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Bose SoundLink Color review: A playful Bluetooth speaker that delivers serious sound for its size

Like the more expensive SoundLink Mini , the speaker plays a lot louder than you think it would for its small size, with a reasonable amount of bass. Soundwise, it's not on par with the Mini; that model offers better bass. However, unlike the older Bose -- which requires a proprietary AC adapter -- this newer model charges via a standard micro-USB cable (it takes about 3 hours to fully charge). That's much more convenient for traveling, especially if you have an Android phone.

Performance

Bose has done a good job eking out about the best sound you can expect from a speaker this size and placing it near a wall will help its bass performance. The speaker is designed to avoid distorting at higher volumes, so there are times when you push the volume that the music seems a little restrained and rolled off at certain frequencies. It also has a little trouble with more complicated music. And finally, although there are two drivers and a bass radiator, there's virtually no stereo separation, which is par for the course for this type of speaker.

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The back of the speaker (it charges via micro-USB). Sarah Tew/CNET

I put it up against the $100 JBL Flip 2 , but spent the most time comparing it to the redesigned $150 JBL Charge 2, which I'm presently reviewing. (It's the sequel to the original JBL Charge .) The JBL serves up a good helping of bass, but it lacks clarity compared to the SoundLink Color, which is stronger in the midrange and treble. (The JBL does deliver better battery life, however, lasting up to 12 hours on one charge, and it can act as charger for your smartphone.)

The Bose did very well with simpler tracks and acoustic material. The vocals-only opening of David Byrne and St. Vincent's "Ice Age" track sounded great, but then fell down a bit as soon as the instruments kicked in. As I said, these types of speakers run into trouble resolving several instruments playing at once, and the SoundLink Color is no exception. But for its speaker class, it performs quite well and also plays loudly without distorting.

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The speaker has a pause/play and volume buttons on top but no speakerphone capabilities. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

If your priority is sound quality, you're better off with the more expensive SoundLink Mini, which also has a more upscale metallic design. But if you value portability and don't want to spend the extra $70, the SoundLink Color is a solid choice. While not everybody will love its design, the majority of people should be impressed with the sound it puts out, particularly in smaller rooms.

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