Bose introduced its first Lifestyle system back in 1994, and the line has been hugely successful ever since. Our auditions confirmed that the company's Lifestyle 35 Home Entertainment System is what it's advertised to be: a decor-friendly system with advanced setup and room-tuning features. But the 35's fulsome sound was too rich for our tastes.
The Lifestyle 35's delightfully tiny Jewel Cube sats, finished in either textured black or white polymer, stand just 4.5 inches tall, and the curvaceous, silver, plastic Media Center (a.k.a. the receiver/DVD player) is remarkably compact. But the Acoustimass subwoofer is humongous by kit standards, measuring 16 by 8 by 25 inches and weighing 38 pounds.
Bose's latest technological refinement, Adaptiq, provides automated system calibration. That's very cool since most kit buyers have neither the time nor the expertise to go through the hassles of setup chores. We found Bose's automated calibration refreshingly easy to implement--you just don a special, Walkman-style headset that houses measuring microphones and start the test. Then, Adaptiq smooths out speaker levels and applies sophisticated equalization to correct room-induced anomalies. A nifty DVD video-setup disc offers a host of speaker-placement and -hookup tips.
The large, comfortable remote is nicely laid out and highly legible, but we'd like it even better if it were backlit. The remote communicates with the Lifestyle 35 via radio frequencies instead of the more common infrared system. The signal travels through walls, and Bose rates the straight-line operating distance at 65 feet, so you don't have to aim the remote at the receiver or even be in the same room with it--very cool. Surround-processing abilities include only basic Dolby Digital and DTS. Bose left out the latest processing modes, such as 6.1-channel Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES Discrete, and also failed to include Dolby Pro Logic II and Neo:6 music- and cinema-surround circuits. The Lifestyle 35 does have Bose's proprietary Videostage 5 processing.
Video connectivity options are adequate for more modest systems: you get a composite-video in/out, an S-Video in/out, and a component-video output. HDTV owners won't be happy to learn that the Lifestyle 35 doesn't offer progressive-scan video output. This kit's lack of 5.1 Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio (DVD-A) inputs limits future upgrade possibilities.
The Jewel Cube sats feature Bose's patented Direct/Reflecting technology by employing two modules, each containing a 2-inch driver. You aim one module directly at the listening position and the other off axis. The Acoustimass sub houses two 5.25-inch woofers, along with its own power amplifier and amps for the five Jewel Cubes. Power ratings aren't specified for the subwoofer or for the amps driving the sats.
While we realize that the Lifestyle 35 isn't geared toward cash-strapped MP3 users, we threw in a couple of test discs anyway. All of our MP3 CDs played without a problem, but the Lifestyle 35 wouldn't display any filenames onscreen, making it all but impossible to locate tunes. This system also handled DVD-Rs, DVD+Rs, DVD+RWs, and CD-Rs--but not DVD-RWs.
Overall, we were disappointed with this Bose's selection of features. In our opinion, a premium-priced home-theater package should offer all of the latest surround formats; 5.1-channel analog inputs for DVD-A or SACD capability; progressive-scan video outputs; and far more complete connectivity options. The first thing that we noticed about Lifestyle 35's sound was its warm and bass-heavy tonal balance. Radiohead's throbbing bass lines shuddered with maximum authority. The bass goes way, way down; we measured responses down to 35Hz in our large listening room.
No, it wasn't as smooth as some of the better subs that we've tested, but the Acoustimass was designed primarily to work as a coherent mate with the itsy-bitsy Jewel Cube sats. As long as we didn't push the system too hard, the audio held together pretty well. At annoy-the-neighbors levels, the sound coarsened, and the sub lost definition. Bose's engineers claim that the Lifestyle 35 was designed for much smaller areas than our 700-square-foot space, but they would not stipulate what room size will achieve the best results.
The Lifestyle 35 next went to battle with the Gladiator DVD. On chapter 19, Maximus the Merciful, the clanging of swords against armor; the pounding of flesh; and the deep, primal growl of tigers weren't as vivid as we would have liked. Dialogue was warm, and surround effects were pleasantly diffuse, but the system's high-frequency air and sparkle were lacking. Compared to most of its far less costly competition, the Lifestyle 35 softened the fine detail on the DVDs and CDs that we tested.