Mentioning the name Bose is an easy way to start a fight among audiophiles. Do its Wave radios, speaker systems, and headphones really provide high-end sound? Or does the company merely benefit from clever marketing, winning premium prices for ordinary (or worse) performance?
Computer users can now join the fray, thanks to SoundLink, Bose's solution for streaming music wirelessly within your home. Bosehounds will cheer for a single box that's simple, portable, and makes Cee Lo—if not necessarily Beethoven—sound great. Skeptics will bemoan its lack of flexibility and expandability. And, at $550, the price. Definitely the price.
The SoundLink system consists of a speaker and a small transmitter—Bose calls it a "key"—with a folding antenna that plugs into a computer's USB port. There's no software to install, nor do you even need a home Wi-Fi network; the transmitter and speaker create an independent connection. Bose estimates the transmitter's range at 60 feet: I did better than that, even with a floor in between. As added benefits, the SoundLink has an auxiliary port allowing you to directly connect an MP3 or CD player. (Remember those?) And although Bose's documentation says little about it, the SoundLink can stream music from some Bluetooth-enabled wireless devices.
SoundLink comes with a wall-wart power adapter, but its internal lithium-ion battery can play for three hours unplugged with the volume cranked up; play it more softly and you're likely to do considerably better. The 4½-lb. device's portability is critical because of one glaring weakness: You can't network the SoundLink to run multiple units in different rooms. It's one computer, one speaker only.
The unit comes with a tiny, minimalist remote for skipping tracks, adjusting the volume, and the like. Unfortunately, it's just too limited. If you have a Wi-Fi network, use iTunes, and have an iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad, you'll get much more control by using Apple's (AAPL) free Remote app.
The SoundLink provides remarkably rich sound for such a compact (12 in. wide by 6.7 in. high by 5.1 in. deep) unit. Is it worth $550? You may find yourself pulled into another argument. But that's part of what makes it a Bose.