Tuesday, 02 December 2014 18:29

Review: Bose SoundTouch 30 Series II


Wireless speakers are becoming increasingly popular. How does Bose's latest model stack up?

The emergence of quite low-cost - and sometimes free - music streaming services seems to have sparked renewed interest in home audio. And a growing number of manufacturers have responded with wireless speakers designed for use with such services plus digital audio from computers, mobile devices and home servers.

The latest model I've tried is the $899 Bose SoundTouch 30 Series II.

Setup is straightforward, as the accompanying app is able to detect the SoundTouch before it is connected to the Wi-Fi network.

But even though the SoundTouch was factory fresh and we'd just downloaded the app, the app updated itself and the SoundTouch firmware before proceeding.

Another wrinkle is that if you have a long email address, it may be truncated by the screen that asks for confirmation before completing registration. And although you're asked for a physical address, it isn't mandatory.

It's a shame that the SoundTouch can't directly see shared iTunes libraries. Instead, you need to install the SoundTouch application on the computer concerned and leave it running so the content is accessible. I'm not singling out Bose for criticism - in the absence of better information I'll put it down to Apple not providing a mechanism for third-party developers to use, so they have rely on looking at the contents of the Music folder instead.

As I've said previously, I'm definitely at the 'tin ear' end of the spectrum when it comes to judging sound quality. So when the SoundTouch struck me as being a bit heavy on bass and treble (or weak in the midrange, if you prefer to look at it that way), I sought second and third opinions - and both agreed with me, regardless of the genre being played. So if the source has an equaliser (e.g., when sending iTunes content to the SoundTouch via AirPlay), you'll probably need to use it. But that's not an option when playing back music stored on a NAS, or when streaming.

This doesn't only affect music. The sound quality of my TV isn't the greatest (yes, one day I'll get a soundbar or similar!), so I tried connecting it to the SoundTouch's auxiliary input. It was a weekend, and an A-League (football) match was on. There was a loud thud each time the ball was kicked, and while the commentator's voices were clear, the sound of the crowd was very muted.

Eventually I found the bass adjustment, which is hidden in the depths of the app. The default setting is quite high, and lowering it helped considerably. But the midrange still seemed weak, and the SoundTouch returns to the default setting every time it's plugged in.

I've mentioned streaming services - the SoundTouch works with Pandora, Deezer (there's a free trial offer) and Spotify (paid accounts only, though that is a limitation of Spotify, not the SoundTouch).

It's possible to stop a stream from the app or the remote, but not from the buttons on the top of the SoundTouch. There doesn't seem to be a way of completely stopping music playing from a local source, and if I paused it before turning the SoundTouch off, it just restarted the next time I switched on. There may be circumstances where that's a good thing, but it just seemed like a nuisance to me.

Be prepared for strange behaviour if two (or presumably more) devices try to control one SoundTouch simultaneously - there's no warning of a problem, but in my experience one of them just becomes unresponsive. If you're so inclined, that provides an opportunity to prank unsuspecting members of your household.

On the other hand, the six 'preset' buttons on the unit (and reflected in the app) can be assigned to streaming channels or internet radio stations. I used this for easy access to my favourite stations and channels without the need to use a phone, tablet or computer to control the device. Another plus is that internet radio stations listed as local really are local to your city and state, not just 'local' as in 'Australian.'

The preset buttons and the corresponding hardware remote control are probably the main area where the SoundTouch beats the Sonos wireless speakers I've previously reviewed.

The display on the front of the unit shows the source and (where available) what's playing, but there's no provision for album art. It also shows a gauge when adjusting the volume, and indicates progress while starting up.

The on/off control is better described as a sleep function - when the unit is 'off' it can be turned back on by clicking the power button in the app or on the remote control, or for that matter by pressing the real button on top of the SoundTouch. That makes sense, but as mains sockets are often hidden behind furniture, I'd like to see a hard power switch on the unit, which would be preferable to pulling out the figure-8 mains cable. And as previously mentioned, reconnecting the power means readjusting the bass control.

The SoundTouch system supports multiple speakers with the ability to play the same content (handy for parties or while doing housework) to control them separately, e.g., Peppa Pig's Nursery Rhymes and Songs in the little one's bedroom, and maybe The Black Eyed Peas or Death Cab for Cutie for mum and dad in the loungeroom (replace those examples with whatever suits your demographic and taste!). I couldn't test this function as only one unit was provided.

In summary: I don't particularly like the sound of the SoundTouch 30, but listen to a SoundTouch for yourself rather than trusting my ears, as it's probably a matter of taste rather than technical quality. The industrial design fits in with the domestic environment, but I prefer the less obtrusive (again, that's just my opinion) Sonos or Samsung units. The auxiliary input, the remote control, and especially the preset buttons are features that other vendors would do well to copy.

If I had $900 to spare, I think I'd prefer a pair of Sonos Play:3 units, or perhaps a Play:5 for the loungeroom and a Play:1 for my office - but the choice would be easier if they could be operated without a computer or mobile device. But then again, I haven't yet had a chance to try the Samsung M3 or M5 in my normal environment.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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