- Eye catching design
- Unrivalled sound quality
- Amazing build
- Limited feature set
- No USB charging
Hugely expensive and lacking many current standard features, the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker does not come across as a good prospect on paper. However, while we could try to find more affordable products with equal sound performance it would be futile. Simply put, this is probably the best audio portable on the market, so if all you want is a very good audio experience it is a very compelling option. Add into the mix a high end and customizable design then you have a winner that maybe justifies its price. Those hunting for features should look elsewhere though.
Bose is one of the most respected portable speaker manufacturers and sales of the previous versions of the SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker have proved that. The box has been so successful that the company launched a SoundLink Mini last year and has returned with this, the third Bose SoundLink. The impressive first and second SoundLinks´s were still impressing us, so while an upgrade is hardly necessary it is nice to see that Bose has gone for an overhaul of the unit this time.
What´s in the box?
Considering Bose´s latest is still very expensive, it would be pleasing to see plenty of trimmings falling out of the box. That´s not the case though as much like the speaker itself, the company has gone bare bones and is more interested in concentrating on the sound of the speaker. In a market where manufacturers are increasingly throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at their speakers, that´s a brave move on Bose´s part, but sales have proven that it is a strategy that works. So in the box you will get just your standard AC charger.
Bose has changed up the design for this, the third version of its popular portable box, and the new look instantly differentiates it from the previous two models. The squared stance of the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker makes a nice change from pill speakers, and it is a good looking portable. We like the sort of 70´s radio look to the design language, with the metal grill front panel being a particular highlight. Just in case you are not sold on the standard design, Bose has some covers for the speaker to add more color, protection, and to you know, take more money from you. Costing a whopping $34.95 there is no doubt that these covers are expensive, but they are also slick and give the SoundLink a unique charm (especially the vintage brown cover). The buttons are located along the top strip on a rubber band indented by surrounding metal. Here you will find the power button, Bluetooth, aux, mute, volume +, and volume -.
The SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker pushes the definition of portability slightly due to its square design. Standing the speaker is 10.1-inches long and 5.2-inches high, which is a little bulky but has the saving grace of being thin. We would compare it to a thick hardback book, so while you won´t be slipping it into your pocket you should have no issues carrying it around in just about any bag.
The Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker feels very solid in hand, as it should for a $300 portable. The metals and grill feel like they could take a hit or two (don´t go throwing it at the wall), while there are four rubber feet to keep the unit standing sturdy on a flat surface. The buttons on the top are very responsive and offer good traction, while a clicking sound is always welcome when pressing a button, so it is good to get one here.
As we mentioned earlier in the review, Bose has decided that it wants the audio experience to be the be all and end all of the SoundLink. With that in mind you will not get many features that are now finding their way onto other similar products. Of course, how much you crave things such as NFC and aptX sound will determine whether their absence here is a deal breaker. However, it is worth considering that once these speakers are paired the first time they always remember the link, so why the need for NFC? In terms of aptX, it divides opinion but many believe it doesn´t elevate audio performance over Bluetooth as it is meant to do.
However, the lack of speaker phone functionality is very disappointing on a unit that costs this much. Of course, the primary job of a portable is not to take your calls but nevertheless it is becoming a popular feature and it is one we hope Bose considers for the fourth version of this product.
Aside from revamping the design of the SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker, Bose says it has done considerable work adding to the already impressive sound quality of the product. The company takes sound very serious and says it is tackling the inevitable issue of trying to get high quality performance from a small unit. The company gets plenty technical when explaining how it achieves this, but the most important thing is that Bose did achieve it. The sound quality of the SoundLink is among the best of any portable speaker, offering surprising loudness, deep base, and quality performance at high volumes. This is a good thing considering the price tag, and on sound alone the SoundLink arguably justifies being among the most expensive portables on the market.
The loudness without distorting is especially important as that has been a problem that has plagued portable cabs for years. While audiophiles will certainly pick holes in the sound, for the average user the SoundLink offers richer tone, clarity, bass depth, and more detailed performance than many of its rivals. Bose has done a great job with processing too, and the result is a unit that offers admirable stereo reproduction.
As we already discussed, the Bose SoundLink Speaker lacks NFC and only connects through Bluetooth. Pairing is easy and painless though, and as it is a onetime deal it is hardly a problem even if it wasn´t that simple.
The fact that the SoundLink offers 14 hours of battery life is a massive positive, but while praising the battery life is easy, there are some problems to address. For example, the only way to charge the unit is via the AC adapter (in other words the old fashioned way), so it would have been nice to see USB charging thrown into the mix.
Arguably the best sounding portable speaker on the market, the Bose SoundLink is a very good unit for those craving the best audio performance. Bose knows that its speaker is a stunning performer too, which is why the company felt confident leaving a bunch of features out and still slapping a massive price tag on it.