Meet Bose SoundTouch, a combination of hardware and software aimed at making the easiest, most seamless wireless music system ever. It's a direct shot at Sonos's excellent system from one of the most recognizable names in consumer audio. But can Bose catch up with the popular and excellent system Sonos has been building up for a decade?
SoundTouch works over Wi-Fi integrated directly into Bose hardware. For starters, the system launch on three units: SoundTouch 30 ($700), SoundTouch 20 ($400), and SoundTouch Portable ($400). The former two are systems designed to fill large/small rooms respectively. The portable model features a lithium-ion battery. A SoundTouch-enabled version of the Wave ($600) will hit in December with ST versions of other products rolling out over the next year. If you've got an existing component system and find SoundTouch compelling enough that you'd like to add it on, Bose will be offering a $500 amp that's compatible with the technology.
As with Sonos, you control the system using a proprietary app (Android, iOS, Windows, Mac) which you use to cue up music. In addition to local music library, the system will also work with Pandora. Bose says it will be launching with additional streaming music services in 2014. We certainly hope so because Sonos has basically every service you could want on board already. Unlike some competing products, all of Bose's SoundTouch hardware will also be AirPlay compatible.
Both the SoundLink software and hardware are based around a six station preset list that works exactly like the one in your car. The idea is to make listening to music as easy as just pressing one of the six numbered buttons in either the app or on the hardware. So if you walk up to one of the all-in-one speaker systems, you can simply press the number 3 and it'll launch your Kenny G Pandora station. There's no need to fire up an app at all.
The metaphor Bose uses for this one-touch startup is a light switch, and that's a good description for how the system works—or at least how Bose would like the system to work. When you walk into a room, flipping on the music should be as easy as flipping on a light.
The SoundTouch app is simple to navigate, and changing the presets works exactly the way it does in your car. When you're listening to a station just press and hold down one of the stations in the app, and it'll switch over—it's really nice that Bose carried that metaphor over. The app also allows you to control multiple systems throughout your house, and flip them all on if you'd like. The ability to flip on only certain units is coming in a future build of the app, according to Bose. From what we heard of the sound of the units, we got more or less what we'd expect from the company: that famous, familiar Bose flatness.
Bose's big gamble here is that the simplicity of the one-touch, six-preset system is going to win over a lot of technophobic clients who are turned off by the prospect of using apps as a matter of everyday music listening. But the truth is that if we've learned anything from the success of Sonos it's that easy software integrating everything you want together really makes a difference. Bose doesn't have a compelling roster of collaborating services on board just yet. But it's definitely worth keeping an eye on SoundTouch because Bose promises that the services we'd expect are definitely on the way. [Bose]
Photos by Nick Stango