What's the best product Bose has ever made? That's hard to say, but a case can be made for the SoundLink Mini , the company's 2013 compact Bluetooth speaker that features impressive build quality and sound for its size and isn't too outrageously priced at $200 (£170 and AU$299).
Now we get the new SoundLink Mini II, which retails for the same price, comes in two colors -- Carbon and Pearl -- and aims to fix a few of the original Mini's shortcomings while adding some a few new feature additions, including a boost in battery life.
The new 1.5-pound (0.67kg) model looks nearly identical to its predecessor -- a good thing, since it's one of the sharpest-looking small speakers out there -- but it now has a built-in microphone for speakerphone capabilities. Another improvement is its 10-hour battery rating, up from 7 hours for the previous model.
Rounding out the improvements: the speaker now charges via a standard USB cable rather than a proprietary AC adapter, which is an important change. Bose says it "charges with most USB power sources." It also includes a charging cradle, which acts as a dock the device at home. (I personally would always leave that cradle connected to the Bose-provided USB charging cable, and then just carry around a second Micro-USB cable and charger for the road.)
As I said about original SoundLink Mini, it looks lot like a speaker Apple would design. Perhaps it's the unibody aluminum enclosure that surrounds the two small drivers and front and back radiators. Or the fact that, at 1.5 pounds, it feels considerably more substantial than many of the tiny all-plastic Bluetooth speakers now on the market. Whatever it is, this is a sleek-looking, very compact wireless speaker.
The new speaker allows you to pair two devices to it at the same time -- you can switch back and forth between the devices, alternating audio streams -- and it can remember up to eight devices. Bose also says it's streamlined the pairing process with new voice prompts and the speaker identifies your devices by name using text-to-speech.
Soft covers, sold separately for $25, £21 or AU$30 each, will be available in deep red, "energy green," navy blue, charcoal black and gray. (Our photo shows the original SoundLink with the now-discontinued bright blue color.)
As far as I can tell, the sound hasn't changed. The original SoundLink Mini was able to produce impressive sound for its tiny size, and this model does as well. It just plays a lot bigger than it looks, with a decent amount of bass and relatively clean, natural sound. It's a nice speaker for the kitchen, bedroom and smaller rooms (such as a dorm room).
I compared it to the Sony SRS-X55, which is a little bit bigger speaker and costs around the same price (the Sony has an MSRP of $180). For what they are, they're both very good speakers, with the Sony being at its best when it's plugged in (it plays a little louder on AC power rather than working off the unit's internal rechargeable battery).
The Bose casts a slightly larger sound stage and excels with acoustic material, flattering it a bit more than the Sony. For example, Amy Winehouse's "Valerie - Live," Laura Marling's "Strange" and Queensryche's "Silent Lucidity" all sounded really good on the Bose.
It's not as smooth with rock and harder driving music, and when you crank the volume and throw complicated tracks at it -- or music with a lot of bass -- the speaker compensates by restraining the volume a little and clipping certain frequencies so the speaker doesn't distort. In other words, it has its limitations (it performs best at less than 75 percent volume levels).
On a positive note, the Bose did a better job with Bleachers' "Wild Heart" than a lot of Bluetooth speakers we've tested. It's a tough track to handle and can sound like a mess on lesser Bluetooth speakers and headphones. But the Bose managed to hold it together pretty well at higher volumes.
It's worth noting like with with all these small Bluetooth speakers, you don't really get any stereo separation (maybe if you're siting two or three feet from it). With some Bluetooth speakers -- the UE Boom and Megaboom , for example -- you can wirelessly join two speakers to augment the sound or create a stereo pair. You can't do that with this Bose -- it's designed to work only as a single speaker.
Bose makes two other Bluetooth speakers -- the larger and more expensive SoundLink III ($300 USD, £260 in the UK, AU$400 in Australia) and the slightly lighter but more affordable SoundLink Color ($129 USD, £120 in the UK, and AU$179). The SoundLink Mini II sits right in the Goldilocks spot in between -- just the right price, with just the right feature set.
If you need a speaker for the pool, the identically priced (and waterproof) UE Boom is a better bet. And Sony's SRSX55 gives the Bose a run for its money on sound quality in this price class. But ultimately, it's hard to go wrong with the Bose SoundLink Mini II . It's one of the best compact wireless speakers overall, with an excellent design, strong sound, an improved feature set and solid battery life.