Review: Bose SoundLink III Bluetooth Wireless Speaker

Launch SRP: S$499

Big Sound in a Small Package

Big Sound in a Small Package

Measuring 127 x 254 x 51mm, the Bose SoundLink III is slightly shorter and slightly wider than its predecessor, and flaunts a design aesthetic that seems to be hybrid of the SoundLink Mini and the SoundLink II. It’s still a clean, simple design, but now contrasts just two tones of grey; with a silver perforated grate met by strips of darker plastic at both top and bottom. Its also slightly less angled than previous versions, making it better able to stand unsupported, and at 1.36kg, is slightly heavier (60g) than the SoundLink II, but we suspect that’s due to a larger battery. The SoundLink III boasts 14 hours battery life compared to just 8 hours in previous versions.

Playback controls on top are also handled slightly differently - they’re now hidden under silicon; divided by slightly raised long dividers. While this design keeps dust and grime out, we found that we occasionally had some problems with the most used button – the power button – which required us to press down at a certain spot instead of just down the center like the others. Thankfully though, the SoundLink III is programmed to turn itself off after several minutes of inactivity, so you won’t quite have to worry about the battery running itself dry.

A new Bluetooth LED signals the status of your Bluetooth connection (it flashes blue when searching for devices), and a nice touch is that the SoundLink III can store up to six Bluetooth devices in memory, making subsequent pairing faster and almost making up for the absence of NFC support. Bose says that control is either through the top buttons of the speaker or via our smartphone, but you’ll really be using your phone most of the time as the top buttons only allow control over volume (up, down and mute), power, pairing, and switching to the Aux source. For some reason, regular playback controls are still missing despite the fact that there’s plenty of space for them.

The rear of the SoundLink III is equally clean, with just the auxiliary input port, a micro-USB port that’s only for meant for firmware updates, and an AC jack for power. Yes, there’s no USB charging with the SoundLink III, which means you’ll have to bring the AC adapter with you, and the lack of an in-built microphone means you can’t make calls with it either, but we guess Bose probably figures you can live without these minor features if you get the point of the product - which is to deliver good sound. The only "extras" you'll get with this set, is a set of plug adapters for international use; fitting for a portable speaker perhaps?

 

Audio Performance

At close to five hundred dollars, the Soundlink III is certainly a substantial investment, and it actually costs slightly more than its predecessor (which sold for S$449). So what justifies the cost?

Sheer audio quality.

Instead of bells and whistles, the Soundlink III houses 4 neodymium transducers and a set of dual-opposing passive radiators which, combined with a new digital signal processing algorithm and improved electronics, allow the Soundlink III to easily fill a medium to large sized room with sound. On testing, the speaker held itself together impressively even at these high volume levels, with only a slight bit of distortion in the lower registers at higher audio levels.

Bose has been known to artificially boost the bass notes in music to give the impression of a more robust sound, but in the Soundlink III we found the amount of depth in the bass was nicely controlled; still a little more than to be perfectly accurate, but not so much that it feels bloated. For example, subtleties in the bass lines of tracks like Under the Bridge and Snow (hey oH) by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were handled most competently. This makes us to feel that Bose has perhaps showed some restraint with the Soundlink III, translating to better defined sound overall.

Either way, this is a Bluetooth speaker that plays best when handled modestly - keep it between the half to three-quarter mark in volume and you’ll find plenty of detail and bass without distortion. "Presence" is a term that constantly comes to mind when we think of the audio qualities of the Soundlink III. For a portable unit, the Soundlink III does an exceptional job with most genres of music, but blues, jazz or rock music will probably sound best thanks to the slightly forward midrange, which helps to separate vocals from the backing instruments.

Jumping straight into our formal set of audio test tracks, we found that Sail on Soothsayer by Buckethead played with a robust, rumbling bass, and the Soundlink III handled the guitar solo with ease. Keeping up with the pacing of this track was not an issue with this speaker at all.

Likewise, the audiophile favorite Hotel California by the Eagles was a most enjoyable experience, with the Soundlink rendering the guitar and voices with nice separation. Bass has a degree of decay with these speakers, and we quite enjoy the way trebles and mids are handled - maybe slightly too warm to be accurate, but plenty fun nonetheless.

Melt My Heart to Stone once again demonstrated the Soundlink III’s ability to render vocals. Adele’s vocals sounded full and bright while being slightly forward, thus offering separation from the drum line and accompanying instruments.

For some reason Tiesto’s Elements of Life left us a little wanting though, as we felt some of the notes on the lower mid register weren’t quite resolved as nicely as we would expect, and the attack was slightly off at parts. A case of the Soundlink III being a victim of raised expectations given its otherwise excellent performance perhaps?

Bose SoundLink III Bluetooth Wireless speakers - Performance Report Card
MP3 Testing Score
Sail on Soothsayer - Buckethead 9.0
Hotel California - The Eagles 9.5
Melt My Heart to Stone - Adele 9.0
Elements of Life - Tiesto 8.0
Overall Audio Performance 9.0

 

Final Thoughts

We liked the original portable Soundlink Bluetooth speaker and the new Soundlink III continues to do just one thing and one thing only - play good music. It’s not feature rich, but it will play music well and do it for longer than most of its competitors, which is in a sense, all you really want for a Bluetooth speaker. Clarity and tone is excellent, and it’s sometimes difficult to believe that you’re really getting that much sound out of one small speaker, so if you can live with the price and without all the added extras, we say the Soundlink III is one of the best wireless speakers you can get. Of course we wish it was more accommodating like accepting a USB thumb drive full of audio tracks, support USB based charging and even have Wi-Fi connectivity, but that would mean a much more expensive product. Perhaps Bose might consider some of these aspects in the future, but for now it's just our wishlist to make a great product even better.

For those looking for a less portable, home-based multi-room Wi-Fi enabled speaker system, you can look into the Bose SoundTouch Wi-Fi music systems.

8.5
Design
8
Performance
9
Features
7.5
Value
8
The Good
Great audio performance
Easily fills small to medium-sized rooms with sound without breaking up
Good battery life
The Bad
Heavy
Expensive
No added features other than audio playback