Bose SoundLink Color Review

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A Bargain-Priced Bluetooth Speaker ... From Bose?

Brent Butterworth

No one ever said Bose gear was a bargain. Not that I ever read, anyway. But some of it's good enough to warrant the relatively high (and rarely discounted) prices the company changes. This might change, though, with the $129 Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth speaker. For a speaker of its size, it's actually priced lower than many competitors from JBL, Sony, etc.

True to its name, the SoundLink Color comes in your choice of five colors. The form factor of the 5.3-inch-high unit is rather unusual. Its vertical orientation departs from the usual horizontally oriented design. Bet you $1 that Bose did a focus group on Bluetooth speakers and found that people like ones that take up less counter space.

Bose's other Bluetooth speakers, the $299 SoundLink III and $199 SoundLink Mini, have earned great reviews for their full sound and class-leading maximum sound output. Can the much cheaper, much cuter SoundLink Color keep up? Let's find out.

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Bose SoundLink Color: Features and Specs

Brent Butterworth

• Two 1.25-inch (36mm) active drivers

Those driver sizes listed above are approximate; to my knowledge, Bose hasn't published that information.

I use a lot of different Bluetooth speakers around the house, but the SoundLink Color quickly became one of my favorites. The taller form factor makes it easy to grab and take to other rooms, and because it takes up less counter space, you probably won't have to clear a space on your messy counter for it.

The SoundLink Color's feature set has one potential deal-breaker: It lacks a speakerphone function, something almost all of its competitors have. Personally, I almost never use that feature, but I know some people love it.

One thing that's somewhat buried in Bose's marketing materials is that the SoundLink Color is ruggedized, built to withstand being dropped and knocked around. That's an important feature for a Bluetooth speaker this small, because you're going to want to take it places with you.

Another nice thing about the SoundLink Color is that it always mated almost instantly with my Samsng Galaxy S III phone and my iPod touch. Once I had those devices mated with the SoundLink Color, I never had to go back into their menus to get them to mate again.

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Bose SoundLink Color: Performance

Brent Butterworth

The difference between the SoundLink Color and most other Bluetooth speakers in its price range is obvious and simple: It plays louder and has a lot more bass.

"Way above average," I noted when I played James Taylor's live version of "Shower the People," one of my favorite test tracks -- and one that the president of an audio technology company once called "unfair." The SoundLink Color had a full, smooth sound on this tune. I noticed a hint of sibilance in JT's voice, but a lot less than I typically hear with Bluetooth speakers. The bass line sounded deep, and also better-defined than with the $199 SoundLink Mini. The SoundLink Mini, though, did seem to play deeper and had a more robust sound overall.

The SoundLink Color sounded slightly strained and raspy when I played Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart" full blast, but bringing the level down one notch on my iPod touch cleaned it right up. I was very happy with the unit's big, clean, room-filling sound at this volume, and thrilled that I could hear the bass guitar and kick drum clearly -- something that's not the norm with a $129 Bluetooth speaker.

What the SoundLink Color lacks, in my opinion, is treble response. The sound seems rather soft and somewhat lacking in detail compared to some of my other favorite Bluetooth speakers, such as the $199 Denon Envaya and the ~$79 Ultimate Ears UE Mini Boom. "It plays loud and it doesn't distort, but it doesn't have a lot of detail," said a visiting subwoofer manufacturer who asked to hear the SoundLink Color and a few other Bluetooth speakers I had sitting around.

If you want to hear lots of detail and treble, this isn't your speaker. But I have to say, I totally dug using it for my day-to-day listening, and in the absence of other speakers for comparison, the fact that it really cranks is more important to me than the somewhat rolled-off sound.

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Bose SoundLink Color: Measurements

Brent Butterworth

This chart shows the frequency response of the SoundLink Color on axis (blue trace) and the average of responses at 0°, ±10°, ±20°and ±30° horizontally (green trace). Generally speaking, the flatter and more horizontal a speaker's frequency response curve is, the better the speaker usually is.

For a wireless speaker, this is an admirably flat frequency response. You'll notice there's a big peak at 88 Hz; that's the resonance of the passive radiator. There's also a mild lack of midrange energy around 1 kHz, and about +3 to +5 dB average extra treble energy between 2 and 10 kHz. This corresponds to the listening impressions of the panelists in my blind Bluetooth speaker test for The Wirecutter.

The SoundLink Color even seemed to play louder than the SoundLink Mini. I got an output measurement +1.9 higher from the SoundLink Color when I played -10 dBFS pink noise, and about +2 dB higher when I played "Kickstart My Heart."

I measured frequency response with a Clio 10 FW analyzer and MIC-01 microphone, at a distance of 1 meter atop a 2-meter stand. This is a quasi-anechoic measurement, which removes the acoustical effects of surrounding objects; it provides a much more accurate assessment of the frequency response of a speaker than an in-room measurement can.

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Bose SoundLink Color: Final Take

Brent Butterworth

I think the SoundLink Color is going to be a huge success. It has everything most people want in a Bluetooth speaker: room-filling volume, a decent amount of bass, nice looks, friendly ergonomics and a convenient form-factor. There may be other speakers whose sound you prefer, but few that are as appealing overall -- especially considering the SoundLink Color's very reasonable price.