The Bose Wave II: That’s no clock radio!

9 Dec

December 9, 2006

By Geoff Meeker

I have always been curious about the Bose Wave Radio.

It was released back around 1999, amidst boasting that it would revolutionize the way we listen to music. Bose claimed that the Wave delivered audiophile-quality sound from a small package, not much bigger than a clock radio.

A friend of mine bought one of those early models, which was priced at about $600. However, he was non-plussed. It sounded good for its size, but the gods did not sing from the heavens… which is what he was expecting, given the advance hype.

In 2004, Bose released the Wave II, with some updated technology and new features.  It just so happened that my old stereo system – a cheap unit that found its way into my living room by default because of its small size – was about to give up the ghost. So, after doing some online research and reading numerous reviews, I decided to invest in the Wave II.

Before telling you more, a few words about Wave technology. Bose really has created something innovative through what it calls a ‘waveguide’ system. The sound originates from a pair of two inch speakers but travels through a twisting interior channel that is 27” long; a kind of sonic long intestine that digests and separates the sound spectrum, making each musical instrument stand apart and rendering the human voice with richness and clarity.

The waveguide has apparently been improved in the Wave II, with innovations like venting the bass port over the amplifier to help cool it. However, I can’t comment on how much better the Wave II is because I have no basis of comparison, having not heard the original model. There are other more obvious improvements, including a front (as opposed to top) loading CD, the ability to play MP3 CDs and an accessory input on the back (which means I can connect my iPod).

There are a couple of things that I don’t like. For one, there are no controls on the Wave II itself. Everything is operated by remote control. Sometimes, you just want to walk up to the unit and turn it down, rather than fumble around for the remote. Secondly, there are no bass or treble controls at all – you have to go with the factory pre-set. This would be fine if every CD was perfectly mixed and engineered, but they aren’t, especially those produced during the 1980s and early 90s.

But the big question is how does it sound?

It’s quite impressive actually. A demo CD is included that nicely demonstrates the range and quality of the system. It’s all classical instrumentation and that, frankly, is the best way to judge audio quality. (I like screaming vocals and crunching guitars too, but you should not buy an audio system using this as criteria.

Of course, it’s no surprise that the demo CD sounds good – it’s mixed to showcase the product to its absolute best potential – so I played a few CDs of my own.

Suzanne Vega’s breathy vocal on the a cappella ‘Tom’s Diner’ came across stunningly on the Wave II – it sounded like she was sitting in the room with me.

Jesse Cook is a flamenco-style guitarist with a strong world music influence, and his ‘Nomad’ CD was a revelation. It was like hearing it for the first time, with snippets of musical decoration that I definitely hadn’t heard on my old system, or even on my car CD player.

I popped in a Diana Krall CD, and the Wave II did justice to her soulful vocal and that distinctive stand-up bass. Finally, I played the new album by Hey Rosetta (a superb local alt-rock group), followed with ‘Songlines’ from the Derek Trucks Band (excellent blues-rock).  I can confirm that the Wave II rocks quite nicely.

Sound from the Wave II is powerful yet crystal clear at higher volumes, and there is no distortion until you crank it past the pain threshold. More importantly, there is no drop-out at lower levels; all parts of a song come across in a clear and balanced way.

On the downside, there is very little stereo imaging because the speakers are built in. This would be an issue if I planned to sit in that stereo ‘sweet spot’ and seriously listen. But I rarely have time for that. I have an open-concept kitchen and living room through which we move constantly, whether it’s cooking, cleaning or entertaining, and the Wave II fills this space brilliantly.

Is it worth the $700 price tag? If you are an audiophile who takes ‘stereo’ seriously, then no – buy a decent component system. And if you demand a strong bass response, the kind you can feel in your chest, you won’t get it from this unit. But if you are looking for quality musical accompaniment as you go about your day, the Wave II comes highly recommended.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a clock radio, take a pass, unless you have money to burn.

www.bose.ca

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