Songs for swingers

It’s Blue­tooth and it’s mono, yet the larger of Bose’s new Revolve speak­ers still man­aged to im­press us.

Sound + Image - - Test - Jez Ford

Looks like a bucket, sounds like a bucket? We con­fess that to be our first thought when un­pack­ing the Bose SoundLink Revolve+, which emerges look­ing some­what unin­spir­ing for a mono Blue­tooth speaker cost­ing $439, stand­ing 17.5cm tall in ‘Lux grey’ (or, as it used to be called, sil­ver); also avail­able is ‘Triple Black’ (yes, TRIPLE black, THAT black; we can’t wait un­til TV man­u­fac­tur­ers get hold of that con­cept).

Of course we should know bet­ter than to pre­judge such things from ap­pear­ances. Within a few min­utes of pair­ing it up, we were im­pressed. Equip­ment Look, it’s got a han­dle. There’s handy. It weighs about 0.9kg and it’s ready to move around with you once you charge it up for 16 hours of play­back time (there’s an op­tional plat­form which charges via the con­tacts on the bot­tom, and it tells you its charge level if you hold down the power but­ton). And the closer you look, the less tacky you re­alise the con­struc­tion is. That’s no plas­tic cas­ing — it’s alu­minium, and it’s a sin­gle piece wrapped right around with no seam, a very clever piece of ex­tru­sion, with rub­bery bits top and bot­tom to han­dle the knocks of life on the road. It’s even wa­ter re­sis­tant to IPX4 rat­ing, which means you can splash it a bit, though you can’t go at it with a Su­per Soaker (IPX5) or throw it in the pool (IPX7, or IPX8 if it sinks). Still, Bose pic­tures it on their web­site play­ing in the rain, a bit beyond what we’d ex­pect from IPX4, so they’re clearly con­fi­dent.

There’s no front or back other than is de­fined by the but­tons on top and the two sock­ets at the back, one for charg­ing, one for mini­jack aux­il­iary in­put. So it doesn’t much mat­ter how you po­si­tion it, and it’s mono any­way, so you can’t get the chan­nels fac­ing the wrong way. In­side there’s just the one

full-range driver, its out­put sup­ported by a pair of op­posed pas­sive bass ra­di­a­tors, their move­ment driven just by the air pres­sure in­side the unit.

Per­for­mance

On start-up the Revolve+ talks you through ini­tial Blue­tooth con­nec­tion (lit­er­ally, with a voice), which worked im­pec­ca­bly. The sin­gle driver fires down onto an om­ni­di­rec­tional de­flec­tor near the base, so that the bulk of the sound emerges from an area about an inch from the bot­tom. We played some left-right chan­nel ID tests through it, and it all came from the same place, which was ev­ery­where around that lower sec­tion.

More to the point, this is an­other Bose which, like the SoundLink Mini, can fool peo­ple into think­ing they are hear­ing a much larger sys­tem. And it does so across a range of lev­els, sound­ing well bal­anced even when play­ing qui­etly (a rar­ity), while up at ca­sual lis­ten­ing lev­els things are pos­i­tively re­fined — friendly, never shrieky or tinny up top, im­pres­sively full un­der­neath, and rich in the vocal range, which is nearly al­ways a strength for Bose, though here those did oc­ca­sion­ally get a tad re­cessed be­hind busy mu­sic here. We ran a ris­ing sweep and it was gen­er­at­ing out­put from sig­nals of about 45Hz, and kept un­be­liev­ably flat up into the midrange, with just a lit­tle dip around 130Hz.

Bose has also ex­tended the voice-ac­ti­vated per­sonal as­sis­tant of your phone to the Revolve+, so you can press and hold the main mul­ti­func­tion but­ton to trig­ger Siri (on iOS) or Google Now (on An­droid). But there’s about a sec­ond de­lay be­fore the phone kicks in with its ready ‘ting’, so this is rather less ef­fec­tive than us­ing the phone it­self, though we sent a text suc­cess­fully to the mis­sus, and it un­der­stood ‘Play Led Zep­pelin’ and ‘Play Abba’, but not ‘Play Adam Ant’ or ‘Play Pink Floyd’. Of course that can’t be blamed on Bose; it could be our odd in­ter­na­tional ac­cent, or just Siri be­ing picky.

Once we set­tled into the sound, we turned it up. Gosh. The Revolve+ can gen­er­ate some real level, and it heads up there and stays up there with­out any sense of dis­tor­tion. Per­haps we’d like some more def­i­ni­tion and zing up in the higher fre­quen­cies, but let’s be fair, we’re lis­ten­ing to a sin­gle full-range driver here. Lush ma­te­rial can be its weak spot — it can be over-soft­ened. Diana Krall’s Alone Again

(Nat­u­rally), , for ex­am­ple, had both the pi­ano and vocal sound­ing some­what thick and lack­ing in def­i­ni­tion. But lighter record­ings ex­cel — Di­nah Wash­ing­ton’s Mad About

The Boy was a de­light, and Bill Berry and his Elling­ton All-Stars’ Take The A Train pos­i­tively danced out of the Revolve+, the el­e­ments all clear, the up­right bass get­ting its full range, the pi­ano and trum­pet well de­fined and toned and given a sense of their sur­round­ing acoustic, the whole thing sound­ing pos­i­tively spa­cious. From a lit­tle bucket! It could even de­liver a bit of thump — Bon­ham’s kick and JPJ’s bass on Led Zep­pelin’s No Quar­ter (live, TSRTS, re­mas­ter) joined to­gether for a good sharp wal­lop at the start of each bar.

Po­si­tion­ing ob­vi­ously af­fects the bal­ance you’ll hear — cor­ners, the unit’s rel­a­tive height and prox­im­ity to your­self. But th­ese are vari­a­tions on a fun­da­men­tally well-bal­anced sound, with ap­par­ently low dis­tor­tion and high mu­si­cal­ity.

There are lim­its to level and clar­ity, of course, and busy bustling boom­ing clas­si­cal sec­tions — the open­ing of Holst’s Jupiter say — be­came con­gested at vol­ume, but still only thick­ened, not dis­torted, and the quiet pas­sages and even the dy­nam­i­cally broad string strokes 90 sec­onds in sounded great. The cli­max at 2:30 thick again… and so on. Sub­tle stereo de­tails can suf­fer — the rightchan­nel brushes that fade up in kd lang’s

The Air That I Breathe were de­nied their nat­u­ral del­i­cacy and rose from in­audi­ble to too au­di­ble.

There’s NFC pair­ing if your de­vice sup­ports it, and you can also use Bose’s Con­nect app for ad­di­tional func­tion­al­ity; this is the app re­cently in­volved in con­tro­versy un­der a group ac­tion in the United States claim­ing it’s re­port­ing back to HQ on your lis­ten­ing habits (a great many apps do this and in­deed rather more than the Bose app; the ac­tion lies in Bose al­legedly not de­tail­ing its habits ad­e­quately in the T+Cs).

You can also pair two Revolve+ units as a left/right stereo pair or dual-mono ‘Party Mode’ — even while you’re on bat­tery power out at the beach, pretty clever stuff.

The smaller Revolve (no ‘+’) of­fers a lesser size and 12 hour bat­tery life at $299. But it doesn’t have a han­dle. So no swing­ing there.

Con­clu­sion

So over­all, es­pe­cially when play­ing from low to medium-high lev­els, the SoundLink Revolve+ con­firms Bose’s rep­u­ta­tion as a com­pany that can coax amaz­ingly big yet well-bal­anced sounds from small boxes, and to do so even while eek­ing out bat­tery life to give ex­tended play away from mains power. Find a friend with one and you can pair them up for even big­ger sound. You have to give Bose credit — it may look like a bucket, but it’s hard to find a hole in it.

Bose SoundLink Revolve+ Blue­tooth speaker

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