BOSE WAVE SOUNDTOUCH

altHere we have a combination of the classic and the new. The Bose Acoustic Wave music system, subsequently the Bose Wave Radio, has been a mainstay of Bose’s consumer division since the original was introduced in 1984. It has been adapted in the past to add CD replay, digital radio, MP3 playback and more as those technologies have come into prominence.

Now here is a version with the latest home hi-fi essential — wireless streaming. Bose’s SoundTouch platform combines network streaming with Apple’s AirPlay streaming, plus a neat system of six presets which take you straight to your favourite music sources. The idea is that once set up, you need only press one button to start music flowing — hence ‘SoundTouch’. 

If you have more than one SoundTouch system on your network, they share the six presets, and can also operate in a limited multiroom mode, with all systems (but not a subset of systems) playing simultaneously.

EQUIPMENT
The Wave SoundTouch music system may look as simple and friendly as ever, but it now combines quite an extensive range of abilities. It has a CD player and three bands of radio — DAB+ digital radio, plus FM and, we’re pleased to see, AM as well, often jettisoned these days when DAB+ is included. There’s an auxiliary minijack input and a rear headphone socket.

Then, once you get your network connected, there’s even more radio — the effectively endless stations available on the internet, plus direct access to Pandora’s marvellous service of artist-themed stations. The Wave can also access any music stored on computers (these need to run a Bose program to serve the music).

altThat’s a whole lot of music available to this little unit, which differs in design from the longrunning Wave series only in having a second separate section which sits underneath the main unit, connected by a short BoseLink cable. This platform is incredibly light and a mere 3.5cm high, lifting the full system height to just under 14cm, while it is 365mm wide at its widest point, the front. Although the SoundTouch platform looks like an addition, it can’t be used to upgrade existing Wave systems; this is a pair designed to work together. Having said that, we note that the Wave functions of CD replay, radio, etc., worked even with the SoundTouch unit disconnected. So if heading off for a holiday you could leave the base behind and use the Wave unnetworked.

Bose doesn’t share much information about drivers, but this system appears to have two 40mm full-range drivers, and certainly makes use of Bose’s Waveguide, which channels the back energy from the cones through long tapering tubes that run like intestines through the innards of the Wave system — 26 inches of tube for each driver, says the Owner’s Guide, the goal being to improve bass performance and produce “unprecedented instrument timbre”.

Positioning advice is to avoid corners (despite it being corner-shaped) but to place the system within a couple of feet of a wall, and preferably “across the room” rather than at close quarters.

PERFORMANCE
The manual instructs you to position and power up the Wave, then set the clock (we’d think manual clock-setting would be unnecessary on a networked unit with DAB+) before connecting it to the network. Networking certainly adds a layer of complexity not normally part of the Bose experience. There is an Ethernet socket, the easiest and most reliable connection if you can provide it in your desired location. Otherwise you’ll need to teach it your Wi-Fi set-up, and that involves directly connecting it via USB to a computer which is running the Bose SoundTouch app. If this is a laptop, you can bring it over to the Wave system, otherwise you’ll have to unplug the system again and carry it over to your computer, where you may have to sit cradling the two-part Wave system in your lap, as the USB cable isn’t long enough to stretch from the floor to desk height.

Once connected, you download the Bose app from the internet, install it, launch it and update it, then follow the simple instructions for setting up the Wi-Fi. Once Wi-Fi is activated, you can unplug the USB cable. In our connection there was then a second longer software update for the system itself, which eventually reached 100% on the progress bar but never seemed to finish — the Wave itself said ‘DOWNLOADING 50’, while the App said “Your system is updating… wait until the update is complete”. But it never did, so after half an hour we applied the usual engineer’s solution of yanking out all the power cables and restarting everything. All proved well, updated and operational, so we returned the Wave to its rightful position and began listening.

altHaving previously reviewed two other SoundTouch systems, we were interested to note that, even though we had since removed the Bose software and now reinstalled it, it still recalled our preferences, presets and previous equipment, so we could simply pick a preset for music to begin. New users
will need to explore the various options for Pandora, internet radio and personal playlists in iTunes or WMP in order to set those presets.

Highly recommended are Bose’s apps for iOS and Android smartphones, as these put the power of SoundTouch right in your hand, retaining the exact design of the desktop app, with fingertip access to your entire music collection, Pandora (account required, but free), and internet radio. Long lists scroll well but have to reload after every 100 items — surprisingly there’s no alphabetical jumplist which would very much speed access. The search function is effective, so using that and the presets can minimise such list browsing.

Those with iPhones and iPads are also able to use Apple’s AirPlay system to throw audio directly to the Bose from their device. This is hugely powerful, able to work from any app on your device, not only the Bose one. With AirPlay you can also use the iPhone’s physical volume control buttons, which don’t work when using the Bose control app. Mac computers can also use AirPlay to send music direct from iTunes across the network to the Wave.

While there are no six SoundTouch presets on the Wave itself, these are on the remote control, and if the Wave is already in SoundTouch mode, these do indeed kick off your music at a single press. Streaming from our iTunes music collection the music was entirely glitch-free even with lossless CD-quality files — it can play AAC, MP3, WMA and, usefully, Apple Lossless, though sadly there’s no support for FLAC, nor for AIFF, WAV or high-res audio.

Sonically we found the Wave SoundTouch capable of a warm and enjoyable sound, supported by a smooth bass and particularly able to carry a good vocal tune, male or female. Etta James emerged with soul singing ‘How To Treat My Man’, horns blasting clear and bright, drums tight and cymbals splashy — there’s no real shimmer to the top-end but nor is there any impression that you’re missing anything. Electronic bass gets curtailed at a certain depth, so that its intensity ebbed and flowed somewhat through the William Orbit remix of Beth Orton’s ‘Central Reservation’, but the richness of the mix was well delivered and perfectly enjoyable. The Wave is capable of supplying enough level for any amount of casual listening in an average lounge or bedroom, but we didn’t like pushing it much above the level of 70 out of its maximum 100 — distortion and congestion became clearly evident above this, especially with busier and louder pop mixes. 

All this so far has been examining the SoundTouch side of the Wave. We also very much enjoyed its radio abilities — digital radio was impeccably delivered using the supplied antenna, while FM uses the power cable as its receiver (keep this as extended as possible for best reception; an optional FM antenna is available). When in radio mode the six presets become radio presets for each band, much multiplying the fairly minimal count of six that you get on other SoundTouch systems. While there are no tone controls or EQ presets on this system, there is a bass cut available in FM or AM mode (press ‘Play Mode’ for this — Bose calls this a ‘TalkRadio’ mode to reduce overbassy speech, but it’s useful in other contexts also).

Also excellent is the integration of the twin alarm system with the radio bands. Despite Bose’s across-the-room positioning advice, the Wave SoundTouch would make an excellent bedroom system, silenced or snoozed easily using either the remote or the large touchpanel on top of the unit itself, which also powers the unit on and off.

CD operation was trouble-free — it plays MP3 discs as well as conventional CDs, and was subject to the same sound signature as other sources.

VERDICT
While we’ve heard better sound quality up at this $999 price, the Bose is extremely enjoyable within its volume limits, and offers spectacular versatility

in offering so many conventional sources coupled with the streaming power of SoundTouch and AirPlay. Adding the new world of online music and network-based streaming to the longstanding CD and radio abilities of the Wave can only be a recipe for success.

Bose Wave SoundTouch music system

FOR: Many ways to a world of music, One-touch SoundTouch access, Warm friendly sound
AGAINST: Limits to power/volume, No alphabetical jumps for long App lists, Computer must be on and Bose software running for network play

Price: $999

Sources: CD, DAB+/FM/AM radio, AirPlay, SoundTouch networking (Ethernet/Wi-Fi)

Inputs: 1 x minijack stereo, USB set-up & service inputs

Output: headphones minijack (rear)

Drivers: 2 x ~40mm full-range

File formats: MP3, AAC, WMA, ALAC

Dimensions (whd): 368 x 142 x 219mm

Weight: 3.9kg 

Warranty: One year

Contact: Bose Australia, Telephone: 1800 023 367

Product page: www.bose.com.au