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Bose Soundtouch 20 Wifi Music System
The Bose SoundTouch 20 is a desirable streaming speaker with capable performance, but it needs a few more services.
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Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne and has been working there since 2006. He lives in New York City, where he writes about broadcast and home audio.
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of the Reviews team since 2000. He covers the full range of devices and is a leading reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He is an expert in reading and electronic publication, as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All titles are available as Kindle eBooks, iBooks, Nook, and Audiobooks.
Over the years, Sonos, once it got its start, has grown to dominate the DIY multi-room wireless audio space. Now there is a lot of competition.
The Bose SoundTouch 20 offers the convenience of Wi-Fi and Airplay compatibility; includes Pandora, with more services on the way; quality sound from a quality unit.
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Key services like Spotify are missing; no in-flight playlists; no FLAC, WAV or OGG; no hi-res support; no mute or pause button on unit; setup is complicated.
The Bose SoundTouch 20 is a good streaming speaker with capable performance and great sound, but it needs to support more music services.
Bose has launched a line of Wi-Fi speakers under its new SoundTouch brand, which the company says are simple to set up and operate, and are aimed squarely at the Sonos audience.
Like Sonos, Bose offers several different stand-alone speakers, including the SoundTouch 30 ($699), a larger speaker designed for larger living spaces, and the smaller SoundTouch Portable ($399) and SoundTouch 20 ($399), designed for slightly smaller rooms.
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You can mix and match those speakers, rename them for the rooms they live in, and just like Sonos, you can stream music to a single room or play the same music on all your speakers at once.
Noting that it’s getting into wireless audio, Bose says all of its new speakers and music systems will be SoundTouch-enabled, so you should have plenty of options for what kinds of speakers you can get to add to a multi-room arrangement.
The $399 Bose SoundTouch 20 reviewed here competes with Sonos’ Play:5 speaker, which is about the same size and costs the same. Bose arguably sounds better than the Play:5, with a warm, focused sound that appeals to most subjects. It’s up there in the style department, too: it’s a pretty sharp speaker with a sleek, minimalist industrial design.
It doesn’t have many features that Sonos doesn’t offer, like Apple AirPlay compatibility, and Bose has built its user experience around the concept of six preset buttons designed to get you to your favorite music quickly.
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That’s fine, but Bose still has work to do to make setup even easier, improve its mobile apps, and integrate popular music services like Spotify, Rdio, Beats, and others.
Sonos is way ahead in those areas, but we expect Bose to close the gap and improve the SoundTouch system with a steady stream of software updates throughout 2014 and beyond. At the same time, of course, Sonos isn’t sitting still: it’s also working to improve its excellent system, and will no doubt launch new speaker options.
The SoundTouch 20 is a relatively compact speaker measuring 7.4 inches tall by 12.4 inches wide by 4.1 inches deep. In typical Bose fashion, the speaker’s design is fairly minimalist, though it does have a few more buttons than the popular Bose SoundLink Bluetooth speakers (no, this speaker doesn’t have Bluetooth).
On the top of the unit are the aforementioned six default buttons, plus volume up/down, auxiliary input, and power button. A five-line OLED screen in the center of the console displays track data. It’s worth noting that the six default themes are very similar to the scheme found on the now-defunct UE Smart Radio. However, unlike Smart Radio (and Squeezebox by extension), Bose doesn’t support playlists on the go.
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The lack of a mute or play/pause button on the unit is a bit frustrating, but you do get a remote, and most of these systems don’t come with one, and it has all the same features found on the unit. , as well as playback controls. However, there is still no mute button.
SoundTouch 20 has many of the same features as your Sonos system, but one difference is that it’s designed to work with your existing Wi-Fi network and doesn’t require a special “bridge” like the one Sonos makes. The Sonos Bridge, which plugs into your router’s Ethernet port, establishes a separate “mesh” wireless network dedicated to transmitting your audio and helps eliminate the hiccups typically associated with an unreliable Wi-Fi network.
The SoundTouch 20 also has a “wired” Ethernet connection for those who prefer it, but Bose is pushing the simplicity of its system and how easy it is to “use your existing home Wi-Fi network” to set up and nothing else.
We found the setup quite simple, if a bit fiddly. With mesh networking systems like Sonos and Samsung Shape, you set up one unit (or the bridge) with a wired Ethernet connection (the bridge plugs into your router) and the system automatically recognizes additional speakers, which are easy to add.
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In the case of the Bose, you need to connect each unit to your computer via USB and then place the speaker where you want it. We had some issues with a corporate firewall (no other wireless systems we’ve set up have done this), but you shouldn’t have this issue at home.
One thing that would help is if you could set everything up through your mobile device instead of your computer. Bose is working to offer setup through its iOS and Android apps (a feature Sonos offers), but that feature isn’t currently available.
As noted, Bose’s simplicity theme has to do with the use of “presets”; all new speakers and apps (Android and iOS devices, as well as Mac and Windows PCs are supported at launch) are equipped with buttons numbered 1-6. Each number corresponds to a preset in the app.
Using the apps, you can drag and drop Pandora or specific internet radio stations onto a number to set it as a preset. You can link one of the presets to your computer’s music library or a specific playlist.
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To kick-start your music, simply press one of the preset buttons on the included speaker or remote, or within one of the apps. Hence the name SoundTouch.
Unlike other streaming newcomers like the Samsung Shape and Phorus, the Bose doesn’t have Bluetooth capability, but to balance this out it adds Apple AirPlay. In addition to Pandora and Internet radio, the company has said it plans to add IHeartRadio and Deezer in the second half of 2014.
Although the number of currently supported music services is slim, iPhone users have the advantage of using AirPlay for native apps (in other words, you can play Spotify through AirPlay if you want).
The speaker supports DLNA playback from remote devices, as well as MP3, WMA, AAC and Apple Lossless file formats; FLAC support is on the way. Unlike Samsung and Sonos devices, there is no “play from my device” feature unless you set up a DLNA server on it (via Windows Media Player, for example).
Bose Soundtouch 20 Music System
Like Sonos, the system doesn’t tell you what format your music is in, and if it encounters a file type it can’t play, the player may stop without a warning message (Bose engineers told us this happened because we happened to us). ). playing files from a network server). The two additional file formats we’d like to support are WAV and Ogg Vorbis, the format that Spotify is encoded in.
While Bose hasn’t specifically said it will integrate Spotify, it has said it’s working to add all the major music services, so Spotify and Ogg support is likely to come. (Bose reps told us that because they want to include the default theme in any service they add, custom programming is required, which complicates the development process.)
The Bose sound is generally warm and tight, which is great for hiding the sins of poorly recorded (or copied) music. That’s not to say he’s not a detailed speaker, but he’s able to pick out the important bits and leave out the fluff.
The singers are especially well catered for and, for example, in Jun Miyake’s “Alviverde”, the voice of singer Arto Lindsay was very close.
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