Bose Soundlink Wireless Mobile Speaker

Unplggd Test Lab

Product: Bose Soundlink Wireless Mobile Speaker
Price: $299.99 Nylon, $349.99 Leather (tested)
Rating: *Recommend

In today's test lab we look at the Bose Soundlink Wireless Mobile Speaker. We hooked this component up to devices of all types-big (desktop PC), small (iPhone and Android smartphones) and things in between (iPad, Laptops). How easy is it to operate? How does it sound? And is this a device deserving of Three Benji's?

We put it through the paces of our day-to-day to answer all those questions and more. Click below to find out our thoughts.

Specs

We'll start with the technical specs.

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  • 4 speakers (neodymium transducers - highs-mids) + 2 passive radiators (lows)
  • Bluetooth A2DP Music Streaming (not Airplay)
  • Wireless range up to 30ft
  • Battery Life up to 8 hours
  • Auxiliary Input
  • Height: 5.1" (130mm)
  • Width: 9.6" (244mm)
  • Depth: 1.9" (480mm)
  • Weight: 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg)

Most notable in this list is that the speaker pairs to your device via Bluetooth. So whether you are an Apple or a PC, a Droid, or a Penguin you can pair up and use this device for your music streaming needs. The weight and dimensions are also something to note, as they speak to a small form factor at a weight that is easy to lug around. That battery life isn't all too shabby either. 8 hours will get us through a whole work day without wires, talk about Unplggd!

Unboxing

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Upon unboxing the device we were immediately impressed with the build quality and fit and finish of the wireless speaker system. The solid aluminum frame and smooth leather flap exude classiness and will fit into any decor. You won't find a better built speaker in this price range.

In the box you'll find the speaker itself, AC adapter, and an Auxiliary Cable. No remote is included because one won't be necessary. You'll simply control the sounds and volumes from your paired device. We plugged the unit in with the included AC adapter and turned it on to find out what lies beneath.

Pairing

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Pairing is a simple process that we should all be too familiar with at this point, as it uses Bluetooth technology. Simply hit the Bluetooth button on the top of the speaker for 3 seconds to initiate pairing, find the Bose Soundlink on your device menu and you'll hear a little beep that assures you're golden. On desktops or laptops we found this process a bit more complicated as you'll have to dig through a few of your settings / preferences to find out where your Bluetooth settings exactly are, and then how to direct your audio to the Soundlink once pairing is complete.

The Bose Soundlink stores the six most recently used devices in memory. They claim this eliminates the need to pair again, but in practice that didn't quite hold true. It seemed only our most recent device could be cued to stream to the speaker automatically. Streaming from other devices required us to hit the Bluetooth button on the speaker, find the Soundlink in the Bluetooth menu for our device and connect again. Which isn't a big hassle because its rather simple to do, but it isn't the one button press the literature touts.

We paired the Soundlink with our iPhone, Android phone, iPad, Mac, and Windows systems. Pairing was seamless with all of them. The wide support of devices you can stream from can be credited to Bose's decision to make this speaker work through Bluetooth A2DP vs. Airplay. Since mobile speakers these days either take the flavor of Bluetooth A2DP or Airplay, not both, Bose erred on the side of flexibility.

This is a god-send for Android or PC owners as they finally have a quality option to consider. For Apple owners, however, it means you're going to miss out on the features of Airplay. Particularly, having to settle with the inconvenience of pressing the Bluetooth button on the speaker, finding the device in the menu, and connecting every time. No Airplay also means you can't stream sound from your Apple device to multiple speakers at once, since Bluetooth A2DP only allows one connection at a time. If you have more than one Apple device, or a whole Apple ecosystem, you might be a little turned off by this.

Let's move on though. Our devices are paired up and we can now stream music to the speaker. Let's see what this baby can do.

Use

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We primarily used the Soundlink when paired to either our tablet or smartphone. We listened to all our favorite music apps throughout the day with it -- Spotify, Pandora, iTunes library, Google Music, and our own music stored on the phone. No matter what device you are connected to, the Soundlink will basically redirect all sounds from the audio source to the Mobile Speaker. This opens up a lot of interesting possibilities. For instance, you could set the speaker up in your bedroom. Launch the HBO Go app on your tablet and watch your favorite show on the bed with greater audio prowess than the underwhelming ones squeezed into your tablet. Even better yet, bring the speaker and your tablet out on the deck with you on a Sunday afternoon, launch the DirecTV Sunday Ticket app and have your friends gather round your tablet and Soundlink Speaker so they're not separated from the action while that rotisserie chicken finishes roasting on the grill.

Interestingly enough, one thing the Soundlink does not broadcast is audio from the phone when paired to your smartphone. When a phone call comes in, the music stops and audio output is returned back to your smartphone. So you can take the call, have a conversation, and once ended return back to the music where you left off. It's actually quite nice,and provides for one of those moments when the saying "it just works" is appropriate.

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The Soundlink is lightweight, right-sized and kind of just begs to be packed along with you. The aluminum build makes you confident it will survive that trip, time and time again. And the about-the-size-of-a-good-book footprint means you'll be able to make room for it in your travel bag. Another neat feature is the magnetic flap that gives a good reassuring snap and turns the speaker off when closed. No worrying about the power getting turned on and battery draining on bumpy flight. Gotta love well-built and well-thought products.

Sound

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We set the speaker up on a nightstand, and near a center wall as recommended by the manufacturer. Cranked the speaker itself up to max volume and modulated the volume from our devices (mostly listening at about 60% volume from about 20 feet away). Sound was very good, and filled the room but we did notice that it sometimes would sound a bit muffled on the low end. The highs were sharp and seemed to have the farthest reach in our space -- having clear distinction as we increased our listening distance. In fact, we'd say this speaker sounds best when you give yourself a bit of separation from it.

We listened to a wide range of music and subjected it to a rigorous audio quality test with the following lossless tracks

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Before we go into depth of how the audio experience was, let's preface with the fact that we're testing this against reference quality sound (i.e. not another mobile speaker). The comparison isn't exactly fair and we're not going in with expectations that a tiny mobile speaker will match it. But the comparison does provide us some detail on the limitations of the speaker itself, and what music it's designed for, in the event you want to purchase this for yourself.

So now with all that being said, let's get down to business. We start the test with the heavy hitting electronic Hip Pop beats of the Black Eyed Peas. "Boom Boom Pow" really exposes the speaker's inability to reproduce repetitive high-range bass. The driving beat to this song just sounded hollow and flat. We even felt our small bookshelf speakers did a better job of reproducing this essential part of the track. The same can be said for the Alicia Keys and Jay-Z tracks in our playlist. The rhythm in these songs are reproduced as a cacophony of muffled door knocks. "Rock That Body" wasn't as bad, but did experience some muffled highs and vocals when the music got heavy. Interestingly, the super-low resonant bass notes came off well. Overall though, these first four tracks didn't sound too appealing and you may want to evaluate other options if you think tracks like these will be the primary songs you'll play.

The Imogen Heap track was next and it too appeared to really tax the speakers range. The high, robotic-like vocals caused unpleasant vibrations in the speaker panel, as well as a static-like distortion. This is a tough track to knockout, but the Soundlink doesn't even belong in the same ring as this song.

Don't write this speaker off yet though. Things start improving with the next tracks. Radiohead sounded good overall, and the speaker's plights were no longer center stage. We began to just listen to the expanse of the sound and enjoy the music. Comparing against reference, however, did reveal some loss of detail. Nuances like the zip of fingers sliding on the guitar strings on the Baez track and the ting of the top-hat in the Eagles track lacked some sharpness; especially at the track's most intense moments. These are things that would likely go unnoticed by the average listener -- unless you pointed it out and played a higher end machine side-by-side.

Johnny Cash and Norah Jones are next on our playlist and they sound fantastic on the Bose Soundlink. Johnny's voice is deep, prominent and resonates across the whole space. While Norah's piano is beautiful, crisp, and alive. It becomes very obvious that these types of tracks are what the Bose sound profile was designed for.

To close things out we treat our ears to some Miles Davis and Camille Saint-Saens. Again, excellent sound reproduction here and you forget you're listening to a mobile speaker. Notes are rich, and pleasing. No complaints.

Battery

Battery life was impressive, as we went through the whole day of our 8-5 work-at-home day without a hiccup and still some juice to spare. Under our testing at normal listening conditions the battery actually lasted around 9 hours at about 70% volume. Bose says this life is reduced to 3 hours at full blast, but that volume wasn't necessary for us, and we doubt it'd be for most people. Especially for a wireless speaker.

Summary

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Yours truly, has always felt Bose products were a bit gimmicky. This coming from the retail store experience where they sit you in a home theatre room, show some demo clips, then remove seemingly-large speaker covers to unveil tiny speakers. That demonstration always seemed more focused on showing you how much sound you could get out of a small space vs. how to give you the best quality sound experience. With that being said, perhaps the mobile speaker market is a perfect fit for them to get into.

When shopping for a mobile speaker you likely want mobility, compactness, and big sound. The Bose Soundlink basically delivers on those requests. However, not completely without compromise -- especially if you listen to bass heavy tracks most of the time. To really nail the full sound spectrum Bose would have to add some sort of dedicated woofer, or wider speaker arrangement. Doing those things would ultimately use more power, make the speaker heavier and less mobile, and drive up the price. So the tradeoffs make sense, and we believe they chose wisely to deliver a product that works well on the portability and sound quality front for most consumers.

Having a mobile speaker around was a great experience, and definitely something you could easily get used to. You really feel like you can set your music free, and can add good sound to areas of your home without the fuss of a built-in arrangement.

We give the speaker our *Recommend rating. It gets a couple knocks for not being able to produce great sound in the Hip Pop and Electronica genres. If you're a part of Team Apple, you'll also miss the simplicity and features of Airplay.

Those who find themselves mainly listening to mellow rock, classical, or jazz music will enjoy exemplary sound quality from this little speaker. The aluminum frame and craftsmanship lend to a durability that we feel is worth the price tag. And those who find themselves in the Android or PC camp have a speaker that is flexible enough to work on their devices.

Pros
Great build quality -- solid aluminum frame and luxurious leather finish.
Compact size and lightweight form that begs to be taken out
Impressive sound with wide range for most music; with clear highs and vocals
Bluetooth A2DP gives flexibility to work for just about all devices

Cons
Price point a little on the high end
Songs with driving bass beats can sound muffled, and at worst flat and hollow.
No Airplay = missing features if you're an Apple consumer

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend
Recommend*
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.