It’s the largest of the company’s wireless speaker systems, and the SoundTouch 30 really is breathtakingly big. At 43cm wide, 24cm high and 18cm deep at its thickest point (plus a bit more required for its sticking-out mains plug), it dwarfs the Sonos Play:5 — which under most circumstances might be considered quite a sizeable unit itself. The top has been snazzied up a bit with a glossy carbon-fibre-style patterns, with the six preset buttons dead centre flanked by power, volume and a button to select the rear minijack auxiliary input or activate Bluetooth.
Also to the rear is an Ethernet socket for hardwiring to your network — we used this option and the unit was immediately available when we searched on our SoundTouch app. Wi-Fi connection is almost as quick, and the Series III version of this speaker now has dual-band Wi-Fi onboard, which shouldn’t be overly taxed by bit-rate, especially as the Bose systems don’t support high-res (except Apple Lossless, see opposite). As with all SoundTouch units you also get a remote control.
Bose doesn’t specify the drivers but we believe there are three — a pair of mid-high drivers and a single large woofer, porting using the company’s waveguide technology to exit via a vertical slot at the rear. The combination of the unit’s sheer volume and the apparently boundless energy behind these drivers results in an ability to go very loud without much indication of stress, as well as a high level of bass underpinning things. Indeed if you have the SoundTouch 30 running relatively quietly for background music, it can produce such an underlying thump to beat-based music that we found it quite distracting, even more so if we were listening off-axis. We did try using the app to notch down the bass, but this quickly thinned out the sound without stopping the thump, so we put it back again. Some of this bass seems artificial rather than natural — despite the apparent depth, this speaker didn’t deliver any of the low stuff in Neil Young’s track ‘Walk With Me’, which has content down in the 30s of hertz. A rising bass sweep at medium volume seemed to rattle the internal waveguide between 30 and 50Hz, with a level dip at 80Hz, and higher response from 140Hz up. But that’s a test signal not a musical one, and we noticed the anomalies less when listening to music.
Raising to medium levels, things were more even, still with plenty of thump, but bringing enough midrange presence and projection to prevent it being a distraction. Vocals are particularly well handled, the ladies sweet and accurate with no excessive sibilance or fizziness to the treble, the blokes strongly supported by the bass, again sometimes a little too strongly — on ‘Going Home’, Leonard Cohen’s rasping midrange seemed to be double-tracked with a sub-bass element rumbling below, rather than the vocal emerging as a single image. The top is mild, not lacking but not shimmering either, and rival systems can deliver more in the way of details and sparkle. But this does lend the Bose an advantage in never getting shrieky up top, no matter what the level.
Putting it side by side with the new Sonos Play:5, we found it very difficult to establish a clear preference. The Sonos could make the Bose sound a little box-bound and mild, but the Bose could make the Sonos sound a little overexuberant and bright. One example, ‘Walk On the Wild Side’, had the Sonos delivering a more authentic bass and greater openness of staging, but Lou Reed’s vocal sounded more natural through the Bose, without the sibilant spit added by the Sonos speaker.
One thing’s for sure — the SoundTouch 30 doesn’t lack for level, and it excels when you crank the volume higher. Really high it can go, sounding ever bigger right up to party levels. Run multiple SoundTouch 30s with the ‘Play Everywhere’ button and you could fill the largest of open-plan areas all banging away together. Even one will fill a medium room. We are often asked for a wireless speaker that can go loud and deliver oodles of bass. The SoundTouch 30 certainly can, and remains musical when doing so.
“vocals are particularly well handled, the ladies sweet and accurate with no excessive sibilance or fizziness...”