The Bose SoundTouch 30 is the first product I'm reviewing for the experiment. It's intended to replace your standalone HiFi setup in a small living room or large bedroom. It's completely wireless, with Airplay capability, or Bose's new digital music preset system.
The speaker system is the current flagship for Bose's wireless systems, and at AU $899, it's priced reasonably for what its been set out to do. The idea with SoundTouch is that you'll use several within a household, all linked together via WiFi. A clear shot across Sonos' bow.
The design of the SoundTouch series is fairly standard. There's nothing over the top, and the system has a sense of subtlety that is unusual for a Bose product, but certainly one that's appreciated. The outer shell is a slightly cream plastic, with a very light design that mimics carbon fibre in its pattern. The front of the unit has a standard black mesh, and is centred with a glass inlay that houses a surprisingly useful OLED display.
On the top of the unit sits the six preset hard buttons, input toggle, power and volume controls. Again, lots of plastic, and textured squares with a faux-chrome border.
Bose is going with the assumption that people are too confused and challenged to be able to handle AirPlay, or AUX inputs, and have created a customised app. The theory is that you'll customise all six presets to different music sources - be it internet radio, Pandora, or your existing iTunes library. When the mood strikes, you simply press one of the hardware preset buttons, or select the 'channel' (Bose promises Spotify integration later in 2014).
Audio quality wise, the SoundTouch isn't too bad. It's also not good. The audio spread is fair, and being off-centre doesn't impact the quality too much. Separation, however, is poor, with the sound feeling like it's being made by a smaller speaker. Other units that fit this mini HiFi system can overcome this easily, such as the B&W A7 or the B&O A8, and once you notice it, it's a struggle to forget.
The chorus of Sparta's Sans Cosm is reproduced well, the drums and guitars being represented equally. It's in rock and pop that this speaker system does well, and it isn't until you add a degree of difficulty that the SoundTouch starts to struggle. James Blake's Limit To Your Love represents this perfectly: the deep reverberating bass notes just fail to stick, and feel hollow and emulated, and as volume increases, Blake's vocals begin to distort.
Overall the SoundTouch 30 just feels utilitarian. There's nothing inherently wrong with that - it serves a good market - but it does lack a certain sense of character. The white plastic cabinet has that slick, almost sickly feeling plastic, similar to a Samsung S4. The audio characteristics lend themselves towards casual listening, but for a unit that's touted to be your main living room system, that's a little disappointing. The preset system is ok, but will be overlooked as it requires either interaction with the device, or for you to use a dedicated app, which seems a stretch.
Overall the SoundTouch was adequate, but uninspiring. The sound quality was decent, but the lack of separation between channels was immediately noticeable, and hard to shake.
I appreciated the visual elements of the system, and feel that it's tastefully modern, with very subtle lines, and isn't overly stylised. The OLED display is a unique feature, and I hope more companies utilise them as well as Bose does.
As part of a full home setup, I can see the SoundTouch 30 making sense, but I couldn't be satisfied with it as a main living room system. In an office or bedroom, I think it would absolutely shine. For the price however, other systems like the B&O Beolit 12 match it on audio quality, and also include a 10-hour battery.
Ease of Use 8/10