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Bose Wave Music System review: Bose Wave Music System

If you can deal with the high price, you'll get a sweet little tabletop music system.

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, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
4 min read

Bose Wave Music System

7.3

Bose Wave Music System

The Good

Simple to set up and use; attractive design; improved sound; plays MP3 CDs; line-in support for other devices; 30-day trial period.

The Bad

Expensive; no bass or treble control.

The Bottom Line

Bose's Wave Music System improves upon the original in both design and performance.

Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.

In creating the follow-up to its original Wave radio/CD player, Bose was on a mission to keep the unit the same size while improving its sound quality, which can present a serious challenge when it comes to a compact piece of equipment that includes speakers. Bose also decided to replace the top-loading CD player with a swankier front-loading one and did away with all the buttons on the unit to enhance the Wave's sleek, minimalist styling and keep things as simple as possible. The new Wave is available in two colors: platinum white and slate gray.

A buttonless Wave means you have to use the included credit-card-style remote to control all of the unit's functions. That's mostly a good thing. The remote is well-labeled and easy to use, though it helps to make a quick study of the manual to make sure you're aware of certain buttons' dual purposes. For instance, when in radio mode, the Tune/MP3 buttons scan to the next/previous radio stations; in CD mode they allow you to navigate through folders on an MP3 CD. Meanwhile, the Play mode button selects various shuffle and repeat CD play modes but also turns on the bass-trimming Talk Radio mode when you're listening to stations that artificially boost low frequencies to make your favorite blowhards sound more authoritative.

You can store up to six AM and six FM stations into memory, and the Wave, like its predecessor, is a proficient clock radio that gives you the option of awaking to a CD or a radio station. In contrast to Bose's SoundDock for iPods, this model has an auxiliary input (minijack) so that you can not only connect an iPod but any other playback device as well, including a DVD player. On the back you'll also find a headphone input, a jack for an external antenna (not included), and a Bose Link jack that allows you to connect the Wave to select link-enabled Bose Lifestyle systems and turn it into a Zone 2 stereo speaker. (A separate cable is required to engage the Bose Link functionality.)

The only major drawback to having to control everything through the remote is that tiny remotes are easy to misplace or lose. Imagine the alarm going off and not being able to silence it right away or hit the Snooze button (the Sleep button on the remote) because your clicker mysteriously disappeared. Grrrr. We therefore recommend you purchase an extra remote (about $10) to have on hand in case the included one pulls a D.B. Cooper.

Now on to the thing that really matters: Does this Wave sound better than the original? Yes, it does, though we found that it sounded a little different in each room we placed it in, so it's worth experimenting with different locations. (Bose offers a handy 30-day trial period.)

Small as it is, the unit can fill fairly large rooms with sound. CDs ranging from Frank Zappa's orchestral extravaganzas to the fury of rock duo White Stripes shined over the Wave. Bass was full and rich, though we sometimes wished the unit had bass and treble controls to compensate for recording variability. The Wave's AM and FM tuner pulled in all of our favorite stations, including most of the hard-to-receive ones.

At the suggestion of the Bose folks, who changed this model's name from the Wave Radio/CD II to the Wave Music System to better express (read: market) the full range of its capabilities, we next hooked up the Wave to a DVD player's audio outputs. The sound easily bested the speakers built into most TVs, particularly flat-panel displays. True, its stereo imaging was confined to the space between the Wave's two speakers, but the Master and Commander DVD sounded remarkably clear and present. Just don't expect miracles from this tabletop system. The DVD's naval battle scenes lacked the visceral impact you'll get from better HTIBs and component systems, but the Wave certainly didn't embarrass itself or overtly distort sound. We imagine it will provide yeoman's service in cozy dens, bedrooms, or kitchens.

We'll finish by pointing out what may be an obvious stumbling block for some buyers: the $500 price tag. All we can say is, sticker shock aside, the Wave's a good-looking, good-sounding tabletop radio/CD player. In other words, while you'll be overpaying for the right to own one, you won't feel terribly ripped off.

Editors' note: Freelancer Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.

7.3

Bose Wave Music System

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8