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Bose adds affordable but powerful Bluetooth speaker to SoundTouch wireless system

For its third-generation SoundTouch wireless speaker system, Bose is adding a familiar technology: Bluetooth, the short-distance wireless protocol that allows one-to-one pairings between a mobile device and the speaker. And part of the introduction includes a new compact speaker, the SoundTouch 10, which retails for $200.

If you’re asking, shouldn’t Bose have added Bluetooth in 2013, when it unveiled the SoundTouch system? Initially, we thought so too. But it shows you how quickly things can change in two years. Back then, Bose was more likely playing catch-up with the likes of Sonos, creating its own wireless ecosystem of speakers around a house that can be synced and controlled individually or simultaneously, all through a mobile app. But now, much of the music that’s streamed comes from direct Bluetooth connections from smartphones, as demonstrated by the success of Bose’s SoundLink Mini portable speaker.

“One trillion songs were streamed over the first six months of 2015 – up 50 percent,” says Bose engineer Ken Jacob. “Many are opting for small portable Bluetooth speakers.”

The SoundTouch 10 is Bose’s response, a unit that’s smaller than the existing SoundTouch 20 and 30 speakers, which have also been upgraded with Bluetooth but otherwise remains the same (the SoundTouch 10 replaces the SoundTouch Portable).

SoundTouch 10 with new transducer.

SoundTouch 10 with new transducer.

Les Shu / Digital Trends

“Bluetooth is great for one-to-one sharing,” Jacob says, giving you instant access without having to join a network. It also lets, say, a friend, play music from his/her device without any setup. Because you aren’t confined to the options within the Bose SoundTouch mobile app, you can stream music from any app.

But in the SoundTouch ecosystem, Bluetooth is one part of a solution that also revolves around Wi-Fi, which is what allows for multi-room playback. For example, after starting a song from an iPad to a SoundTouch 10 over Bluetooth, you can continue the music in another room by broadcasting it to another SoundTouch speaker via Wi-Fi, via the Bose app. It’s not breakthrough science, but it opens up the options – “best of both worlds,” Jacob says.

The Wi-Fi has been upgraded to dual-band 802.11n, allowing for fewer dropped connections and more rooms to be added. If you already own older SoundTouch speakers, Bose says the new models are backward compatible, so you can drop them into an existing multi-room setup without issues.

One casualty is Apple’s AirPlay. The new SoundTouch models will not support Apple’s device-discovery protocol, which means Apple users won’t be able to easily pull up the devices, although you should be able to save the Bluetooth profiles.

Little speaker, big sound

The SoundTouch 10 isn’t some rebranded SoundLink system either. Like its siblings, the SoundTouch 10 has six preset buttons that a user can assign, giving you instant access to favorite stations or playlists without calling up the app. But inside the roughly 8.3 x 5.6 x 3.4-inch casing is a new “Unidome” transducer. A challenge for small speakers is the ability to create that big, room-filling sound.

According to Eric Freeman, Bose’s acoustic engineer, the newly engineered transducer is the most capable in its size. Paired with a powerful amp, Bose’s proprietary DSP, and reinforced bass cabinet, the SoundTouch 10 is able to deliver on vocal clarity and more impactful, less-distorted bass. The transducer is also tilted in a way to achieve the highest frequency possible. And by next year, Bose will make available stereo pairing for separation of instruments when using two or more SoundTouch speakers.

The newly engineered transducer inside the SoundTouch 10.

The newly engineered transducer inside the SoundTouch 10.

Les Shu / Digital Trends

How does it sound? Pretty good, considering the size. We listened to the SoundTouch 10 in both an open room and inside a closed-off room with some sound dampening. Setup is painless: In discovery mode, our iPhone 6S quickly found the unit in the Bluetooth settings. From there, we played some indie pop with vocal tracks as well as ambient. Mind you, this author isn’t an audiophile, but after listening through low-end speakers and headphones for years, it’s not difficult to pick up the strong bass and clear vocals. It’s loud, but pleasant: Music is nicely balanced and instruments didn’t overpower each other, with the slightest hiss. We especially loved playing a podcast; the narrations were very crisp.

Naturally, the speaker sounds the best when you’re directly in front. Move to the sides or out in the open, and you’ll lose some of that fidelity. But sync a few around a large room, and you’ll create a fairly rich 360-sound experience. Overall, placed in the right spot, the SoundTouch 10 is a great-performing Bluetooth speaker.

In some circles, Bose products have a reputation for being overpriced. At $200, it’s the most affordable SoundTouch speaker yet – reasonable enough that you can pick up a couple or three to build out a multi-room system. But it’s also competitively priced against premium speakers. Whether you want to commit to Bose’s SoundTouch ecosystem is up to you.

Related: Bose unveils its latest wireless wonders, the SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless Headphones II

Pulling in Spotify

If you had to guess where the trillion streamed songs came from, Spotify is a good candidate. The music streaming service claims more than 20 million paid subscribers and over 75 million active users. Beginning sometime next year, Spotify Connect will support the SoundTouch system, allowing you to control the speakers directly. Bose will build tighter support for Spotify into its app, allowing you to search for content as you would with the Spotify app. Besides the obvious additional source for music, the Spotify Connect capability lets you listen to a playlist on a mobile device via cellular, for example, and then continue the stream on a SoundTouch speaker by selecting it from a list of devices in the Spotify app. According to Spotify’s Owen Parry, unlike AirPlay or Bluetooth, which is streaming the data from another device, the SoundTouch speaker in this example would pull the music from the cloud, which equates to better quality.

In addition to Spotify, Bose says it will add SiriusXM to its list of content providers, which currently includes Pandora , iHeartRadio, iTunes, and Deezer.

Price drops

The SoundTouch 30 and SoundTouch 20 will see significant price drops. The SoundTouch 30 will sell for $500, while the SoundTouch 20 will cost $350. Besides these speakers, the SoundTouch series will include home theater systems, soundbars, outdoor speakers (featuring a new amp), and Wave radio.