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Boston MicroSystem CD review: Boston MicroSystem CD

Boston MicroSystem CD

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
3 min read

With the help of a big marketing budget and some good products, Bose has managed to carve out a big chunk of the high-end tabletop-radio market. However, it has some competitors, and Boston Acoustics' MicroSystem CD probably qualifies as the most direct rival to the Bose Wave Music System. The two products look somewhat similar, do essentially the same thing, cost the same price ($500), and even come in nearly identical colors (charcoal and white). However, there are some notable differences.

7.7

Boston MicroSystem CD

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 built-in satellite radio or DVD support.

The Bottom Line

Boston Acoustics' sublime-sounding MicroSystem CD is a better value than the identically priced Bose counterpart.

Measuring 4.5 inches high by 14 inches wide by 8.5 inches deep and weighing 9 pounds, the MicroSystem CD has a couple of things working in its favor. For starters, we liked its display, which shows radio frequencies, time, and other information in stark white on a blue background. The look is simple and elegant, and the bright display automatically dims after a few moments of inactivity in dark environments. We also got a nice surprise when we popped the front door to insert a CD into the slot-loading CD player. There, on the inside of the door, we found a remote caddy for storing the system's credit card-style remote, which has a tendency to get misplaced. Also, the MicroSystem CD features rubberized buttons--and plenty of them--on top of the unit (by contrast, the Bose has no buttons). After playing around with both products, we've concluded that we prefer having the buttons--the sleek, minimalist aesthetic that the Bose achieves is considerably less impressive once you misplace the remote.

The Boston Acoustics piece trumps the Bose in another department: connectivity. You get an audio output, a headphone jack, and three auxiliary inputs (two sets of stereo RCA jacks on the back and one stereo minijack on the front) for connecting other audio devices, such as an iPod, a satellite-radio receiver, or even a DVD player. A simple external antenna--essentially a wire--is included. It works fine, though you can certainly upgrade to a better antenna if you want to spend the extra dough.

Like the Bose, this model is a proficient clock radio that gives you the option of waking to a CD or a radio station. You can store up to 12 AM and 12 FM stations in memory, and the system also plays MP3 CD-R discs. A button on the remote allows you to navigate back and forth through various directory folders.

The MicroSystem CD's FM sound quality and reception were very good. All the local NYC stations came in loud and clear, and most of our favorite low-power college and NPR stations were noise -free. Male announcers' voices sounded rich but not boomy.

The compact system's twin drivers can produce a fair amount of bass, and thanks to the MicroSystem's rear-mounted bass-level control, you can dial in bass to taste. We left the control in the 12 o'clock position for most of our listening tests in CNET's large conference room and were perfectly happy with the bass balance of the MicroSystem CD. In a smaller room, we'd probably turn the bass level down.

Moving to our favorite jazz CDs, we were pleased by the system's overall clarity. Cymbals had just the right amount of sparkle and shimmer, vocals sounded natural, and bass definition was impressive. However, stereo separation between the MicroSystem CD's speakers was minimal, to the point where we were barely aware of it at all.

Rocking out with the Queens of the Stone Age's new Lullabies to Paralyze CD, we didn't detect any distortion or buzzing from the speakers. It's not fair to expect the MicroSystem CD to fill a room like a $500 HTIB would, but considering its compact dimensions, it more than holds its own.

So is the MicroSystem CD the best tabletop radio/CD player you can get? In this increasingly crowded category, it's a tough call. The Cambridge SoundWorks Radio CD 740 still impresses (at "only" $350), while Polk Audio's forthcoming I-Sonic model adds DVD capability as well as support for HD Radio and XM satellite radio for $600, though it won't be available until September 2005. But if you're trying to decide between this model and the Bose, it's all about aesthetics and features, since both are excellent performers. For us, the impressive connectivity, the on-device button options, the remote caddy, and the slightly better functionality of the Boston Acoustics MicroSystem CD helped push it past the Bose Wave System--by a nose.

Editor's note: Freelancer Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.

7.7

Boston MicroSystem CD

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8