Witchdoctor can be a bit sniffy about Bose products, but Ash Kramer is proud to admit that its portable SoundLink Colour speaker punches above its welterweight
ADDING A BLUETOOTH speaker to my music playback system seemed inevitable. In recent times, I’ve become somewhat addicted to the Pandora streaming service, which meant that my iPhone has morphed into my most used source component. Linking it to my hi-fi system via a Bluetooth streamer changed the way I discovered new music and explored the back catalogues of familiar artists.
The problem is that I’ve been 12,000km away from my hi-fi system for almost six months. Listening to earphones day in and day out has gotten a bit old, so I started thinking about getting some kind of speaker system. I was leaning towards a set of the Q-Acoustics BT-3 bookshelf speakers (reviewed here) but they’ll only work when I get settled for a while – living out of a suitcase makes lugging around a set of those pretty much impossible.
So a compact, battery powered, portable Bluetooth speaker jumped right to the top of my shopping list. And then out of the blue, I was given a Bose SoundLink Colour speaker for Christmas. Bose wasn’t actually on my list because I usually associate the name with more expensive products, and I needed something affordable and tough.
In the USA where I am right now, the SoundLink Colour is US$129, noticeably cheaper when converted than the NZ$219 asking price. So while there are dozens of less expensive options out there, the SoundLink Colour isn’t super-expensive by any stretch of the imagination. Bose’s SoundLink Mini is pricier, and it seems to have a great reputation for delivering high quality sound, so I had high hopes for the SoundLink Colour.
Features And Construction
The SoundLink Colour certainly is compact – at 5.3 x 12.8 x 13.4 cm (H x W x D) and 570 grams, it’s small and light enough to slot into a daypack, let alone a suitcase. That’s good news for travellers like myself. Construction is solid, and there’s almost no flex in the body. Rubber bumpers on both sides should protect the unit from impacts and scuffs.
Charging the lithium ion battery is done via a standard Micro USB connector. A charger and cable are supplied, but of course, any USB charger will work. Like most people, I’ve got heaps of devices that charge from Micro USB, which makes life easy – a proprietary connection here would be an awful idea. There’s also a 3.5mm AUX input located around back for the times when a legacy device needs to be connected.
The SoundLink Colour isn’t the most imaginatively designed product around. It’s smoothly innocuous but doesn’t really stand out in any way. At least the five colour choices (white, black, red, blue and mint) give buyers some degree of leeway to pick something they’ll like. It’s designed to be placed upright, so the controls are located on the top surface. They’re simple enough, and well designed. There’s a power button, Bluetooth pairing, an AUX selector, play/pause and volume up and down, along with a few indicator lights for pairing status and battery charge.
The rubberised controls and top surface might lead one to believe that the SoundLink Colour is water resistant but it’s not, so don’t go there. Making a unit like this dust and water resistant would add a lot of appeal – instead of being deeply circumspect about using it at the beach for example, you could just go for it – and this is an area where Logitech’s Boom (and other rugged models) have an edge. Something else that’s missing here is a carry case – Bose doesn’t even supply a cloth slipcase, which is an omission for any portable device like this. An optional case is available but at $40, they’re dreaming.
Pairing the little Bose to my phone was as simple as expected. What I didn’t expect was the voice prompt announcing that it was “Paired with Ashley Krammer’s iPhone”. The American accent had a little trouble with my surname, but the voice prompts are cool because they let you know exactly what’s going on in terms of pairing, which is handy in a multi-device environment.
The SoundLink Colour features dual drivers that vent through the front grille, with a pair of passive radiators exiting through the back adding a bit of bottom end oomph. I was anticipating more oomph than necessary but it seems that the Bose engineers have been more restrained than many others when it comes to Bluetooth speakers.
Generally, engineers at this level are firmly in the “more bass is better bass” category, which is terrific in-store when punters are shopping but less so when the unit is at home, merrily booming and chuffing along like an old grizzly bear. There’s enough bass here to make an impression, especially given the form factor but not enough to be annoying. The passive radiators do lag behind the bass line but again, not enough to be a bother.
Playing AWOLNation’s ‘Sail’ from Megalithic Symphony* showed that the SoundLink Colour actually does a nice job with that big bass line – the bottom end is by no means huge or super-fast but it doesn’t sound like you’re listening to notebook speakers.
[*Editor’s note: I know, I know, but don’t hold it against him!]
In fact, the sound is a long way removed from that. Barring an obvious lack of stereo separation, the SoundLink Colour offers a bigger sound than the unit’s size would indicate. It goes decently loud which is a plus, but the aspect I appreciated the most was the clarity. There’s a decent amount of mid and high detail presented here. No, it’s not in the hi-fi league – that should go without saying at the price, but you can turn it up and just listen without feeling like the music is hidden in a muddy mess. Combine that clarity with the good bass, and a warm overall sonic character, and you’re onto a winner.
My SoundLink Colour has seen a lot of use since I got it. It’s moved house a couple of times, been in and out of a backpack, and used for everything from quiet acoustic sessions to blasting out N.W.A. to motivate me during a home gym workout. So far, the battery life seems to be at least eight hours at a shot, which is exactly what Bose claims.
I’ve heard better Bluetooth sound but always in bigger, less portable and much more expensive units. Bose’s SoundLink Colour is smack bang in a sweet spot that should see a lot of units move out the shop doors.
I like this thing. A lot. It does exactly what it set out to do and that’s more than enough. Yes, it was a gift and I didn’t pay a cent for it, but I’d happily pay the asking price for the portability and performance. ASHLEY KRAMER