Logitech makes several iPod/iPhone audio systems, ranging in size and price from about $100 to about $500. The company's Pure-Fi Express Plus rolls in around $179.95 and it's designed to be a simple, compact stereo speaker with a built-in clock and alarm that can be used at home or taken on the road, so long as you're willing to splurge on a set of six AA batteries that power the unit when you cut the cord.
The Pure-Fi Express Plus looks understated and fairly sleek from afar, but pick it up and you realise it has all the traits of a sub-$200 system. The first tip-off is that it's fairly light, weighing in at 1.44 kilograms and measuring approximately 34.5 centimetres wide by 12.5 centimetres tall by 10 centimetres deep, which makes it easy to carry; there's also a handle on the back for toting purposes.
This is one of the simpler iPod speakers we've tested. There's a single knob on the front that controls the volume and allows you to set the time and alarm when you're in the settings mode. One button on the front toggles the alarm on and off and you can have your songs repeat (one song or all) or set them to "shuffle" and play randomly. A small remote is included, but all it really controls is the volume, pause/play, and skipping tracks forward and back. There's no navigating your iPod's menus from the remote.
Some people will find the lack of features refreshing. This reviewer prefers to have an AM/FM radio on hand, but some users could care less about that. If you want the radio, you can opt for Logitech's similarly priced Pure-Fi Anytime, but you give up the portability factor. iPhone owners will appreciate that the Express Plus is GSM-shielded, so you won't need to put your iPhone in airplane mode to listen to music.
As noted, the Pure-Fi Express Plus runs on an AC adapter (included) or six AA batteries (not included). The unit runs for about 10 hours on a set of alkalines, but if you plan on taking this on the road a lot, we recommend purchasing some rechargeable NiMH batteries, which probably won't last quite as long. While there are some advantages to using standard batteries, we generally prefer a built-in rechargeable battery, which is included on the competing Altec Lansing inMotion iM600.
As for sound, the Pure-Fi Express Plus doesn't sound all that good, but it stacks up well against other iPod speakers in its price class. The system features omnidirectional speakers, which means you can set the Pure-Fi Express Plus in the middle of the room and you'll hear music emanating from both its front and back. "Omnidirectional" seems to be a growing trend in low-cost speakers (Logitech's Z5 PC speakers feature this technology) and while it's kind of cool, we're not sure how much of an impact it has on overall sound quality.
When it comes to sound in small iPod audio systems, the challenge for designers is to provide a reasonable amount of bass and balanced treble. There isn't a ton of low-end here — and you don't get any bass or treble settings or sound expansion modes to tweak the sound — but there's enough bass onboard to prevent the system from sounding painfully thin. That said, we listened to recent albums from Kings of Leon, Snow Patrol, and Beck, and didn't have to raise the volume too high before we hit some distortion. Clearly, this isn't designed to fill a large room. Those who are picky about audio quality may prefer the larger, but better sounding, iM600.
In the end, what it really comes down to is what kind of iPod audio system you're looking for. If you want something that's fairly compact, looks nice, is fine for casual listening, and is able to double-duty as a home and mobile unit, the Pure-Fi Express Plus fits the bill. On the other hand, we can't help but feel that most buyers will be better off with the iM600, as it has a built-in rechargeable battery, FM radio, superior sound quality, and is available for $249.95. We expect the Pure-Fi Express Plus will be the best fit for those who are on the go, as its small size and built-in alarm make it an excellent companion for travelers.