Last updated: 8/2/2016
Our Bose SoundLink Color rating: 5/5
It’s nearly 2 years old, but my family’s Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth speaker is still going strong. It’s still the Bluetooth speaker I recommend to anyone looking for a high quality, under $150 Bluetooth speaker.
You can use it over Bluetooth or directly jacked into your phone via the headphones cable (“AUX in”). It’s also a far better speaker than the Amazon Tap (see our comparison here) if sound quality is your top priority.
My top 3 priorities when evaluating a Bluetooth speaker:
- Sound quality at a reasonably loud volume (this includes richness of bass, which a lot of speakers suck at)
- Ease of connectivity and ability to stay connected and remember my device
- On-unit controls and ease of control via the actual speaker body
And, to a lesser extent, portability.
Bose SoundLink Color Review
10 years ago, you’d spend a couple hundred dollars on a wired speaker system to get the kind of sound the Color makes out of its portable plastic body. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I first tried this speaker in the Bose store.
Before getting the Color, I listened to music either at my computer with my 5.1 surround sound speaker system or through my Bose TriPort over-ear headphones (which are apparently immortal – I got these in 2004 and I still think they’re awesome).
Once I had a Color, though, I started bringing my music everywhere.
Bass and lows
The thing I always notice with speakers is how good or lacking the bass is. Some people don’t seem to mind when 1/3rd of their song is basically missing due to weak bass, but I notice, and it makes me unhappy to hear my favorite songs spoiled by a hollow-sounding speaker.
The Bose SoundLink Color has excellent bass, especially for its price range. No other speaker I’ve tried in the $80-$150 price range comes close. With the volume up, I can hear it thumping from another room, but it’s not unbalanced – it doesn’t clip or drown out the rest of the song.
Mids and highs
The rest of the song sounds great, too. Crystal clear with no clipping, even if I turn the volume up. On cheaper speakers, higher volumes sometimes make a “fuzz” sound when you crank it up. That’s called “clipping”, and it’s because some aspect of the music you’re playing is outside the range the speaker is capable of producing.
Overall, I would describe songs as having a “warmth” to them when played through my Bose SoundLink Color. That same warmth is absent in the Amazon Tap speaker and the popular (and significantly cheaper) Cambridge SoundWorks OontZ Angle.
Ease of connectivity
If you’ve ever struggled to connect over Bluetooth, you know how connectivity problems can ruin an otherwise cool device. My Color speaker has had several devices paired to it (a couple of iPhones, one Android phone, and a Macbook) but it hasn’t “forgotten” devices or gotten stuck in that frustrating state where it just won’t pair with something.
According to Bose, the speaker remembers up to eight devices. It can also connect to two different Bluetooth devices at the same time, so you can switch between them quickly.
If you have an MP3 player or similar without Bluetooth (like an older iPod) you can still connect to this speaker via an auxiliary cable. Just plug one end of the aux cable into the headphones jack on your device, and the other end into the aux port on the back of the Bose SoundLink Color, and switch the Color to AUX mode via the “AUX” button on top.
There are six buttons across the top:
- Bluetooth (for pairing setup)
- AUX (switch to cable input)
- Volume up/down (hold to go forwards/backwards in playlist)
Yes, you can control the song selection and volume from your device, but having the controls on the unit is important, too. Sometimes you just don’t want to find or turn on your phone screen. Even if you’re near both the speaker and your phone, it’s often easier to just reach over and adjust the volume or the song selection by pressing the on-unit buttons.
However, you don’t have to use the on-unit buttons once you’re past the pairing step, so if you put it out of reach or your mobility is limited, you can do volume/song control from your phone.
Below: iPhone 6 leaning up against the Bose Color.
The Color goes for 8-9 hours easily; I’ve run it overnight not plugged in and found it still going when I wake up.
Watch out for…
The built-in lithium ion battery isn’t replaceable by the consumer, and it’s said to get about 300 charges before you have to send it to Bose for replacement (and you get a refurb unit, not yours back).
This kind of sucks, but it’s par for the course with many modern rechargeable electronics. You won’t find something better with a different speaker. If you run the Color on A/C power when convenient to do so, you can preserve battery cycles for when you really need them.
Convenient size and portability
Here’s a photo of the Color in my hand (I’m 5’8″):
It weighs about a pound. Because of its height, it’s a little bit more tipping-prone than its squatter, slightly more expensive sibling, the Bose SoundLink Mini, but the Color is also rugged enough to survive a few tumbles and smooth enough to not damage anything else in the process.
A variety of carrying cases and wraps are available for the Color. I don’t have one of these because I usually just bundle it up in some clothing inside my duffel bag and then set it somewhere safe when I use it, but these cases are pretty cheap and look nice. If you think you’ll carry your Color around a lot, it’s probably worth the few extra dollars to buy one.
Something you probably won’t want to do with the Bose Color is clip it onto your bag or bicycle like you might with an Amazon Tap. It’s not really designed to dangle and swing, and the cases on the market for the Color don’t really offer a hook or strap for the purpose.
The Amazon Tap, while an inferior speaker, is more designed for that kind of portability. The trade-off, of course, is sound quality (and yes, there is a very, very big difference in sound quality between the Color and the Tap).
Charging the Bose SoundLink Color
An AC adapter is included. The Color can play music while charging, even if the battery is totally dead. I recommend plugging into AC power whenever possible to preserve battery cycles (you get about 300).
What’s in the box
- Bose SoundLink Color speaker
- Micro USB cable for charging
- AC wall adapter
As of mid-2016, the Bose SoundLink Color comes in mint, red, black, blue, and white. For whatever it’s worth I like my black one, and it doesn’t show dust as much as I thought it might.
Clicking the image below will take you to Amazon’s current stock of these various colors.
Bose SoundLink Color vs. Bose SoundLink Mini II
I own both a Bose SoundLink Color and a Bose SoundLink Mini. They’re priced about $70 apart (MSRP) but they have essentially the same features. The Color has voice-assisted pairing, which is nice (and it’s fun to hear the robo voice pronounce your phone’s name), but that’s the only major difference in the user experience and controls.
The Mini has a richer sound, especially at louder volumes, but for casual, lower volume listening within 10 feet of the speaker it’s hard to tell the difference between them. If you’re hoping to fill a larger room or a backyard with music, the Mini might be a better choice.
Some more reasons you might choose a SoundLink Mini over a Color:
- Richer sound, including deeper bass that is better at filling a room
- Charging cradle makes it a little faster to pop the unit off the base and go (you can also plug the AC adapter directly into the Mini’s body, skipping the cradle altogether)
- Shorter body design is less likely to tip over
- Metal body design feels higher quality than Color’s plastic body
It’s kind of hard to pick between them, really – they’re both great speakers. I use my SoundLink Mini as a soundbar for my TV a lot these days since my voice-controlled Amazon Echo has taken over my casual background music needs.
Bose SoundLink Color vs. Amazon Tap
I recently wrote a detailed comparison of the Bose Color vs. the Amazon Tap, but the TL;DR of it is that the Color is a significantly better speaker. The Tap cannot compete on richness – the bass is all but absent and it gets a little fuzzy at high volume.
I almost sent my Tap back when I first heard it, that’s how much Bose spoiled me, but I kept it around as a computer speaker / white noise maker for when I travel.
Bose SoundLink Color vs. Amazon Echo
Speaking strictly as speaker vs. speaker, the Color is the better choice over the Echo. But you don’t get an Echo just to have it be a speaker, you get it for all the other stuff it can do, too.
I’ve come to rely on the home automation features (“Alexa, turn the lights off”) and use them daily; and because it’s easy to activate, my Echo is often used to play music, too (“Alexa, play playlist Chillout from Spotify”). I don’t really use the Echo for those times when I really want to listen to music, but for background sound (I live in a city, it’s nice to have something soft playing in the background) the Echo is great.
The bottom line
The Bose SoundLink Color has been on the market for nearly 2 years, but it’s still the top pick for its price bracket. Its sound quality remains unchallenged by newcomers like the Amazon Echo and Tap. Bose offers better Bluetooth speakers for more $$$, but the Color is plenty capable as-is. You won’t regret getting the “bottom tier” model if you choose a Color and I think we’re unlikely to see a major product refresh from any of these speaker lines before the end of the year. Grab one and enjoy!