The most startling thing about the new Bose SoundDock Portable is that it's bigger than its forebear (though thankfully not heavier). The least startling thing about it is that it sounds better than the original.
If you look at the profile, especially, you can see that the SoundDock Portable stands about half an inch taller than the original. It has a slimmer look from the side, but there is a ridge down the back. I have to say, however much a lover or hater you are of Bose, the new machine is a vast improvement, even aside from portability:
• The old SoundDock hisses audibly when an iPod is docked, and gets louder when the volume is up. The new Portable has licked the problem almost completely. There's a very faint hiss when you put your ear to it that won't change regardless of the volume setting.
• The auxiliary input is key. For some apartment dwellers, this might be their whole sound system, and being able to plug in other stuff (satellite radio, CD/DVD player, etc.) really matters. I always assumed Bose avoided Aux In because it might mean lost sales opportunities. I suppose, now that the new SoundDock costs $100 more, Bose is willing to take that risk.
• The new remote is better built, with more substantial buttons, including two additional ones dedicated to skipping from one playlist to the next. As a playlist kind of guy, I like this.
• The sound comparison was the most telling. The previous SoundDock has notoriously suffered from a fairly weak stereo image, not enough midrange and a lack of sonic resolution. Bose has definitely read all of the commentary, because those are the three areas that have been improved. The bass levels are about the same, but at higher volumes you get a much richer sound with the Portable, a much more open stereo feel, and a sense of coherence and clarity that you just don't get on the original. In fact, when I was doing side-by-side comparisons, it occasionally sounded like the original SoundDock was playing from the bottom of a well.
I will acknowledge here that I haven't tested the SoundDock Portable against any docks from other makers, and it may be a while before Mark Wilson is up for another Sweet Sixteen. In the meantime, at the very least it's good to know that the extra $100 isn't just for the lithium-ion battery—which I probably wouldn't make any use of—but for a much improved device overall. It really should be called, simply, SoundDock II. [Original Story]