The Bose SoundLink almost represents a new genus of product. It is significantly larger and boasts better hardware than the ultra-portable speakerphones such as the Jawbone Jambox and the FoxL V2. However, it is not in same category as docking stations and AirPlay enabled speakers. This new kind of Bluetooth enabled speaker treads the line between them. It offers a certain degree of portability while still ensuring it can be used on a day-to-day basis as well when placed on your room tabletop for example.
A comparable product on the whole would be the Bang & Olufsen Beolit 12 which has a price tag that is almost double of the SoundLink. Both devices have the same set of features and use Bluetooth A2DP to handle wireless streaming of audio. Playback from a 3.5mm port is also possible. From the looks of it, the SoundLink is stocked with every feature than can be expected from a Bluetooth wireless speaker of its kind. With its classier looks and leather covering, the Bose product also comes out ahead of the Beolit 12 with respect to overall looks and design.
It is somewhat difficult to have a starting point when evaluating the performance of the Bose SoundLink due to the dearth of similar products in various form factors. It obviously outperforms the smaller portable speakers by a country mile. However when compared to docking stations in terms of performance, it falls slightly short, most notably when it comes to casting a wide, spacious soundstage. It goes without saying the docking stations also offer a wealth of other features which include charging your phone that this speaker system is unable to provide. Perhaps in terms of sound quality alone, one could use the performance of the Philips AS851 docking station (which also uses A2DP Bluetooth profile) as a reference point.
There is no denying that the Bose SoundLink is an excellent sounding set of speakers. Even with the handicap of using the lossy A2DP Bluetooth profile, the speakers present a good showing. Clarity of highs and strong mids on the SoundLink make sure you have strong audio. Sharp attack and good transient response also ensure that the subtle nuances and details of tracks are delivered. Add in good bass performance and a sufficiently wide soundstage (for its class of portable speakers) and you have the makings of good sound on-the-go. In our opinion and based on our tests, we would say it fared significantly better than the AS851. Our only criticism was the harshness of audio at evident only at the highest of volumes.
So on the whole the Bose SoundLink is a good looking, great sounding set of speakers. Available in two models, the regular version of the product which comes with a nylon case is priced at S$549. The premium luxury model, which has the same hardware but comes with a leather case will cost you $630. In our opinion, both price-tags are somewhat on the high side for the overall package. No doubt its steep price, our main problem is that we do not see a very clear target market for this product at its price point. If we required a Bluetooth speaker for our travels, we would undoubtedly be looking for something that's smaller in size. And with desktop docking stations also offering wireless playback along with services such as charging, radio and other connectivity options for about the same price point (or just a couple hundred dollars more for a high-end one), they seem to be a better bet if you want to stream tunes from your phone or portable music player at home. This leaves the Bose SoundLink stranded somewhat in limbo.
Perhaps audiophiles who would prefer quality audio in a small size (as compared to regular docking speakers) in their individual rooms for some light listening, but yet need to have an option for mobility may find this product more up their alley. In other usage scenarios, we think it would be an excellent companion to outdoor parties where you've a capable portable speaker that isn't too bulky and has good audio to boot. Whatever the case, be prepared to fork out a decent sum for it.