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Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II review: Bose's Bluetooth speaker gets even better

While the SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II may no longer be in a class by itself, it's still near the top of the portable Bluetooth speaker category.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
8 min read

The original SoundLink Wireless Mobile came out in 2011 and received an Editors' Choice Award from CNET because at the time of its release it delivered best-in-class performance from a compact, stylish Bluetooth speaker.

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth mobile speaker II (nylon)

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II

The Good

For such a small, portable Bluetooth speaker, the <b>Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II</b> sounds great and plays impressively loud without distorting. It also has a built-in rechargeable battery, an auxiliary input, a rugged design, and the option to swap out protective covers (one of which is included).

The Bad

The speaker is somewhat pricey and has no speakerphone capabilities. Also, its battery life could be a little better.

The Bottom Line

While the SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II may no longer be in a class by itself, it's still near the top of the portable Bluetooth speaker category.

The new SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II, which looks virtually identical to the original model, includes new neodymium transducers and an updated digital signal processing algorithm that gives the speaker slightly better sound. Those modifications, plus a tweak to the design of the integrated protective cover/stand (it comes in leather or nylon) and the system's ability to now remember up to six devices for automatic pairing, are the key updates. In short, Bose has made an excellent portable speaker slightly better. But the landscape has changed, with competition in the high-end Bluetooth speaker realm now more fierce than ever, with products such as the $300 Jawbone Big Jambox.

As I said in my review of the original SoundLink Wireless Mobile, Bose seems to have taken a few design cues from Apple: along with the compact shape and clean, elegant design, the unit is equipped with a magnetic protective combined cover and stand that automatically turns the speaker off when closed. Not surprisingly, Bose is selling additional nylon and leather covers in a wider variety of colors for $30 and $50, respectively, in case you want to make a change later.

The new cover has a 'bi-fold' design. Sarah Tew/CNET

Like the Smart Cover for the iPad, the SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile II's cover comes in two grades: nylon and leather. But you get the leather cover from the get-go only if you step up to the higher-end version of speaker, which costs an extra $50 and has what the company calls an "automotive-grade" chrome trim.

As I said, both versions of the cover have been slightly redesigned. The cover now folds in half (it has a "bi-fold" design). Instead of the whole cover flipping back to convert into a stand, you flip the cover back and fold it in half (you can also extend the whole cover back without folding it -- it works fine as stand in that configuration as well). I assume Bose went with the new cover design so you could prop the speaker up in narrower spaces without having the stand extend back those few extra inches. In any case, I liked the change and think it gives you a little more flexibility as far placement goes without sacrificing any stability.

The speaker from the side -- it's impressively compact. Sarah Tew/CNET

Now on to the speaker itself. The first thing you notice about it when you pick it up is that while it may be small, it's got some heft to it, weighing in at 2.78 pounds. It's 5 inches tall, 9.5 inches wide, and a scant 1.9 inches thick.

That depth -- or lack thereof -- is really the most impressive part of the design. But while the SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile II speaker looks sleek, perhaps even a bit dainty, and would seem more suited to indoor listening, Bose has made a point of touting how durable and rugged the unit is. The company says it has extensively drop-tested the product, and even put it in a chamber and exposed to simulated salt-air fog. So, yes, this is designed to be a portable, outdoorsy product.

Like its predecessor, the speaker has a built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery that's rated for 3 to 4 hours of use at high volume between charges and double that at moderate volume levels. (Should the battery go dead a replacement battery is available through Bose's customer service department for $59.95).

Alas, Bose didn't increase the battery life in moving to 2.0 version of the speaker -- it still falls well short of the Big Jambox's rated battery life (15 hours). The Bose's battery life is more on par with the portable Apple AirPlay speakers I've reviewed -- and yes, Bose now makes an AirPlay unit as well, the SoundLink Air, which starts at $349.

The Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II has a wireless range of about 30 feet (I managed over 40 feet) and works with any A2DP Bluetooth-enabled device, which includes nearly all smartphones and most tablets, including the iPad. Around back you'll find a standard 3.5mm audio input for connecting (via an included cable) any other audio devices that don't offer Bluetooth, like an iPod Classic, for instance.

Rear of the speaker. Sarah Tew/CNET

I had no trouble pairing an iPhone 4S, a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, and an iPad Mini with the speaker. You simply hold down the Bluetooth button on top of the speaker and it goes into pairing mode. After you select "Bose SoundLink Wireless" from the Bluetooth setup menu on your phone or other device, after a few seconds you should be linked up wirelessly to the speaker and be able to stream audio to it.

In all, the connection was pretty stable, but I did run into the occasional hiccup. It was an instructive reminder that Bluetooth, like all wireless tech, just doesn't have the 100 percent reliability of a wired connection.

Another note: the SoundLink Wireless Mobile does not offer speakerphone capabilities the way the Jawbone Big Jambox does, for example. Could it someday offer that feature? Alas, no, considering there's no built-in microphone that I'm aware of. However, there is a Micro-USB port on the back of the speaker labeled "service," which is for firmware upgrades; Bose says it will offer software upgrades to make sure the speaker is compatible with future phones.

We should also mention that the SoundLink Wireless Mobile speaker doesn't come with a remote. That's because you shouldn't need one since you'll be able to control the volume -- and everything else -- from your smartphone.

Note: In my tests with the original SoundLink Wireless Mobile I couldn't adjust the volume with an iPhone 3G, so it's possible to run into some snafus depending on how ancient your phone is.

At the launch for the original product, Bose talked about the engineering challenges of getting good sound out of a very compact speaker, and a Bluetooth one at that, as Bluetooth compression diminishes sound quality.

If you want to see what's going on inside the speaker, the design for the speaker's four low-profile neodymium transducers (mid- and high frequencies) and dual-opposing passive radiators (bass) are detailed on Bose's Web site.

While the cutting-edge hardware design is the biggest factor behind the speaker's sound, there's also a nice piece of software running in the background to process what's coming into the speaker and make it sound as good as possible going out.

As I said in my review of the original speaker, the results are shockingly good: the speaker plays incredibly loudly for its size. This thing can actually fill a medium-size room with sound and easily blows away the smaller Jawbone Jambox ($179 list). What's also impressive is that the sound doesn't distort at higher volumes. You can crank the Bose and it does just fine, with the bass holding together well and without any rattling or shaking of the speaker.

I played a wide variety of music on the speaker. With the Wilco album "The Whole Love," the mellower, acoustic guitar tracks sounded rich and detailed, like what you'd get from a larger speaker. I then hit it with some rock and pop tracks from David Guetta, Rihanna, and Pitbull. It all sounded quite good for a Bluetooth speaker this size, though sound quality will vary according to the recording quality of the track (poorly recorded tracks can have a harsh edge to them).

The stand doubles as a cover. Sarah Tew/CNET

The new neodymium transducers are supposed to give the speaker a more "natural" sound. Doing an A/B test with the original SoundLink Mobile, I noticed a very slight difference for the better. For instance, with our old standby test track, Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot," the heavy bass line still sounded slightly restrained at higher volumes but the bass response on the new speaker seemed a touch tighter and more refined.

As I did with the SoundLink Wireless, I jury tested the speaker with a few other editors here at CNET, and all of them came away impressed by how loud it played for its size and how full the sound was, particularly for a small Bluetooth speaker.

Once again they noted that the bass didn't have quite the oomph they would've liked, but it's just not fair to expect subwoofer-level performance from a speaker the size of a hardcover book.

Since the original Bose SoundLink Wireless came out more compact, portable Bluetooth speakers have it the market, including the highly rated Jawbone Big Jambox. In fact, I've gotten several e-mails from readers asking me whether they should buy the SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II or the Big Jambox. My short answer is that they're both very solid (and fairly expensive products) that most people will not regret buying. In terms of sound, it's hard to declare one a clear winner over the other because their sound is dependent on room placement and personal taste (also, the Jambox has two different sound modes).

I'm slightly more partial to the Bose because I like the form factor better, especially for travel. That said, if the speakerphone capabilities are important to you, the Big Jambox is going to be the better choice.

If you're comparing this speaker with smaller products like the original $179 Jambox, this Bose is a little more than twice as heavy, but it sounds much better and plays much louder. Likewise, the Bose is bigger and more expensive than the very compact Soundmatters FoxL v2, but the Bose sounds better than that model, too.

The charger that ships with the product. Sarah Tew/CNET

Logitech, meanwhile, offers a compelling alternative with the $250 UE Boombox. It offers comparable (or even slightly better) sound quality. But it's bigger than the Bose and has unique styling that will appeal to some more than others.

Finally, you can also step up to a more expensive portable AirPlay speaker such as the Libratone Zipp. That speaker uses Wi-Fi for streaming audio and overall sounds better than the Bose, with slightly clearer sound and bigger bass (it plays louder, too). But the Libratone only streams music from iOS devices and computers running iTunes.

In the end, while the SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II may no longer be in a class by itself, it remains an impressive, well-built product. If you're on the fence about getting one, it's worth noting that Bose offers a 30-day money-back guarantee on the product, so you can try before you're fully committed, which is a good thing considering the speaker is fairly pricey at $300 (or $350 with the leather cover). Not everyone will think it's worth that kind of dough, but I suspect most people won't suffer a case of buyer's remorse.

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth mobile speaker II (nylon)

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8