Bose used to have a virtual lock on the high-end tabletop radio market, but in recent years competition has stormed onto the scene from companies such as Cambridge SoundWorks, Polk Audio, Boston Acoustics, and Tivoli Audio. Bose's new top-of-the-line system, the Acoustic Wave Music System II, sits somewhere between the realm of tabletop radios and home-theater-in-a-box systems, and according to the company's Web site, aims to provide the sound of a larger stereo system in a single, portable package. For less critical listeners with big pockets, who--most importantly--trust the Bose name, the system will probably meet their expectations from a performance standpoint, while still looking pretty on the mantel. On the other hand, we personally didn't feel the Acoustic Wave Music System II packs enough punch on music and lacks in features--especially considering its $1,079 (!) retail price. If you're looking to stay within the Bose family, we think most people will make out better with the Bose Wave Music System, which offers similar functionality, reasonable audio quality, and is almost half the price.
The Bose Acoustic Wave Music System II may be particularly attractive to those who dislike electronics in the living room, simply because it doesn't look like a piece of audio equipment at all. While the front panel of most tabletop radios is graced by speaker grilles, an LCD display, and buttons and knobs, the Acoustic Wave Music System II has a minimalist look, distinguished mostly by plastic grating on the front that makes it look more like an air purifier than a device that plays music. That grating is marked by sculpted curves that align the hidden speakers to point away from each other, rather than straight ahead.
The LCD display, along with the rest of the controls and the CD player, are located on the top of the unit, which is what enables it to keep its sleek look from the front. On a more utilitarian note, having the LCD display on the top does present a bit of a practical problem--it forces you to get up to look at the display if you want to know what track you're on or what station you're tuned to. This is an unusual move for a tabletop radio--in fact, a quick perusal of our tabletop radio top products list reveals that almost every other product puts the display in front--including Bose's other tabletop radio, the Wave Music System. If you like to throw on a CD and always listen straight through the disc, it might not be a problem. But, if you're the kind of person who knows your favorite songs by track number and doesn't always listen in order, you might have a tough time. Also, if you happen to throw a CD-R filled with dozens or hundreds of MP3 tracks (yes, the CD player supports MP3 playback), it's very difficult to navigate said disc without looking at the display.
Once you are used to where the buttons are placed, the Acoustic Wave Music System II is a cinch to use. There are not a lot of options to fiddle with, so if you're comfortable with play, pause, and stop, you'll have no problem operating this product. That simplicity carries over to the credit card-style remote. Buttons for the four sources (AM, FM, CD, and AUX) are clearly marked, and the volume buttons are a bright white color, so they're easy to find. The only knock against the remote is that all the buttons are the same size, so it's not easy to navigate by feel.
It's also worth noting that the Acoustic Wave Music System II has convenient handles on either side of the product, which makes it easy to transport it from room to room, and this portability can be enhanced by purchasing add-ons such as a rechargeable power pack ($149) and cigarette lighter adapter ($16). And in case you're wondering, it weighs 14.5 pounds, so it's quite manageable.
The Acoustic Wave Music System II has basic features. There's a CD drive on the top of the unit where you can play standard audio CDs or CD-Rs burned with MP3s. For radio use, you can pull in both AM and FM signals, and Bose throws in a separate dipole FM antenna. Plus, a telescoping antenna is attached to the back. You can set up to six AM and six FM presets. Twelve each would have been better.
In terms of connectivity, the system is equipped with an analog RCA audio input, a headphone jack, a Bose link port, a cigarette lighter adapter power jack (adapter not included), and an FM antenna input. The headphone jack can also be used as a line out to another audio system, but to make it work you need to change the Headphones Jack option from Headphones to Line Output in the Setup Menu. The Bose link jack comes into play when you want to use the Acoustic Wave Music System II as an additional speaker for another Bose link-enabled Lifestyle system.