Pros Great Bose sound with impressive bass for a unit this size
Can create its own wifi hotspot
Battery available, so you can use it unplugged
User replaceable battery (unlike the Pioneer A3)
Cons Somewhat expensive
You have to pay extra to get the battery
Only does Airplay and wireless direct (no HTC Connect support)
I didn't like the Bose mid-range boost
Summary I wanted to check the state of some new Airplay speakers, so I decided to compare a few of them, namely the:
- Bose SoundLink Air
- Pioneer A4 XW-SMA4-K
- Pioneer A3 XW-SMA3-K
- Logitech Wireless Boombox
Right off the bat, you can notice that the Logitech unit is in a different category. It's much less expensive (1/3 the price) and uses bluetooth rather than Wi-fi. However since it received great reviews online, I decided to compare it as well. I'm glad I did (read on!).
First of all, let's talk about what's common here.
When using a bluetooth speaker (the Logitech here is the only one), you get instantaneous response when you change track, change the volume, press play or stop: that's the beauty of using bluetooth. Also, apparently bluetooth has less bandwidth than wi-fi, so it compresses the music before sending it to the speaker. However in real usage, I could never tell the difference. If you are a real music expert and have an very good musical ear, maybe you can hear it but I certainly could not. All the music I played sounded great whether I played it on the bluetooth Logitech or on the other Airplay speakers.
Using Airplay, you will encounter a delay when you try to control the music. It's around 1 to 2 seconds before any action on your iPod/iPhone will take effect on the speaker (except for Stop and volume changes which are almost instantaneous but not quite). This delay will also occur when you skip songs (something I hate) however it does not occur if your let your playlist continue and your iPod is simply going on from one song to the next. This means if you are throwing a party and try to skip a tune, you will get silence for 2 seconds.
All three Airplay units have about the same wi-fi hotspot power level, so you can expect the same range as a typical wi-fi 2.4 Ghz router you may have in your home today. You may also encounter the same interference problems as your regular wifi.
All Pioneer and Bose speakers have remotes, which I did not use. I figure everyone will control these units via their iPod/iPhone/iPad or other devices anyway. None of the units have any mute button on the speaker themselves. Only the Bose unit has a mute button on the remove (Pioneer doesn't have any).
Bose Soundlink Air
This is my first time with a Bose speaker or sound system, however I had the opportunity to listen to their SoundDock in the past while at a friend's house. I was always impressed with the SoundDock ability to have good bass. I had read on the web about the 'Bose sound' but never got to compare it with other speakers head-on, so this proved interesting.
Let's start by the exterior. The unit looks good and actually has a cleaner look than the Pioneer (that's a matter of personal taste).
The power brick is enormous. When plugged vertically, it won't block your second outlet however if you have to plug it in a power bar where the connector are oriented horizontally then be ready to lose 2 outlets. I really wonder why Bose chose this format since there's absolutely no advantages.
The back of the unit has the AUX input, the power input and a micro-usb port used to configure the unit via your computer. On the bottom of the unit you also find a Reset button. The placement of this button is inconvenient since it's also used to set the unit in wireless direct mode (hotspot) but since you won't be doing this very often, it's not too bothersome.
The a cover in the center on the back of the unit that can be removed to attach a battery (sold separately, unfortunately).
The side of the unit has volumes up/down capacitive buttons (no tactile feedback). There's no power button on the device: only volume up/down.
There's also no network port in the back, so you cannot connect it directly to your wired network at home, unlike the Pioneer one.
Configuring the unit must be done using an application you download from the Bose site and you must use your computer. I had no problem configuring it to use my wi-fi network which uses WPA2-Personal and doesn't broadcast its SSID. You can also edit the network name of the device during the setup.
You can set the unit use wireless direct (hotspot): simply unplug it, re-plug it and hold the 'Reset' button underneath the unit for 2 seconds until the indicator in the front turns amber. After a few seconds, the unit emits a tone and it can now be see as a new wireless network called (Bose Soundlink Air). Once you join that network, you can AirPlay to it. The wireless direct connection worked fine just as the one with my own wi-fi network (couldn't see any difference).
The unit is always on (always visible on your iPod) you simply press play on your iPod and it streams.
It only uses Airplay however, so if you have an Android device this speaker won't work (unless there's some Android app to simulate Airplay: I don't know).
If you have used a Bose Sounddock or other Bose speakers in the past, you will feel right at home. If you never used Bose speakers, you will notice the same thing I notice: Bose sound processing. Overall, the speaker sound good (better than the Pioneer A3) and there's good bass. It's even surprising to hear that bass from such a small unit. The mid-range however is a different story. Bose seems to use some processing that pushes the mid-range slightly forward and makes them more present. This sounds impressive initially and if you like the 'Bose sound' you will like this speaker as well. I personally found it tiring after a while because the mid-range and highs were too present. After listening to it for an hour I found myself going back to either the Logitech or the A4.
Don't get me wrong, this is far from a poor sounding speaker. Adele's song 'Rolling in the deep' sounded good, although it didn't have the oompfs that the A4 had because of its subwoofer. If you plan on buying this unit but never had a Bose before, I suggest you try it over several songs (10-15 mins) to see if you like the color that Bose gives to their speakers.
When controlling the volume from your iPod, the volume control was very really linear, no problem here unlike the Pioneer units.
I didn't get to try the battery. However I couldn't help but notice that it was expensive ($90!). This means that once you add the battery to this unit, you have a system that's close to $450.
Overall, I found the Bose SoundLink Air to be really good but didn't like the mid-range being too present. This was my second favorite speaker of the bunch.
For comparison with the others, see my other speakers reviews!