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Bose SoundLink Revolve review: Mini Bluetooth speaker, maximum sound

The smaller of Bose's new 360-degree "omnidirectional" Bluetooth speakers doesn't have a handle but it's still a great little speaker.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

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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 e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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Cylindrical design, 360-degree omnidirectional sound.

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8.2

Bose SoundLink Revolve

The Good

The sleek Bose SoundLink Revolve Bluetooth speaker sounds excellent for its compact size. Battery life is good at 12 hours, there's a threaded tripod mount on the bottom of the speaker and an integrated microphone for speakerphone calls.

The Bad

Expensive, and the cradle that makes charging easier is an optional $30 accessory. The pricier Revolve Plus sounds even better.

The Bottom Line

While I'd lean toward the bigger Revolve Plus, Bose's SoundLink Revolve is still of the best-sounding Bluetooth speakers for its size.

If you've been monitoring the Bluetooth speaker space, you're probably aware that such descriptors are nothing new. Ultimate Ears led the 360-degree charge with its Boom, Boom 2 and Megaboom, and JBL's popular cylindrical Flip and Charge series speakers are on their fourth generation. They all promise full-range sound without having to worry about placement.

Bose's two versions of the tubular, portable, battery-powered Bluetooth speaker are the SoundLink Revolve ($199, £199.95, AU$299) reviewed here and its bigger brother, the Revolve Plus ($299, £279.95 or AU$439). They're expensive, but their design is excellent and they both sound great for small speakers. Between the two, I like the Plus best thanks to superior bass and an ability to play louder. The smaller Revolve is no slouch though, and is one of the best sounding speakers for its size.

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The smaller SoundLink Revolve (left) compared to the SoundLink Revolve Plus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like its larger sibling, the Revolve features a "seamless" aluminum enclosure, but it leaves off the handle found in the Revolve Plus. It reminded me a little of the Google Home speaker without its top shaved off at an angle. The Google Home however feels cheap in comparison to the Bose: It weighs less, doesn't have an integrated battery and must be plugged into a power source. The Revolve also sounds better.

While the Revolve seems at first glance more like an indoor speaker, it's both water- as well as shock-resistant and is designed with outdoor use in mind. It's also worth mentioning that it has a threaded tripod mount on the bottom of the speaker that allows you to attach it to a wall mount or a stand. And Bose sells a charging cradle for $30 (£25, AU$40), which makes charging easier than using the included USB cable (it's a shame the charging cradle isn't included like it is with the SoundLink Mini II, which has now dropped from $200 to $180 in the US while costing £170 in the UK and AU$249 in Australia).

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The buttons on top of the speaker control playback and volume.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Raising the sound bar for tiny speakers

As I stated previously, there are a lot of cylindrical shaped speakers out there, and the Revolve's biggest competitors include the UE Boom 2, UE Wonderboom, JBL Flip 4 and JBL Charge 3 (a Charge 4 is on the way). JBL also has the Pulse 2, which puts on a light show.

Most of these speakers cost less than the Revolve -- and the UE Wonderboom and Flip 4 cost half as much. Is the Revolve twice as good as those speakers?

The short answer is no, but it does offer superior sound. It not only plays louder but its bass response is better and it sounds a little more natural with a little better detail. It also beats the higher priced UE Boom 2 and B&O Play's hamburger-sized Beoplay A1, which costs $250 (£199, AU$379) and sounds very good for its size.

However, both those speakers do offer better battery life. The SoundLink Revolve is rated to play for 12 hours at moderate volume levels while the Beoplay A1 is rated for 24 hours and UE Boom 2 is rated for 15 hours. The Boom 2 is also fully waterproof and is very well suited to outdoor use (I still think the UE Boom 2's an excellent speaker, the Revolve just sounds a little better).

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The threaded tripod mount.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Not surprisingly the larger Revolve Plus plays louder and outputs more bass than the Revolve. But the Revolve is still able to come out on top of the SoundLink Mini II and approaches if not slightly exceeds the sound of the SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III.

Both Revolve speakers play much bigger than their size would indicate, and although they do have their sound limitations, they can fill a small to medium room with sound. They'd work well in a dorm room, home office or bedroom.

While you'd think that 360-degree sound would mean they're best placed in the middle of a room, it actually helps to place these speakers near a wall to get some reflection, which improves the bass.

The Revolve sounded the same whether plugged in or running via battery, although Bose says output is limited slightly to conserve power when the battery dips below 30 percent. It was hard for me to tell the difference, but some people might.

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The smaller Revolve next to the Revolve Plus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Revolve has an integrated microphone so it can be used as speakerphone, a feature that worked well in my tests. There's NFC tap-to-pair technology for devices that support it, and more importantly you can wirelessly pair two of these speakers (or other recent Bose Bluetooth speakers starting with the SoundLink Color II) using the Bose Connect app, configuring them as a set of stereo speakers or doubling them up to augment the sound. (You can also upgrade the speaker's firmware via the app which is important to do because Bose is already updating the speaker's software to quash any bugs and hopefully improve the overall performance).

To test stereo pairing I threw on some tracks from the '60s and '70s (The Rolling Stones, The Doors and The Beatles) that feature a lot of stereo separation. They sounded good for compact, battery-powered wireless speakers, but don't expect a pair of Revolves to beat a decent set of wireless powered speakers such as Bose's own SoundTouch 10 or Sonos Play:1 speakers, both of which can be set up as a stereo pair.

Louder, meet smaller

I'll repeat what I said about the Revolve Plus. When I say this Bose sounds excellent, what I really means is that it sounds excellent compared to other very compact Bluetooth speakers. The fact is you could hit a patch where you say to yourself that sounds a little rough -- or a little weird. The Revolve is only capable of so much, and can't quite escape the boundaries inherent in streaming audio over Bluetooth to a small speaker.

What separates the Bose from its competitors is the ability play a little louder, put out more bass without distorting and sound a little more natural with decent detail. For example, UE's Wonderboom, which retails for a third of the price and is an excellent mini Bluetooth speaker, stumbled over parts of the bass line in the Shaun Frank remix of The Chainsmokers' "Closer." The Revolve managed to get through those sections without breaking up. It didn't sound great when I hit with deep bass or complicated music, but it sounded better than most small speakers.

Audiophiles will find fault with the Revolve's sound, particularly compared to wired $200 speakers. But the vast majority of people will think it's a great sounding little speaker that can be easily moved from room to room or carried outside, where it can fill a patio area with sound -- maybe not at dance party-level, but certainly at background music volumes.

As I said, I personally find myself leaning towards spending the extra dough on the SoundLink Revolve Plus, but if you don't need that extra bit of fullness and volume, you'll be quite happy saving some money with the Revolve.

Key specs:

  • Dimensions: 6 inches high, 3.25 inches deep, 1.5 lbs.
  • IPX4 water-resistant
  • Shock resistant
  • Threaded tripod mount on bottom of speaker
  • Battery life: 12 hours
  • NFC tap-to-pair technology (with devices that support NFC)
  • Bose Connect app connects two SoundLink speakers starting with Bose SoundLink Color II (stereo pairing or double-up party mode).
  • Integrated microphone to use as speakerphone or with Siri and Google Assistant
  • Colors: triple black, gray lux
  • Price: $199, £199.95, AU$299
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8.2

Bose SoundLink Revolve

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 8Value 8