting back I've had the Boombox linked to the iMac while I've spent a whole day doing video editing while listing to Spotify. And the Boombox kept chugging along on battery for just over seven hours at an easy listening volume, before the music gradually started to get quieter after that time (happens when the battery starts getting low). Plugging the unit back into power made it instantly jump back to its original volume.

    I never really thought I'd like a battery powered speaker. I always thought: why would I bother when there's powerpoints everywhere in the house? Where else would I use it? While waiting in line at the bank?

    But the funny thing is when you have that freedom to move it where ever you want, you start to think of situations where you might like to have some music. I was listening in the living room and then took it with me into another room. I took it outside while I did the weeding. It came downstairs with me while I cleaned and vacuumed the car. It sits outside on the deck with us while having morning coffee (we were having the coffee, not the Boombox ...). I've even taken it into the office a few times, just because I could. In many ways it's like the iPad was, you didn't know you needed or wanted it until you had it, and now it is almost becoming our little companion where ever we go.

    So I like it. The design is sleek and attractive, it is easy to carry, and it's relatively light at just under 2 kilos. The blue bits on each end didn't thrill me at first, but they've grown on me. The rubber base looks like it's an off-white which makes it look dirty compared to the crisp sleek silver bits on the rest of the unit, so that would be my only criticism of the outside design.

    It's a compact unit that looks good, sounds good, is very portable, and lasts for ages on battery (and it continues rocking out on 240 Volts after the battery is tired). If you're in the market for a bluetooth speaker with more punch than a Big Jambox for less cash than the Bose SoundLink, the Logitech UE Boombox is well worth a look and listen.

    For more information visit: Logitech UE Boombox

    RRP $299.95 at the Apple Store or $247 as of 30 April 2013 at JB HI-FI Online

    Ben is marketing communications manager for Britax Automotive Equipment. He also owns and runs his own creative company called Evocative (www.evocative.cc) that does graphic design, photography and creative writing. Holding an Honours Degree in Design majoring in Corporate Identity, Ben has over ten years commercial experience—most of which was achieved using a Mac. He's also into technology, audio gear, drums, music, cars and coffee.

    Follow Ben on Twitter or on Google+
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