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Bose SoundTouchBose shows its "sound touch" on the market's pulse with new Wi-Fi systems

By Jim Bray
October 17, 2013

New York, NY - Leave it to Bose to find yet another way for you to get your musical fix. This time, it's by connecting your playback device to your Wi-Fi network and streaming tunes to whatever part of the home you want.

Over the past couple of years, the Framingham, Massachusetts-based company has embraced Bluetooth wireless streaming via its SoundLink product line, and you can get an optional Bluetooth interface for the company's SoundDock 10. But while these are great products, they don't really let you get at your online music services, media server or digital files easily.

Oh, it can be done. I have a media server box thingy whose output runs to the TV (via HDMI), and from there to the SoundDock 10's analog auxiliary port. It's a bit of a Rube Goldberg solution (and it's only an analog connection), but it works - the TV acting as a monitor for the WD (whose remote control adds one more to the pile - much to my dear wife's chagrin).

Bose's new SoundTouch (Click the image to open a slideshow) promises to make it all a lot easier, at least as far as the audio side of the home entertainment equation is concerned. And judging from the premiere event to which Bose invited me a week or so ago (held in a Bose-infiltrated Manhattan townhome), the system's Wi-Fi access, controller app, simplicity and flexibility - and of course sound quality - should make this a compelling line for people who want this kind of wonderful convenience and flexibility.

Many of these people at whom Bose is aiming probably don't even know they want such a system yet; heck, my kids have been streaming content ever since content streamed, while I only discovered its joys in the past five years or so. And I'm supposedly ahead of the curve!

But other than the annoying fact that the digital files made from albums with continuous cuts causes a slight pause between songs as the software changes files (unless you create one file containing the continuous cuts, which requires the proper software and the skill to use it well), storing your tunes digitally is a fantastic way to go. And you don't  have to lose musical quality (analog vs. digital arguments notwithstanding) as long as you don't mind giving up the hard drive space.

I still like physical media, especially for video and for high resolution audio albums such as SACD and DVD-A (whose extra info is "uncopyable" to a digital file), but I can't imagine living without the convenience of the digital domain. Add Internet radio stations and music services to the mix and the pot gets even sweeter.

So there's a vast market out there that surely will grow as more and more people put Wi-Fi in their homes and start discovering what it and their smart electronics can do when you ask them to dance.

Bose obviously has hired a good choreographer, because it appears that the SoundTouch line dances as if it were schooled by George Balanchine.

Helping the SoundTouch family dance is the new app interface, available for Apple, Android and Windows devices, that lets you control the device closest to you, any other device registered on the network, or all of them at once.

The app is very straightforward, and if you've operated any other "swipe and touch" app you should be up and running with the SoundTouch system before you can say "Robert's your parent's sibling."

The six preset buttons (virtual buttons, in the case of the app) can be personalized to access whatever source you want (including playlists), mixing and/or matching to your heart's content. Storing a preset is as simple as holding down a preset button (or virtual button, on the app), the same way many car audio systems store presets.

Setup should be pretty simple - a Bose trademark and one of the things they said they were after when designing the SoundTouch system. I didn't actually see them do this at the demo, but it should go something like this: download and install the app, then plug the individual component into power, plug it into your computer via USB to register it on the network, then unplug it again and put it where you want to use it (don't forget to plug it in again if it isn't battery-powered!).

Once your components are on the network, they should show up in the app automatically, and you can name them whatever you want ("living room" or "Jim's office," for example).

From there, you control the units from the app, which offers the most flexibility, or you can control them via their remote controls, or from the individual unit's control panel. Each family member can have his/her/its own account, with his/her/its own presets, which can be from any source his/her/its heart desires.

Bose says the SoundTouch music systems are AirPlay enabled as well, so you can stream content from your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

Initially, Bose is introducing three one-piece systems, each of which they say was engineered to deliver the best audio performance available from speakers of their size. The "Papa Bear" of the SoundTouch family is the SoundTouch 30, which looks a lot like the SoundDock 10 and features Bose' exclusive "waveguide" technology and a new proprietary woofer. The company says it'll pump out enough powerful, deep and rich sound to serve as a home's main music system.

That, of course, depends on the home. I wouldn't think of putting one down in my big home theater, with its 106 inch screen and 500 watt per channel 5.1 system, but it would be a fantastic choice in other rooms. Many other rooms.

The "Mama Bear" - the SoundTouch 20 Wi-Fi system is a more compact unit that can be parked nearly anywhere you want good sound. The "Baby Bear" is the SoundTouch Portable, which is kind of analogous to a Wi-Fi-based version of the SoundLink Bluetooth speakers. It's battery-powered (via a rechargeable lithium-ion unit), and is perfect for taking with you in and around the home. I use a SoundLink all the time when I do my chores, taking it from room to room with me and, on the occasions I'm forced out of doors, it also works great out on the deck, letting me share quality tunes with unsuspecting neighbors. The SoundTouch Portable should be just like that, except for the obvious differences of source, interface, etc..

Bose promises that these "three bears" (my term, not theirs) are only the first SoundTouch fusillade. And to that end, they showed us a glimpse at what's coming, including "the legendary Wave music system," which will be offered in a SoundTouch version early in 2014. They're also promising a SoundTouch Stereo JC Wi-Fi music system, which includes two little Jewel Cube speakers coupled with an Acoustimass module for the deep stuff.

And that isn't all. Weather-resistant Bose outdoor speakers will stream music to the patio or deck (if you haven't already purchased the SoundTouch Portable) and the Lifestyle home theater and VideoWave entertainment systems will be offered in SoundTouch versions as well.

Every SoundTouch system is designed to receive software updates automatically, to add functionality as well as to upgrade the content available. Right now, the systems offer Pandora and the company swears (though, magically, without cuss words!) that it'll add "the world's most popular music services," such as Deezer and iHeartRadio, on a regular basis.

Also down the road a bit is the SoundTouch controller, an optional premium controller that works with any SoundTouch system. It's a round unit small enough to fit into the palm of your hand - kind of about the size of a small, deli-sized chunk of camembert - and features a volume dial and proximity sensor, as well as offering all essential functions and information of the SoundTouch system. The controller can sit on a coffee table or be mounted on a wall via the bracket that comes with it.

Heck, you could stick it on the wall inside your front door so you can fire up your tunes as soon as you get home. Tunes, glorious tunes!

Since Bose is a premium brand and doesn't tend to give stuff away, the stuff isn't cheap. Prices, from big to little units, start at $749 (Canadian dollars) for the SoundTouch 30 system. The "Mama Bear" SoundTouch 20 lists at $449 Canadian with the SoundTouch Portable selling for 449 loonies.

The SoundTouch-enabled Wave music system will be available in early December for $649, while the SoundTouch Stereo JC system will sell for $1,299. Alas, owners of older Wave systems won't be able to retrofit their systems, but Bose said newer systems should be covered - and of course, new customers will get the SoundTouch magic right out of the box.

The optional SoundTouch controller lists for $109 while the SoundTouch SA-4 amplifier (which works with Bose products such as the outdoor speakers) will list for $549. A SoundTouch wireless adapter for the Lifestyle and VideoWave entertainment systems will be available in early 2014, though pricing wasn't announced.

Pricey? Perhaps. But just as one shouldn't expect to get an Audi A4 for the price of a VW Passat or a Lexus ES 350 for the price of a Toyota Camry, one shouldn't expect the SoundTouch family to be a loss leader impulse item. And as long as the stuff is up to the standards of the other Bose products I've tried over the past few years - and I've no reason to think it won't be - it should offer good value for "the discriminating music lover."

Bose is actually standing on its own shoulders with the SoundTouch systems, adapting and upgrading the company's own proven audio technology to make it even more flexible for its owners. Thanks to the Wi-Fi capability, a whole world of audio content is put at your fingertips and it appears from the demo that it all works as advertised (more about that in a future column, when I get some hands on time with the stuff), bringing Bose' famed ease of use and audio quality to the world of wireless streaming of music.

I have a feeling they're going to sell a bunch of SoundTouch systems.

Copyright 2013 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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