By Alfred Siew
Bring up Bose to your audiophiles friends and they'd probably let you know it's not everyone's cup of tea, while pointing out that there are better-sounding options that cost a fraction of what it asks for.
The American company's SoundDock systems, though, are hugely popular because they appeal to iPod and iPhone users who desire not just the Bose design but also a bit of oomph lacking in other plain vanilla iPod docks and speakers. The latest high-end SoundDock 10, costing a cool S$1,299, is no different.
The traditional SoundDock look has been retained by Bose, which is smart, considering the clean design and ease of use that have made the original SoundDock a hit in the first place. To ensure minimum fuss, there is no power button on the device itself — only a pretty iPod icon appears on the bottom left when you plug in an iPod or iPhone.
Besides Apple devices, you can also hook up other MP3 players or phones via an auxiliary audio port and via Bluetooth using an additional add-in module from Bose. But I suspect most users would be Apple users like me.
The good news about the SoundDock 10 is that it sounds surprisingly good for its size. First off, there is hardly any distortion when you turn it up to party-level volumes, which you can't say for most of the run-of-the-mill iPod docks out there. Vocals and instruments both sounded clear and hardly stretched even when I dialled up the volume.
Indeed, clear is a word you'd say about the sound on the SoundDock 10. When I played a mixture of MP3s and AAC lossless audio on it, I did not detect any unnecessary weight in the sound nor did singers sound flat and thin.
Bose boasts that its compact system rivals some more expensive and bigger sound systems, and I'll have to agree. The company may not make the cheapest systems or the best-sounding gear for audiophiles, but it does know how to make good small speakers.
The best evidence of that is the bass that you hear on the SoundDock 10. Pumped out by the in-built back-firing subwoofer, which surely adds to the hefty 8.4kg weight, the low-end you get from the SoundDock 10 is surprisingly full yet free from any muddiness.
It still lacks some finesse if you are picky, but if you realise the audio comes from such a compact unit, you have to be happy to hear that bass guitar in the background or the heavy beat in rap songs.
For one, Sergio Mendes' Encanto, which features Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am and Fergie, will show off some of the bass that the SoundDock 10 is capable of. Percussions are not found lacking in many tracks — again, quite an achievement for such a small system.
Separately, vocals are one area that I always feel that Bose manages well enough in and the SoundDock 10 isn't too shabby with that either. The bossa nova album Mind Games Plays the Music of Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto sounds smooth enough for me to listen to it twice over in the living room without feeling my ears are in need of a rest.
One thing to note: the mid-end and treble don't suffer from unneeded heft just because the SoundDock 10 is able to produce bass that is more commanding than other similar docks.
There are lots of things to pick on, of course, if you are an audio buff. First thing is that speakers this size will never truly produce room-filling sound. Yes, I said it doesn't sound distorted at high volumes, but the music is still "stuck" on the system — it doesn't manage to fill the room and fool you into thinking that you are in front of a live performance.
And, of course, things like separation and imaging are zero on a compact system like the SoundDock 10. There is hardly any distinction between instruments and you surely hear nothing suggesting the different performers on stage.
But then again, judging a compact system on those criteria would be harsh. The main downside I see the Bose facing is the price tag. For S$1,299, you'd be pretty close to buying a hi-fi setup.
Personally, I won't like to use the SoundDock 10 in the living room, unless space is really a premium. If you are prepared to pay that amount, you can easily stretch your dollar a little more and set up a much superior hi-fi system that will offer a lot more sophistication in the sound you get.
However, I do see some (well-off) users using the SoundDock 10 in a hostel room, small bedroom or even kitchen, where you don't have much space and you might not bother too much with trying to relive a live performance, as with getting great sounds from a small system conveniently.
So, if you are looking for a hi-end dock and can afford the asking price of the SoundDock 10, it might be worth a listen at the showroom.
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