Veteran headphone maker Urbanears broke into the speaker market last year with two unique higher-end Wi-Fi-equipped speakers, the $350 Stammen and $450 Baggen, offering a refreshing new and unique style and an impressive range of connectivity options. More recently, the company expanded its lineup with a smaller sibling, the Urbanears Lotsen, providing a more affordable entry point in a more compact speaker that still provides all of the style and connectivity features of its higher-end brethren. As a Wi-Fi speaker that’s eschewed the recent trend toward adding a voice assistant, Lotsen fits into a somewhat interesting niche, but we found its design and range of connectivity options to actually be rather intriguing, and Urbanears is clearly trying to make their mark in the market space that’s been dominated by Sonos.
Like Urbanears entire speaker lineup, Lotsen has a minimalist, almost retro design that looks like a speaker you’d find being sold at Ikea — probably not at all surprising considering that Urbanears is also based in Sweden. It’s a simple, fabric-covered box that sits on four feet, with ports on the bottom for power and a 3.5mm input jack and two knobs on the top providing a much more traditional control interface than most high-tech speakers. Lotsen is sold in six different colors — the model we reviewed here is Concrete Grey, but it’s also available in Indigo, Vinyl Black, and the somewhat more fun and vibrant Plant Green, and Goldfish Orange colors. Lotsen also includes a matching colored power adapter in the box. Note that there’s no battery here – this is intended to be a tabletop speaker, not a portable one, although it’s certainly small enough to move from room to room.
What’s we found most unique and interesting about Lotsen’s design is the two knobs found on the top. Maybe we’re just our ages here, but in an era when most speakers have buttons or even touch controls, there’s something refreshing about simple, tactile knobs for controlling volume and other playback features. The top knob is a simple volume control with an entirely old-school analog feel to it — there are no “stops” or “clicks” on the knob — it rotates as smoothly as a knob on a vintage amp. The lower knob is used to access preset playlists (more on that in a moment) or set the speaker into AirPlay/Chromecast or AUX modes. Both knobs can also be pressed to either switch between single or multi-speaker modes or pause and restart music playback. Like many modern speakers, Lotsen support a multi-speaker pairing mode that lets you combine speakers for synchronize playback, although we were unable to test this with only a single speaker.
Lotsen supports both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and as one would expect it’s ready to go as a Bluetooth speaker right out of the box. However, to take full advantage of what Lotsen has to offer, you’ll want to set it up as a Wi-Fi speaker using Urbanears’ Connected iOS app. The setup process was remarkably straightforward, and in fact since Lotsen supports AirPlay (although sadly, not AirPlay 2), the app actually presented us with a built-in AirPlay pairing procedure in iOS that we’ve not encountered before. The set up procedure took about a minute and went without a hitch, after which Lotsen was immediately available for streaming via AirPlay, Chromecast or Spotify Connect. The app can also be used to control playback directly from Spotify, and features a basic two-band equalizer that can be accessed from within the app.
As part of the setup process, the Urbanears app also offered to link us up with our Spotify account and assign some playlists and Internet radio stations as presents to get us started. This is where Lotsen really shines for Spotify users, as you can assign up to seven playlists that can be called up simply by turning the control knob on the top of Lotsen and pressing it to start playback, meaning you won’t have to reach for your iPhone to put on your favourite tunes. While it’s not as flashy as being able to use an Alexa voice command to call up a Spotify playlist, we can see a definite appeal to the more manual approach. If you do start a different Spotify playlist via Spotify Connect, Lotsen also lets you quickly save that by selecting the slot you want to save it in and holding down the knob. It’s a simple and intuitive design and we rather liked. Of course, there’s no support for other music services like Apple Music, although of course you can stream anything from your iPhone or other mobile device using AirPlay or Chromecast.
Under the hood, Lotsen packs in a single one-inch neodymium dome tweeter and a four-inch woofer, with two Class-D amps providing 20 watts of power output. From our listening tests, however, we suspect Urbanears overdid it a bit on the woofer, as Lotsen sacrifices the high-end in favour of boomy bass that can also be a bit lacklustre and muddy at lower volume levels. This makes Lotsen a solid speaker if your tastes lean toward dance and hip-hop, as the bass is rich and satisfying for those genres, and you’re likely to crank up the volume for those as well. However, the bass overpowers the mids and highs a bit too much, so listening to pop and classic rock is more of a mixed bag, and strings and vocals can come across as particularly weak. Unlike Apple’s HomePod, which we found overly boomy on the low end, Lotsen isn’t just bass-heavy — we’d go so far as to say it’s bass dominant.
There’s a lot to like about Lotsen — it’s got an attractive yet minimalist design with really nice old-school manual controls and fun colours, AirPlay and Chromecast support, and very nice integration with Spotify, and solid sound that plays very well with certain genres. However, there’s no doubt in our mind that Lotsen is a speaker that’s not going to appeal to everybody; if you’re a hip-hop/dance music fan who uses Spotify, Lotsen will be right up your alley and should be right near the top of your list. Sadly, however, listeners of other genres will almost certainly find the bass to be too much for their tastes, and there’s no getting around that Lotsen is largely a speaker for Spotify users, with potential that goes unrealized if you’re using another streaming service such as Apple Music. Lotsen is a good speaker with a great design, but there are lots of other choices to consider for users who fall outside of the sweet spot for its sound signature and music service.