Top critical review
60 of 66 people found this helpful
Good sound quality, but flawed and lacking in features
on 18 January 2014
The SoundTouch 20 is clearly Bose's attempt to move into the home music streamer market that is dominated by Sonos. I've been using a Sonos system in my home for many years now, so was interested to see how Bose shapes up in comparison.
First impressions are good - this product is clearly aimed at the Sonos Play:5 - it's pretty much identical in size and styling, down to the bass port on the back that doubles as a carrying handle. Setting it up was reasonably straightforward - you have to download a Mac or PC application from the Bose website, which then walks you through connecting to your wifi network and linking to your music library (either in iTunes or Windows Media Player). I wasn't pleased that you can't actually set the system up without sending Bose your full postal address and email address as well - surely unnecessary? (Edit - a couple of weeks later, you discover why this was needed - so Bose can send you junk mail both by email and post, with no option when you register to opt out from such unsolicited mailings...) Worryingly, the system seems to use data stored on Bose's servers to manage your system in terms of connecting tablets and controllers - again, this ought not to be necessary.
Anyway, I got the system up and running in ten minutes or so - not quite as quick as installing a Sonos zone, but not bad. I then played some music from my iTunes library using the iPad controller app (another free download - a bit sluggish compared to the Sonos equivalent, but usable enough), and it was all reasonably easy and intuitive. The sound quality is very good - Bose do major on producing a lot of bass from small boxes, and this is no exception. The bass is a bit one-note (as you'd expect from a tuned port) and sometimes swamps the treble; it does sound a bit less than lifelike at times, but overall, it makes a very pleasant sound, and I'd rate it as better than the Sonos Play:5 in that respect. It's loud enough to fill a medium size room with no obvious distortion - it's not hi-fi, but is actually quite pleasant to listen to nonetheless. However, unlike Sonos, there are no bass or treble controls to tweak it to your taste - a slightly worrying omission.
So far so good. Unfortunately, it goes downhill from here. First off, as soon as a track finished and the next started, I realised that the SoundTouch doesn't do gapless playback. Forget listening to "The Dark Side Of The Moon" as Pink Floyd intended; you'll get a second's gap between each track. It even fades in the first half-second or so of every track it plays; if a track starts suddenly with a loud note, it's very obvious that the Bose cuts off the start. This is unacceptable on a media player in 2014 - this sort of issue was fixed on every other mainstream player years ago.
As you delve further into the SoundTouch, more evidence of just how behind the current state-of-the-art this product is. No support for lossless formats, for example. If you've got Apple Lossless files in your iTunes library, the Bose won't play them. It does MP3 and AAC - that's it.
And files need to be in iTunes or Windows Media Player, and your PC or Mac needs to be on with the relevant server running. No ability to access a generic UPnP server like Twonky, or to store files on a NAS box - hugely wasteful of electricity in forcing you to run a PC all the time.
The most baffling omission is support for streaming services like Spotify. Sonos offers a huge choice of online services integrated with the system - Bose offers none. If you are paying a Spotify subscription, you'd hope to be able to listen to your music via a box like this - but there's no support for it.
The SoundTouch is a huge disappointment. Bose are clearly gunning for Sonos, and they do beat them on sound quality - however, they fall down badly in every other area. It is possible that all the issues above will be fixed in future firmware releases - but Sonos users get all this (and more) right now. Given this, it is very hard to see why anyone would buy the SoundTouch over the (pretty much identically-priced) Sonos Play:5.
In another year or so, Bose might have improved the software on the SoundTouch to the point where it becomes a credible alternative to Sonos. But for now, this is the equivalent of a music streamer from 10 years ago - an unfinished product that is years behind the market. What a wasted opportunity.