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.
Bose isn't known to market its products toward an early adopter audience that expects all the latest and greatest features, so we didn't necessarily expect the Wave Music System II to be loaded with stuff such as HD Radio or XM Radio support. But an increasing number of competing systems, including the Polk Audio I-Sonic come equipped with this extra functionality and cost much less. (The I-Sonic also features a built-in DVD player with a video output, though it's currently the only tabletop radio to do so.)
Bose tries to make up for the features deficiency by offering a bunch of add-on accessories for the Acoustic Wave Music System II. If you look on the company's Web site, you'll find the previously mentioned rechargeable power pack and cigarette lighter adapter, as well as a five-disc CD changer ($300) and a premium backlight remote ($40). An Acoustic Wave Connect Kit for iPod, which consists of the Apple iPod Universal Dock, a Griffin Dock Cable, an iPod-friendly remote, an AC adapter, and some audio cables, will also be available soon (we tried it out), but unfortunately it forces you to use the only analog input on the system, thus limiting your connectivity options.
A basic feature set is a lot more forgivable if the audio product you're testing sounds great. We love extra features but definitely have respect for products that know how to do one thing--and do it well. Unfortunately, we thought Acoustic Wave Music System II's performance was a bit mixed. We matched it up against the I-Sonic and listened to a bunch of tracks, ranging from hard rock to classical to jazz. We quickly grasped the meaning of "acoustic" in the Acoustic Wave Music System II: it handles light acoustic and classical music much better than hard rock and did a better job of spreading the sound around the room than the I-Sonic.
However, on rock and pop tunes, the Acoustic Wave Music System II came up short. The I-Sonic rocked us much harder, with a tighter and more musical bass sound than the Acoustic Wave Music System II. We would have liked to turn up the bass to see if we could get more out of the system, but alas, there wasn't any sort of EQ--not even basic bass and treble controls (we suspect this has something to do with Bose's desire to keep things simple for users).
We had better luck when we connected the audio outputs of our DVD player to the line input on the back of the unit and watched a few action-oriented scenes from movies--such as the launch sequence in Apollo 13. Sure, the Acoustic Wave Music System II didn't deliver the full home theater punch one would expect from a separates-based system or even a home-theater-in-a-box system, but we felt as if plenty of people would have found it perfectly acceptable, especially coming from such a small package.
As part of our testing, we fired up the system in a variety of rooms and placements relative to the wall. Where you place the unit can make a significant difference in sound quality, so make sure you experiment with a few locations to get the best sound. In the right spot, with its volume cranked to close to the max, the Acoustic Wave Music System II can get pretty loud, and it won't have a problem filling small and some medium-size rooms with sound. Our sound quibbles aside, we did admire that it was able to handle itself at full volume without much distortion. That may not be worth a thousand bucks, but it's certainly a plus.