Article updated on May 16, 2024 at 6:00 AM PDT

Bose SoundLink Max Review: Impressive Sound and Design, but It's Pricey

The company's new flagship portable Bluetooth speaker sounds great for its size and it's both sleek and durable. But is it worth $399?

Our Experts

Written by 
David Carnoy
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
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
Why You Can Trust CNET
Years of Experience
Hands-on Product Reviewers
Sq. Feet of Lab Space

CNET’s expert staff reviews and rates dozens of new products and services each month, building on more than a quarter century of expertise.

8.2/ 10

Bose SoundLink Max


  • Excellent sound for a relatively compact speaker
  • Premium design with replaceable rope handle
  • Fully waterproof, dust-proof and shock-resistant
  • Up to 20 hours of battery life
  • USB-C port also charges out


  • Pricey
  • No speakerphone capabilities

When I first heard about the SoundLink Max, I was a little surprised Bose would put out a $399 Bluetooth speaker after the $149 SoundLink Flex speaker did so well. The Flex was so successful because it not only sounds good for its compact size but it doesn't cost that much -- at least not for a Bose product. Not surprisingly, the Max also sounds impressive for its size and has a premium design. But its high price tag will cause some people to shy away from it.

Read moreBest Bluetooth Speakers of 2024

Bose SoundLink Max design

At first glance, you might think the Max, available in blue dusk or black, is only about twice as big as the Flex. But in terms of overall volume, it's actually three to four times its size. 

The Max weighs 4.9 pounds (2.2 kilograms). By comparison, the SoundLink Flex weighs a scant 1.3 pounds (0.6 kilograms), so the SoundLink Max is considerably bigger and heftier. 

Watch this: Bose SoundLink Max Review: How Does It Compare to the Cheaper SoundLink Flex?

Like the Flex, the Max has a premium look and feel with a powder-coated, silicone-wrapped steel body (the silicone finish attracts some dust, which will likely show more on the black version of the speaker). It's got a bit of a purse vibe -- or at least that's what some of my colleagues in the office thought -- and it's designed to withstand bumps and drops.

It should survive a drop of 3 to 4 feet and maybe higher. And while Bose sent me a video showing the speaker falling on some concrete blocks, I'd still avoid dropping it on pavement because it looks so nice you wouldn't want it to get dinged up. Bose says its finish won't peel or flake and the speaker is resistant to corrosion and UV light.


The SoundLink Max is almost four times the weight of the SoundLink Flex.

David Carnoy/CNET

The Max has an IP67 rating, which makes it dust-proof and fully waterproof (I had it out in the rain for a while and fully submerged it in a sink). If the speaker gets too wet, the battery light will blink amber and white, and you're supposed to dry the speaker off and make sure there's no water in the USB-C port on the back before charging the speaker with the included 15-watt power adapter.

It takes about 5 hours to fully charge the speaker with that power adapter, and battery life is rated up to 20 hours at 65% volume, which is good. But that number drops to only 3 hours if you crank the volume up to max levels, so you'll probably want to plug it in if you're having a dance party.

Overall, this is an exceedingly well-designed portable speaker that's essentially a mini boom box thanks to its rope handle. What's kind of cool is that if you're willing to shell out another $25, you can swap in one of four optional color handle accessories. A rope shoulder strap is also available for $45.

Bose SoundLink Max features

The speaker isn't exactly loaded with features. There's no built-in microphone, so you can't use it as a speakerphone, which would have been a good extra at its price. And at launch, you can't wirelessly link two of these speakers together to make a stereo pair or party up with a Flex. However, Bose reps told me the linking feature is coming later this year with a firmware upgrade.

On the plus side, the USB-C port is both charge-in and charge-out, so you can use the speaker to top off the battery on your phone or another device. There's also an auxiliary-in port if you want to connect an audio device like a turntable or MP3 player with a 3.5 audio cable.


The USB-C port is both charge-in and charge-out.

David Carnoy/CNET

The Flex is equipped with the older Bluetooth 4.2, which is disappointing. But Bose avoids that controversy here by using Bluetooth 5.3 for the Max. Like Bose's latest headphones and earbuds, the speaker supports the SBC and ACC audio codecs and Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive codec, which works with some Android devices.

The Bose companion app for iOS and Android (formerly called Bose Music) has some equalizer settings you can play around with to adjust the bass, midrange and treble (I mainly stuck with the default sound profile). You can also program the shortcut button on the top speaker, choosing from two options: Spotify Tap, which allows you to jump right into a Spotify playlist, or "audio line-in," which switches the audio source to the aux-in port.

You can also set the speaker to turn off after a set amount of time if it's not being used. Options start at as little as 5 minutes and go up to 3 hours (or you can set it to never turn off when not in use).

Bose SoundLink Max sound quality

The sound quality is what makes this speaker special. I didn't crack the speaker open, but Bose says it has an articulated array with three transducers across the front, which delivers a "spacious stereo experience." There are also two passive radiators to enhance bass performance and some fancy digital processing to reduce distortion. I can't say it totally eliminates distortion, particularly at high volumes with less well-recorded tracks, but the speaker holds together well.

The result is an impressive sound for the speaker's size. It's always tricky to get any decent stereo separation from a compact Bluetooth speaker because the drivers are so close together. But Bose has done a good job creating a wider soundstage than you'd expect with the Max, giving the sound more depth and openness.


The speaker has a bit of a purse-like vibe.

David Carnoy/CNET

The SoundLink Max offers a more stereo experience than many Bluetooth speakers that claim to be stereo speakers, but it's still not quite the same as listening to a pair of separate speakers.   

How does that sound compare to the Flex? The Max is another league -- both in terms of volume and bass performance. I don't know if it sounds three to four times as good as the Flex, but it certainly sounds well beyond twice as good.

The Max would make for a good beach or pool speaker, especially with its added durability. That said, it does sound different when you're out in an open area as the sound -- and bass in particular -- has nothing to reflect off. (If I were going to boost the bass in the equalizer, I'd be more likely to do it when using the speaker outdoors.) But the Max will also fill a small- to medium-sized room with sound while taking up very little space. I imagine it'll find a spot in many dorm rooms and even small apartment living rooms.     

I compared the Max to a few other speakers, including the UE EpicBoom, which retails for $299, and the Soundcore by Anker Boom 2, priced around $130. I like the sound from both of those speakers, but the Max is superior. Compared to the UE Epic Boom, the Max sounded clearer and more natural, with better bass definition and a slightly wider soundstage.

The Bose SoundLink Max vs. the UE Epic Boom

I compared it to the UE Epic Boom and SoundCore by Anker Boom 2. Both cost less.

David Carnoy/CNET

The Max's soundstage was also wider than the much cheaper Soundcore Boom 2's. The Max was also more accurate and natural sounding. Still, the Boom 2's sound quality is very impressive for the price if you can stretch your budget. The bass may not be quite as well defined as the Bose's, but it's got a similar kick to it. The Boom 2 is clearly the better value, even if the speaker itself isn't as sleek or compact as the Bose. And it does have some lighting effects for those who appreciate that sort of thing.

Bose SoundLink Max final thoughts

Aside from its high price, there really isn't much to complain about here. Yeah, I wish the Max had speakerphone functionality. And it would be nice if, at launch, you could stereo pair it with another Max or wirelessly link it to a Flex (or multiple Max speakers) in party mode.

Bigger speakers like Sony's ULT Field 7 and JBL's Boombox 3, both of which list for $500, can produce a bigger sound with bigger bass. But they're much larger speakers that can't fit into a backpack.  

If you can't afford the SoundLink Max, the slightly larger Soundcore by Anker Boom 2 is a good option for much less money. The Flex is an excellent little speaker that many people will prefer: It's much smaller and lighter but still manages to produce good sound. 

Or, you could wait for the Max to go on sale. Like the Flex, I expect we'll see it discounted later in the year by 15 to 20%, bringing its price down to $349 or less. It's an excellent portable Bluetooth speaker, maybe the best-sounding for its size, but the Flex's affordable price has spoiled me.