Standard (dark gray Cordura cover): $299.95
LX (dark brown leather cover): $349.95
Additional covers: $29.95 Cordura/$49.95 leather
Today Bose introduced the latest unit in its SoundLink line of wireless speakers, the SoundLink Wireless Mobile. While its much larger predecesor, the SoundLink, hewed more closely to the technologies and design sensibilites of Bose's early market-dominated Wave radio, the new model is built from the ground up as a companion for mobile devices. The company went with Bluetooth here rather than Apple's AirPlay, and there's no charging dock onboard, so it's intended as a universal device, happy to pair with any of your Android or iOS devices.
There's no room within the two-inch thick case for Bose's signature waveguide, so the engineering team turned to a pair of passive radiators to improve bass extnesion (the company claims that to hit the same target response with a waveguide would have required a port nearly 27 inches long). Dishing out the actual power (Bose doesn't supply a wattage rating for the SoundLink Wireless) are four neodymium drivers; two on a side (like many other Bluetooth speakers, this is a nominally a stereo unit, though with the drivers inches apart the system can't deliver much in the way of a stereo image). Everything's managed by onboard DSP, and the device receives audio from the portable device or computer of your choice via Bluetooth A2DP. A rechargeable battery provides eight hours of playtime at reasonable levels; three hours or so at top volume.
The whole thing is wrapped in a solid, chromed frame, protected by a Smart Cover-style case that folds out into a stand and automatically shuts the unit off when snapped closed. The SoundLink has reassuring heft, but isn't unduly heavy, so it should travel easily as intended. Given that, prototypes were tested for thousands of cycles under humid, salty, and hot conditions, so you should feel free to take this along to your beach house (or park it in your bathroom). The cover is replaceable (and available in a range of subdued colors to match your luggage or decor), so even if you manage to mar it, there's no need to worry.
Bluetooth pairing is quick and painless (which isn't always the case in this universe of products), and confirmed with a reassuring chirp. Onboard memory stores the last six device profiles it's been paired with, so repeat pairings and device switching is a speedy process (it only took seconds for my Android phone to pair with the SoundLink, so this isn't a huge worry, but it's a nice convenience). More importantly, the SoundLink sounds, well, darned good given its size and limitations.
Female vocals sounded quite good, and there was plenty of detail evident in the solo guitar and bass passages that Bose demoed for the press. It's obviously challenged in the low end (placing it in a corner improves matters immensely), but even placed on a tabletop it manages to pull out some actual note values in the bass range, though within reason — the subharmonics of Holly Cole's Temptation got lost in translation. And dense rock mixes (I threw Nick Cave's "Evil," from Grinderman 2 at it) sound cluttered as you might expect given the small drivers and mono image.
However — and this is probably what most buyers will notice — the SoundLink gets impressively loud for its size. By which I mean hard-to-hold a conversation loud, at least in a sparsely populated room. It might not do so well as a lone sound source for a crowded party, but Bose's DSP is obviously doing its job pretty well. The string orchestra, choir, and electric piano of Donny Hathaway's avant-soul opus "I Love the Lord, He Heard My Cry (from Extension of a Man) was enjoyable at top volume on the SoundLink, though the track suffered from the lack of stereo separation and the rhythm section didn't kick quite as hard as it would on a full-sized system.
All in all, this is an interesting offering from Bose in the ever-more-crowded wireless speaker/dock market — a capable, universally compatible, and highly portable unit, with a refreshing lack of bells and whistles and good fit and finish. A2DP Bluetooth might not be the best format ever for audio streaming, but apt-X or something of that ilk would have required a dongle (as Bose employed on the larger, Wave-styled SoundLink), and AirPlay would have restricted compatibility, so it's a choice that makes sense on several levels.
The SoundLink Wireless is available starting this afternoon through Bose stores and the Bose Web site.
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