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