Review: Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II
Bose's latest Bluetooth speaker, SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II ($300-$350) is an updated edition of its 2011 SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker. As is often the case when Bose comes out with a new product in the same family, you'll be hard-pressed to find any major physical differences from the outside. The body is all but identical to the original version's, and so is the price: the $50 price differential between models allows users to opt for a leather cover, rather than the base model's nylon one. It seems that the only real update to this one is in the sound quality, which is now promised to be "deeper" and "more powerful" than before. As such, this review is based heavily on our original findings.
While we were less than entirely wowed by the earlier, plasticy SoundDocks, the SoundLink II’s trim helps to elevate what could otherwise have been a very austere design. It’s a compliment to say that the SoundLink could as easily be a Braun/Dieter Rams electric razor as a speaker system, apart from its proportions, which are akin to an atypically narrow and densely weighted hardcover book. The speaker measures 9.6” wide by 5.1” tall by 4” deep when unfolded, considerably smaller than Bose’s earlier SoundDock Portable, which is around 12” wide by 6.75” tall by 6” deep. You can easily hold SoundLink II in one hand when it’s folded shut, at which point it’s only 1.9” deep, though you’ll likely want to set it down or in a bag due to the 2.9-pound weight. Just as before, there’s a port for power, one for audio in, and a Micro-USB port for service, but no microphone for phone calls. Battery life is rated for eight hours.
Some users will appreciate Bose’s decision to build the magnetically-sealed front cover in and use it as a stand to keep SoundLink upright; others will see the cover as inadequate to fully protect the speaker, given that it offers no coverage for the top-mounted buttons, a rear-mounted speaker panel, or either of the unit’s sides. Separate carrying bags included with many less expensive speakers do a better job than Bose’s design, although they’re rarely as elegant. Depending on which price level you choose, the cover is either dark grey nylon, or dark brown or white leather. There’s no reason to choose the more expensive material, other than aesthetics, and additional covers can be purchased for $40 to $60, each.
Whereas we found the first SoundLink Wireless overpriced for the quality of the audio it put out, the Bluetooth market has evolved enough since then that SoundLink II is now astoundingly expensive given its performance. The sound is good enough when heard in isolation, but there’s never a moment when it sounds great by any standard, let alone the expectations most users would have for $300-$350. Compared to its predecessor, this new SoundLink offers slightly better volume performance, and the bass has been improved, but the differences aren’t night and day—they’re as much as Bose could squeeze out of speakers within the same small enclosure. We once again tested this SoundLink against Logitech’s Wireless Boombox, and found that Bose’s speaker still doesn’t compare to something that originally cost half its price. Logitech’s speaker can be turned up a little louder, while sounding more dynamic than the SoundLink II at comparable volume levels, thanks to higher highs and deeper lows. SoundLink II’s sound profile is flatter, and its stereo separation isn’t as wide. In sum, it’s a bit better than before, and fine for the size, but feels seriously underpowered for the price versus competitors.
Despite the “II” moniker, users shouldn’t consider SoundLink II to be a sequel; it feels more like a 1.1 level product. That’s not to say it’s bad overall; Bose has once again put out a respectable little speaker, with the now well-established problem that nothing in the package justifies its price tag. What was pretty high for a Bluetooth wireless speaker back in 2011 is now harder to justify, thanks to an influx of stellar options in the sub-$200 price range. Judged today, SoundLink II is worthy of a B- rating and limited recommendation. Apart from SoundLink II’s industrial design and compactness, the only advantage it has over newer rivals is the Bose name.