Whatever you may think of Bose, the company makes some excellent Bluetooth speakers. Its previous two models, the SoundLink Mini and SoundLink II, both earned our Editors’ Choice in their categories for putting out a surprising amount of warm, clear sound in portable, relatively affordable packages. The SoundLink III is the latest iteration of Bose’s Bluetooth speaker, replacing the SoundLink II as its $299.95 (direct) wireless model. It doesn’t look quite as stylish as the SoundLink II, but it puts out an accurate, slightly warmer sound that will appeal to casual listeners even more (but might turn off audiophile purists compared with the previous model). It’s still the Bluetooth speaker to beat in this size and price category, earning Editors’ Choice once again.
Bose apparently used up all of its Bluetooth speaker personality on the SoundLink II and SoundLink Mini, because compared with them the SoundLink III looks downright pedestrian. It eschews the vaguely trapezoidal profiles of its predecessors for a plain rectangular shape in two colors: light gray and dark gray. It’s not ugly by any means, though, and isn’t even particularly minimalist, retaining the same set of six soft-touch buttons (Power, Bluetooth, Auxiliary, Mute, and volume Up/Down) on the top and four indicator lights (Power, Bluetooth, Mute, and Battery) on the front as the SoundLink II. It’s just so plain compared with Bose’s previous speakers. You can spruce it up a bit with an optional $35 zip-up cover available in five colors, but it doesn’t have the flair of the SoundLink II’s cover flap or the SoundLink Mini’s charming, subtle retro clock-radio aesthetic. It’s also slightly larger than the SoundLink II, measuring 5.2 by 10.1 by 1.9 inches (HWD) and weighing 3 pounds, but it’s not particularly more bulky than the SoundLink II’s 9.6-inch-wide, 2.9-pound frame.
According to Bose, the SoundLink III’s battery can last almost twice as long as the previous model, offering 14 hours of listening time after a three-hour charge. Like the SoundLink II, the SoundLink III uses a DC power-in jack instead of a micro USB port, so you’ll need to bring the power cable with you instead of relying on your phone charger like many other Bluetooth speakers. It does have a micro USB port on the back, between the power port and the 3.5mm auxiliary port, but it’s just for firmware updates and isn’t used for charging the speaker.
Bose tweaked the sound signature of the SoundLink III from the SoundLink II, and whether those tweaks are an improvement will be up to personal taste. The SoundLink III still sounds very clear across the board, with strong (but not wall-shaking) bass and a generous reach into the high end without sounding too bright. The SoundLink III is balanced more towards favoring low-mids than high-mids compared with the SoundLink II. This gives it a slightly warmer sound across all genres and doesn’t significantly hurt the treble, but it means higher frequency sounds lose a bit of their edge compared with the SoundLink II. This speaker errs more towards appealing to bass enthusiasts than audiophile purists than the previous version, and that slightly boosted bass produces a fullness that casual listeners will find more appealing. It also gets slightly louder than the SoundLink II, another nice touch.
Our bass test track, the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” sounded forceful without distorting, giving the bass synth notes a good amount of weight and even lending the kick drum a bit of texture to let the click of the beater come out without getting crunchy. In Miles Davis’ “So What,” the upright bass sounded both full and resonant; I could feel both the weight of the deep string plucks and get a sense of the instrument’s large wooden cavity. The piano and horns were punchy and crisp, but didn’t sound overly bright, and everything was balanced well against the slight graininess of the older recording. However, the horns didn’t quite get as sharp or stand out in the mix as much as in the SoundLink II.
For less bass-heavy genres, this difference is more noticeable. Less Than Jake’s “Harvey Wallbanger,” for example, sounded slightly more rich with a stronger presence in the low end than the SoundLink II, but the punchiness of the horns didn’t come out quite as much. The mix still sounded excellent, and the added warmth of the low end will be more appealing to casual listeners, but purists might be slightly turned off by the change. Said purists would also have to listen to a lot of ska to really notice the tweaks in the speaker’s frequency response curve.
The Bose SoundLink III is a worthy follow-up to the Editors’ Choice SoundLink II, offering slightly bigger, slightly warmer sound that presents plenty of detail and texture across the spectrum. If you want to spend a little bit less on a Bluetooth speaker, the SoundLink Mini is still a very good choice, and the Jabra Solemate Mini offers a rugged design at a third of the price. If you want to go a bit bigger with your Bluetooth speaker, the Marshall Stanmore offers much more power and a very attractive guitar amp aesthetic, but it’s also much bulkier and requires a wall outlet to work. If you want to enjoy the best aspects of all worlds without compromising any of them, the SoundLink III is a roundly excellent speaker. It’s functional and offers a very enjoyable, powerful sound that will satisfy most listeners, making it our newest Editors’ Choice for Bluetooth speakers.
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