Bose lsSince it launched here around eight years ago Sonos has been the stand-out success of the hi fi market. By linking into home wireless networks it made whole-of-home audio cheap and easy; both easy to set up and easy to use. Now Sonos has a competitor.

And it’s not just anyone; Bose is one of the best known names in audio. And typical of the brand its new SoundTouch technology is thoroughly thought out, well made and sounds great.

Both systems give you audio anywhere within range of your wireless router or in the case of Sonos, its transmitter. Both tap into internet radio and on-line music libraries and both can be operated by smartphone or tablet and access music stored there or on a computer.

But there’s a subtle difference. Sonos was designed first and foremost as an easy whole-of-home audio system while access to on-line music is secondary. SoundTouch is all about getting on-line music quickly and easily while the whole-of-home thing is the bonus.

If you’re a fan of Pandora, and most people who try it are, Bose has made it exquisitely easy. You press one button.

Bose topThere are six pre-set buttons on the top of SoundTouch speakers, working just like the presets on your car stereo. Set them for whatever you like. If you have three favourite Pandora stations set them as one, two and three. Maybe a regular radio station on four and an internet station on five, and music from your computer or phone as six.

Then all you do is press the relevant pre-set. The SoundTouch speaker turns itself on, calls up the appropriate settings and starts playing. All the technology is built into the unit; the only thing to remember is that if you want music from the computer, the computer must be turned on.

Press the on button with Sonos and it resumes whatever was playing when turned off. If you want something different you must go through the menu process. It’s easy and quick, but nowhere near as quick as hitting a single pre-set. You also need the Sonos transmitter plugged into your router (Sonos calls it the Bridge).

If your primary aim is whole-of-home audio both systems are level pegging, giving you either the same program in every room or different programs in different rooms. The Sonos advantage is that two of its speakers in a room can be programmed for stereo, while stereo with SoundTouch requires two satellite speakers, a subwoofer and an amplifier package at $1599. And the speakers are hardwired.
SonosSonos Play5
$599 plus a Bridge transmitter

It’s cheaper to get into Sonos than SoundTouch; prices start at $299 for the small Play1 plus a Bridge. The Play5 is the biggest offering in the range, there’s also the Play3 at $449. A free app turns your iPad or smartphone (android or apple) into a system controller. You can access internet radio, Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, JB HiFi Now, Mog and Deezer, and music of your own stored electronically. Rich and full sound quality with great definition and range, and enough power to fill a good-sized room. 365 x 217 x 123 mm (WxHxD), 4.15 kg.
BoseBose SoundTouch 20

The mid model in the range, there’s a smaller portable also at $549 and the larger and heavy 30 at $899. Free apps turn androids, iPhones, tablets, Macs and PCs into controllers and the software is more user friendly than Sonos. There’s internet radio and Pandora. Bose promises more on-line services within months with free on-line upgrades for existing owners. While both have nicely spacious and defined sound SoundTouch has the edge with fuller bass. Enough power to fill a large room. 305 x 178 x 102 mm (WxHxD), 3.2 kg.

With the release of the $299 Play1 days after the launch of SoundTouch and the free Bridge offer one may assume Sonos is worried by Bose. Still, Sonos has a cheaper entry point and does its job well, and is the easy choice for stereo listening. But Bose sets the standard for sound quality and especially ease of use, and is worth the cost. Personally I’d have the Bose.

Published October 2013


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