Bose SoundTouch 10
Bose’s latest—and smallest—addition to itswireless home speaker lineup is the SoundTouch 10. At $199.95, the SoundTouch 10 isn’t priced like a small speaker, so you might expect some Bose magic, like big sound or robust bass coming from its relatively modest frame (like with the tinier, Bluetooth-only Bose SoundLink Mini II). But this speaker only delivers mono output, doesn’t get very loud, and doesn’t deliver much in the way of bass response. It has plenty of laudable wireless capabilities, including the ability to stream via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, integration with services like Spotify and Pandora via the free Bose SoundTouch app, and six programmable memory buttons. But it’s hard to get past the fact that the SoundTouch 10 can only output in mono, and sounds more like a speaker with a lower price tag.
Measuring 8.4 by 5.6 by 3.5 inches (HWD), the SoundTouch 10 is available in black or white. The front panel is mostly covered by a cloth speaker grille, behind which there is only a single transducer that won’t be providing you a stereo mix. The top panel houses controls for Power, Bluetooth/Sound Source, Volume Up/Down, and six numbered memory presets. Status LEDs across the front panel tell you if the speaker is connected to Wi-Fi and whether it’s playing music from auxiliary, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi sources. The volume controls work in conjunction with your mobile device’s volume both when using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Six buttons on the top of the speaker offer easy, direct access to your favorite music without touching an app (or with one touch through the app, with the same selection of six preset slots). You can set these six buttons to load your favorite Internet radio stations and playlists from a variety of sources. Just hold down the button on the speaker or the preset slot in the app and the SoundTouch 10 will register the current audio stream/playlist to that slot. This is handy if you have preferred streaming radio or Pandora stations, or if you keep all of your music on a networked storage device or computer. The six presets are kept across the entire system, so you can get the same music by pressing the same button on any SoundTouch speaker on your network.
The SoundTouch 10’s back panel houses the recessed connection for the included power cable, as well as a micro USB port for setting up the speaker with a computer, and a 3.5mm aux input for wired listening. This is also the location of a speaker port for excess air to escape through, helping the driver perform more efficiently. There is no 3.5mm audio cable included, but there is a micro USB-to-USB cable. The SoundTouch 10 needs to stay plugged in; this isn’t a portable, battery-powered wireles speaker you can take anywhere in the house.
An included remote control allows you to set your mobile device elsewhere. The controls on the top panel are duplicated on the remote, with additional controls for track forward and track backward, as well as thumbs up and down buttons for liking or disliking the currently playing music (if the service supports it). The remote is small and lightweight, with rubberized buttons that respond quickly.
Bose’s SoundTouch multi-room audio system is based around online streaming and locally networked music, all of which is accessible through the free Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows apps. SoundTouch supports Deezer, iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Spotify, along with a massive list of streaming Internet radio stations separate from those services. It can also play music stored on networked devices like PCs and NAS drives, though the app doesn’t support playing audio directly from files on your mobile device; you need networked storage for it to work. On the bright side, if your PC or Mac is on your network and has music loaded on iTunes or Windows Media Player libraries, the SoundTouch app will be able to access it immediately.
The quick access slots are perfectly fine for your locally stored music and favorite radio stations, but they don’t work so well with Spotify. We could set Spotify playlists to the slots in the app, but they only showed up as “Spotify” rather than the name of the album, artist, or playlist.
Like most Wi-Fi-based audio systems, SoundTouch supports multi-room and multi-speaker setups. If you have more than one speaker on your network, you can assign them to rooms and groups, and then stream audio to any of them at once. You might have a SoundTouch 10 in your bedroom and a separate pair of them in your living room. The app makes grouping speakers very easy, though stereo pairing that separates left and right channels individually to two speakers is not supported.
Fortunately, the SoundTouch 10 also has built-in Bluetooth, so you can stream any audio you want from your smartphone or tablet by bypassing the SoundTouch software entirely. When connected over Bluetooth, the SoundTouch 10 functions just like a Bluetooth speaker, playing music directly from the connected device. The quick access buttons are useless in this mode, but you can still use the multi-room features. If you go into the SoundTouch app while streaming audio over Bluetooth, you can send the stream to any connected SoundTouch speaker on your network. You still need to go through the Wi-Fi setup for this feature to work.
Bluetooth streaming has two issues. First, the SoundTouch 10 will sometimes lop off the very first second or so of a newly navigated-to track. This used to be a common issue, but shouldn’t really occur on a $200 speaker in 2015. Second, the speaker can pick up some audio interference from other nearby Bluetooth devices. For instance, we noticed that, with an iPad docked in a Logitech keyboard case/cover near the speaker, each tap of a key elicited a squeaking electronic interference sound. It’s not loud and nearly impossible to notice with music playing, and it only occurs when the speaker and other Bluetooth devices are in extremely close proximity. However, this is also not par for the course in the $200 wireless speaker realm.
Stereo audio should be a given on a wireless speaker that isn’t portable, so it is very surprising that Bose chose to make the SoundTouch 10 mono. You can’t set multiple speakers to serve only as left or right channel only, so you cannot achieve stereo audio even with a pair of SoundTouch 10s. This a well-established technology that even plenty of competing Bluetooth systems, like the Editors’ Choice Ultimate Ears UE Boom 2 utilize. Without the stereo feature, Bose essentially turns any multi-speaker SoundTouch 10 setup into a multi-room mono system, eliminating the possibility of stereo separation or even a vague stereo image. Bose claims this will be addressed in a future software update in 2016, but it’s surprising that the system isn’t capable of stereo expansion out of the gate.
On tracks with powerful sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the SoundTouch 10 delivers a solid bass response, though with serious digital signal processing that kicks in at maximum volumes. This prevents the low end from distorting (good), but in turn alters the dynamics of the mix (bad). In other words, the SoundTouch 10 can actually sound a bit stronger in the bass department at more moderate volumes.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover” is the type of track the Bose SoundTouch 10 is more at ease with. Callahan’s baritone vocals get a pleasant richness in the low-mids, and the electric bass also enjoys a heightened presence thanks to some boosting in this range. The vocals get a healthy dose of high-mid treble edge, which keeps them crisp and clear, while the bright attack of the guitar strumming also stands out. The drumming on this track, which can often sound thunderous on heavily bass-boosted systems, takes a backseat here, resembling more of an insistent tapping than a heavy thumping.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the attack of the kick drum loop is given plenty of high-mid presence, allowing it to retain its sharp edge and slice through the dense mix. The sub-bass synth hits sound powerful, but much of their depth is implied rather than delivered—we hear the raspy top notes and solid low-mid heft, but the seriously deep lows that subwoofers can deliver are absent.
On orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, the higher register strings, brass, and vocals retain a crispness and soak up much of the spotlight. The lower register instrumentation gets a nice richness in the low-mids, but in the occasional spaces where sub-bass or truly deep frequencies exist, those instruments get only modest presence. This is a low-mid rich sound, with plenty of presence in the mids, high-mids, and highs to keep things balanced, but there’s not a tremendous sense of bass.
It should also be noted that the SoundTouch 10 isn’t terribly loud. The speaker is designed to work in pairs or groups, but should you buy only one, it might not reach the volume levels you want for a home speaker.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with the Bose SoundTouch 10, but it feels like it’s missing a few things—better bass response, stereo drivers, and the ability to expand into a stereo array, primarily. And some of the Bluetooth annoyances mentioned above also seem uncharacteristic of the typical, exceptionally streamlined Bose experience. For $200, you can get equal or better sound in a less-cluttered wireless design such as the Harman Kardon Esquire 2, the UE Boom 2, or Bose’s own portable SoundLink Min iII. For a tad more, you can enjoy a seriously impressive audio experience from the Marshall Kilburn. And if you’re looking to spend less money on a wireless speaker, consider the portable Divoom Voombox Party.
If you’re looking for a multi-room-capable speaker, however, your best bet in this price range remains our Editors choice, the Sonos Play:1. It doesn’t have support Bluetooth playback, but it gets louder and delivers stronger bass response.