Review: Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III
Bose is back with SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III ($300), the third iteration of the wireless speaker since it was introduced in late 2011, and revved less than a year ago. While the second version looked a lot like the first, there's been a more significant physical redesign this time. The 10.1" long, 5.2" tall speaker does away with the once standard cover — although Bose now offers less protective versions at a $35 premium — and sports a design more in line with the popular Dieter Rams-style aesthetic. Other than the speaker itself, only a power cord is included in the box.
We find SoundLink III to be a more attractive speaker than its predecessors. It maintains the same general look and shape, but everything has been refined, making it more elegant. Viewed from the front, the speaker is a rather flat slate, with a silver perforated metal grille, surrounded by strips of darker gray plastic at the top and bottom. These materials continue in a loop all the way around, although the grille stops a little more than halfway down on the back, making room for aux in, micro-USB service, and power ports. The internal rechargeable battery lasts for up to 14 hours at a time.
One of the biggest external differences on this edition is found along the top with the button setup. Instead of physically separated hard plastic buttons, there’s one sheet of very smooth rubber running the length of the top edge, surrounded by an inward-sloping white plastic ring. The power, Bluetooth pairing, aux, mute, volume down, and volume up buttons are separated by slightly raised 0.6” long dividers; they still provide pleasant tactile feedback and an audible click. On the underside, there are padded feet at both ends, and metal contacts that appear to be for a charging station, although no such accessory has been announced yet.
To test audio performance, we pitted SoundLink III against Braven’s 850 HD, a similarly priced, shaped, and designed speaker released after SoundLink II. Side by side, and playing the same music, we found the two speakers to be sonic peers in pretty much every way. Both have a rather wide range of sound for their size, although Braven’s treble performance is slightly better, while Bose’s bass is a little stronger. That’s not surprising, as the company usually emphasizes the performance of the lows. The volume level is quite acceptable, as the unit is more than able to fill a small room, and could even be suitable for outdoor use. It ramps up rather slowly, but the top level is comparable to that of the Braven speaker, and there’s relatively low distortion.
Compared to the last SoundLink, this one is a step up. Braven’s 850 still does have the edge in a few regards though: it can be paired with a second unit for stereo audio, has a USB port for device charging, includes speakerphone capabilities, and offers 20-hour playtime. SoundLink III has the advantages of a better aesthetic design, and a thinner body, making it more suitable for travel.
While the first SoundLink earned our general recommendation, the second edition fell to a B-, based primarily on few real improvements, and the influx of quality competitors at lower prices. SoundLink III does sound and look better than the first two models, although it loses the built-in cover. It’s still an expensive speaker, and Braven’s 850, which now costs $280, offers comparably pleasant sound with other material advantages. The shape and looks are strong enough to raise it back up to a level earning our general recommendation. For those willing to spend a little more than absolutely necessary, it’s a very nice sounding speaker with looks to match.