For many years Sonos had the DIY wireless multiroom audio market largely to itself, but it's now facing serious competition from...well, pretty much every company you can think of. But perhaps the biggest challenge is Bose, which is also targeting mainstream consumers and has been steadily improving its software to make its systems easier to set up and use. For 2016, Sonos and Bose have new (late 2015) versions of their flagship tabletop wireless audio speakers -- the Sonos Play:5 and third-generation Bose SoundTouch 30 -- both of which cost $500, and are clearly direct competitors. (In Australia, both products retail for AU$749; in the UK, the Bose is £500, the Sonos £429.)
It's also worth noting that each of these speakers are part of the the companies' respective "ecosystems" for wireless audio. You can buy more speakers in each family, and expand each system into more rooms in your home. And in each case, prices start as low as $200 (AU$300, £170 ) for the Sonos Play:1 and Bose SoundTouch 10.
So why buy the Bose SoundTouch 30 instead of the Sonos Play:5? Well, the Bose speaker comes with a few features the Play:5 doesn't have: Bluetooth connectivity (in addition to Wi-Fi), a remote, and a presets system that allows you to get your favorite playlists or Internet radio stations up and running instantly.
In terms of sound, the Sonos Play:5 is the better performer, particularly at high volumes. With its pronounced bass and generous headroom, the Play:5 is more of a party speaker.
In its favor, the SoundTouch 30 has a more nuanced and revealing sound. It's also a little more open and has a wider soundstage. The Bose simultaneously aims for both bass punch and enhanced vocal clarity but falls down a little at high volumes, where it can sound aggressive with overly bassy or trebly tracks, and distorts.
Of course, audio is a subjective experience, and if you want something that's a little more exciting and a touch more hi-fi, you may prefer the Bose's sound. But if you're looking for a speaker that you can crank up at parties (and also sounds good at more moderate volumes), the nod definitely goes to the Sonos.
That would be the review in a nutshell, but there's a whole lot more to chew on, particularly if you're looking to build out a multiroom system for your home and are trying to decide between Bose's and Sonos' ecosystems.
Bose's expanded offerings
In the two years since Bose's SoundTouch line first appeared, it has gone through several changes. What began as two tabletop speakers and a portable has become an entire suite of wireless multiroom speakers. Many Bose products, from Wave radios to the company's home theater systems, and even outdoor speakers, now include Wi-Fi and are designed to link up with other SoundTouch system in a multiroom setup.
The Bose SoundTouch range received a makeover in September 2015 with the addition of a new speaker, the entry-level SoundTouch 10, and a few extra tweaks, including the addition of Bluetooth to all the new speakers in the line going forward. While it may seem counterintuitive to add Bluetooth to a Wi-Fi speaker what it does is improve the system's flexibility -- especially when compared against the company's main rival.
The Bose SoundTouch 30 is a large tabletop speaker at 17 inches wide, 10 inches high and 7 inches deep. Attractively designed, it comes in a choice of white and black finishes (with a matching gray or black speaker grille) and features a black-and-white OLED display in the center of the unit.
On the top live the rubberized controls that include six shortcuts as well as volume, an aux/Bluetooth switch and power -- though, sadly, no mute or play button. The top of the unit is finished in a patterned, carbon fiberlike material. While it's only about a third bigger than the the SoundTouch 20, it's a lot heavier at 18.5 lb (versus 7 lb).
The speaker ships with a remote, which is a welcome addition for a device without a touchscreen and limited controls. The clicker features the same six shortcuts as the app and speaker and these offer the ability to play a preprogrammed radio station or album without too much effort. The remote has an attractive rubberized finish and is a significant step above most credit-card offerings you'll find at the price. (You can also use an Android or iOS app, of course.)
Usability is one of the system's strongest suits. By including six shortcut buttons on both the unit and an accompanying remote control, it's a lot easier to get music playing on the Bose system if you don't have your phone handy. The only thing that the system lacks is a mute or play/pause button which would be useful.
The speaker includes two full-range drivers in a stereo configuration and a single bass woofer. Unlike the sealed Sonos, the Bose features a vertical bass port at the back.
Bose's selection of streaming services is decent and includes three of the "big ones" -- Spotify Connect, iHeartRadio and Pandora. The system also offers support for Deezer and Sirius XM. While the speaker has integration with iTunes there is no Apple Music yet (Sonos has now added it to its list of services accessible via the Sonos app). It's also worth noting that the previous version of the SoundTouch 30 supported AirPlay, but this one does not. Tidal is also missing so far.
The speaker will stream music from your network including file support for MP3, WMA, AAC, Apple Lossless and FLAC. Audiophiles should be aware that like Sonos and Denon's HEOS system it will only support CD-quality files and not 24-bit high-res files. If you store music on your phone, the Bose system lacks the ability to "play from my device" from the Bose app. Instead, you'll need to toggle to Bluetooth to play phone-based music (or any other audio on the phone that's not supported within the Bose app.)