So, what we need are speakers, that:
- can wirelessly stream music from a range of devices;
- are portable;
- are rechargeable;
- produce fantastic sound quality.
Is this achievable? Yes it is. Is it achievable at an affordable price though?!
The output of these speakers is stunning - very clean, with a punchy bass that is belied by the package the size of a clock-radio, and capable of filling a house, let alone a room, with music. They pick up a blue-tooth signal at a range of - well, we managed to stream across the house, but they claim 10 metres. The unit doesn't look as beautiful as (say) an Apple product - but it's well-thought-out - neat things like the flappy thing making a stand, or when folded up switching off the power.
This represents the next-generation solution to the problem that boomboxes/mini-speakers/iPod docks try to solve - taking music with you - and it's probably the most versatile and least hassle solution. I guess the target customers are the people who would be looking for high-end versions of these things in previous eras; whether they would be prepared to pay this much remains to be seen. But those who do are likely to draw covetous looks.
I received some shopping vouchers from an employer as an unexpected thank you and I've spent quite some time thinking of a frivolous item to buy with them. Just after Christmas while in Manchester's Selfridges I spotted just the item; the Bose Soundlink Mobile, a rather posh music speaker retailing at a little under £270.
Not just any speaker, it's a Bose speaker
My Bose Soundlink Mobile speaker is a tidy little box about 9 inches long, 5 inches wide and an inch and half thick. As I wasn't paying for it, I really splashed out and paid an additional £50 for the brown leather version, which means it has a very nifty sturdy leather front attached by magnet and which folds back to form a little stand for the speaker when it's in use. In styling it rather reminds me of my dad's first transistor radios - brown leather silver metal speaker grill and black unobtrusive controls on the top of the system.
While the speaker is fairly heavy for its size, it is just about convenient enough to pop into hand luggage giving a good quality portable sound system, and it feels sturdy enough (particularly with its leather covering) to be squeezed into the luggage bins with everyone else's "essential" travel luggage. I wouldn't like to kick it around a football pitch however.
Bose are an American company founded in 1964. Although they have a number of USA based factories, my Bose speaker was made in Mexico, where I'm guessing labour is cheaper. Amar Gopal Bose is now in his 80s and is a very wealthy man these days worth something in the region of a billion dollars.
The Bose Corporation unsurprisingly specialise in audio equipment and spend a lot of your purchase money on advertising telling the world how good their products are. Sadly I don't have the hearing of a dog, but if the adverts are to be believed I would be in second heaven if I were.
So what's the sound like?
For a little box the Bose Soundlink kicks out quite a punch. I can't imagine anyone's ears withstanding the loudest that this little box can kick up to. The bass is quite pronounced but I like the very rounded sound of the tracks I play. Bose have the confidence not to allow you the opportunity to adjust the treble and bass on the machine. You have to live with what Mr Bose thinks is best. I actually quite like that I don't have to fiddle with the machine too much.
I love David Hasselhoff as much as the next person, but unfortunately his songs still sound rubbish on this Bose machine. It's more the Hoff's limited vocal range rather than the Bose.
So how do you get the Bose Soundlink Speaker to work?
The speaker is literally just a speaker, so you have to buy something to actually play the music. As I didn't previously own an MP3 player of any description this meant I had to shell out another £90 on such a beast. This means I can now download electronic tracks from my computer onto my MP3 and then play the music wirelessly through the Bluetooth facility. That it is coming through Bluetooth does limit the sound quality a little, but it is good enough for me. I'm told you can have your Bluetooth device and the speaker a good 35 feet apart.
I'm no techno whizz (how I regret that Tomorrows World that BBC TV program which used to explain new technology in a way a 90 year old would understand is no longer around) but it wasn't too tricky. I just clicked into the Bluetooth app on my Mp3, turned on the Bose Soundlink and then connected the two together. In all the Bose Soundlink Mobile Speaker allows you to connect to five different mp3 players and phones and it will retain its memory of the device.
It is worth bearing in mind that quite a few of the speakers on the market only seem to connect up to Apple. While I love the swish looking Apple players I do find them much more pricey than less showy alternatives, and I particularly detest products that force you to buy a companion system without any option. I bought a little Samsung Galaxy at about half the price of the equivalent specification Apple product. However, you can use your Apple to connect to the Bose Soundlink if you prefer. Beware there is no fixed docking station.
Alternatively there is a little connector plug at the back of the Bose Soundlink Mobile so you can connect to your music player by wire if you need to.
So what are the controls on the Bose Soundlink?
I like the simple controls; there is a volume control, a mute button in case the phone rings, a change from Bluetooth to Auxiliary and an on off switch. Simple.
The back of the speaker has a place to charge the Bose Soundlink Mobile Speaker and it has about 6 - 8 hours of battery life depending on how loud you play your music.
I was fascinated by the plug which has a very clever system to interchange between a UK three pin plug and a Europe 2 pin. Of course, the only problem is that you may well forget where you have put the extra adaptor if you are going abroad, but it certainly is easy.
I certainly found the Bose Soundlink Mobile speaker retains its charge well if you don't happen to use it for a while. One slight grumble is that the Bose Soundlink indicates it has been charged far too quickly (there's a green light that indicates fully charged); the light may actually show up when the battery is only about 60% charged. It can full charge in about 3 hours.
We like to spend time in the garden in summer months so are looking forward to gently drowning out our neighbour's obsession with Julio and Enrique while gardening (I won't call it predictable, but we always know when her husband is in for a "treat").
I thought I'd try my speaker out (carefully placed on a bit of plastic sheeting) while I shovelled the foot of snow from in front of the car last weekend. It worked a treat, but my only wish was that the leather case around the speaker incorporated a handle of some kind.
I can imagine that there are other cheaper alternatives out there but I'm very happy with the sound and performance of my Bose Soundlink Mobile Speaker. I will knock one point off the score as the speaker is rather heavier than I imagined and of course with it being a Bose it is a little pricey.
I got this based on previous experiences with Bose, and feeling the need for a wireless speaker (who can be bothered getting up and walking over to their dock to change the song?!).
First impressions are good; from getting it out of the box, you can see it is very well made, as Bose products usually are (save one pair of the in ear headphones I bought, but that's another story).
You have two options when buying a Soundlink II, you can have one with a nylon cover, or a leather cover, which is obviously more expensive; therefore I opted for the nylon. And to be completely honest, I wish I'd saved up the extra for a leather one, it's not that it's bad per se, but it just looks a little cheap on such an expensive product.
And now the big one; sound quality. I use the phrase 'by no means am I an audiophile' quite a lot when reviewing speakers and headphones, but I'm starting to wonder if I'm becoming one. I do know a good sounding speaker when I hear one, and I know a bad one too, unlike my mother, who cannot tell the difference between the terrible speakers in my Fiat and the Bose system in Dad's Audi. But I digress. Any wireless speaker system using Bluetooth is going to sacrifice some of the sound quality. I expected, given the excellent reputation Bose has built, that they would have worked their magic to minimise the decrease in quality as much as possible. But the truth is, they haven't. It sounds no better than those £40 iPod speakers with a dock connector that run off batteries.
In conclusion then; wireless speakers are definitely the future; the way Apple is pushing it on it's entire product line shows this. But I must give the Bose Soundlink II a C- here; while it is a great concept, and is beautifully made, the sound quality lets it down, something which I never thought I'd say about Bose products.
The best wireless solution I have come across is the AirPlay system from Apple. There are a few speakers with this enabled in the Apple store, and the idea is that the speakers connect to your wireless network, then music can be played wirelessly from iTunes on your PC/Mac, or by clicking the AirPlay icon when selecting music on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch on the same network.
I appreciate that the main selling point of the Soundlink II is it's portability, and the downside in the AirPlay system is it requires a wifi network to work. But what if you want good quality sound, say in the park? Then get one of the cheaper, battery powered speakers with a dock connector, as it's not worth paying £250 for the Soundlink II if that is what you're looking for.
The SoundLink II combines timeless monolithic looks with Bose audio knowhow that will keep the most demanding audiophile happy. Built-in Bluetooth allows for easy streaming from tablets, phones and other devices in moments. Engineered for durability, with an integrated cover, it still manages to be exceptionally lightweight while pushing out room-filling, party-starting sound.