If you buy a Bluetooth speaker in 2017, you want it to be a little more useful than just being a squat black box that creates mediocre sound. The new Bose Revolve and Revolve Plus follow the tried-and-tested UE Boom formula: a waterproof, 360-degree Bluetooth speaker with great sound quality and portability, but also with the addition of built-in support for Siri or Google Assistant.
What Is It?
The $299 Bose SoundLink Revolve and $439 Revolve Plus are two variations on the same theme: a cylindrical metallic speaker with a seamless run of perforations around its base, rising around halfway up the bright silver or satin black finish of the gently tapering cone. That cone rises to a flat top, where a soft rubber finish -- which adds some durability -- includes waterproof buttons for all the Revolve's features.
You can control everything that the SoundLink Revolve does through the app, but it's easier to use the top buttons on the speaker itself to change volume, power it on and off and -- most importantly -- activate voice controls through Apple's Siri or Google Now using the central multifunction clicker. That button also answers and ends phone calls, and there's a microphone in the top of the Revolve that picks up audio over a wide area. Because the speaker drivers project sound over a 360-degree axis, too, you don't have to be standing in front of the Revolve or Revolve Plus to have a clear two-way conversation, either.
The Bose SoundLink Revolve charges over micro-USB, and has a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack to connect any source device directly, but Bluetooth is so ubiquitous these days and so easy to hook up that it really wouldn't be a big deal even if it didn't. The internal battery will last 12 hours (16 hours in the larger Revolve Plus), and charges from empty in around three hours in my experience with it. It would have been nice to see a USB Type-C connector like all of Bang & Olufsen's BeoPlay portable speakers, but again, not a huge deal. There's also a tripod mount at the base, which is kinda cool, and a set of charging pins for an optional charging cradle.
What's It Good At?
Different omnidirectional speakers use different speaker driver designs to distribute their audio equally -- although not always -- in a 360-degree pattern around the speaker. Bose's is the most straightforward and coincidentally the best; a single downward-firing full-range transducer blasts all that audio towards the base of the Revolve, where a carefully designed "acoustic deflector", otherwise known as a fancy chunk of plastic, funnels that sound evenly across the frequency range out over the area around the speaker. There are also two passive radiators that sit above the driver, absorbing excess vibrations and resonating at a lower frequency, adding bass.
The end result is a speaker that sounds good for its size, and that sounds equally good at all points around its circumference. This is exceedingly rare for omnidirectional speakers, which usually have outward-firing tweeters for clear treble; Bose's high frequencies from the Revolve are very clear and detailed, but detailed across the entire listening span. Bass is acceptably deep -- not UE Boom deep, but those passive radiators help give a bit of kick and round out the sound profile. You're not going to shake the floor with even the SoundLink Revolve Plus, but it sounds nice -- only at max power does its bass start to sound a little ragged.
For everything else that you could want a smart Bluetooth speaker to do, too, the Bose Revolve handles it with aplomb. The quality of its voice capture within a small to medium listening space -- I put it in one of our 4x4m meeting rooms and had a half-hour phone chat with it -- is excellent. The same goes for its pickup of voice recognition, making it actually useful as a Google Home or Apple HomePod competitor (as long as you've got it hooked up and switched on and 'Hey Siri' or 'OK Google' switched on in your phone, of course. And because it's IPX4 rated, you can actually take it out onto your balcony and not worry if it gets rained on.
What's It Not Good At?
Because the SoundLink Revolve is quite small, you'll get better sound from some of its competitors -- specifically the equally cylindrical UE Boom 2 and MegaBoom, both of which especially outpace Bose's admittedly more attractive SoundLink Revolve in the bass department. I actually like the clearer and warmer and sweeter treble that the Bose can produce, but its maximum volume is a little short of what some other top-of-the-line Bluetooth speakers can produce.
The Revolve has also got that typically Bose price tag attached. You'll pay $299 for the SoundLink Revolve, which could get you two UE Boom 2s -- depending on where you buy them -- that you could then pair up in stereo mode. You can also pair up the Bose, to be sure, and Bose's stereo mode is a simple dual-mono stereo as well as the choice of left/right speakers as Ultimate Ears does. And UE speakers have that nearly-endless Party Mode over Bluetooth that lets you hook up an entire room of wireless speakers to play the same music simultaneously.
Should You Buy It?
The $299 Bose SoundLink Revolve and $439 Revolve Plus are more than competent Bluetooth speakers -- they have excellent sound quality for their size, and importantly it's actually omnidirectional sound, in that it doesn't sound measurably worse at any point on the compass. It's not the most powerful speaker nor the bassiest, but if you metre those expectations against how the Revolve looks -- and that's really pretty -- then your decision should become easier.
Add in on top of that the fact that the Bose has waterproofing, an effective omnidirectional microphone and Google Now/Siri support through that top multifunction button, as well as the battery life to keep going as long as you need and the easy recharging to top up using that charging cradle, and I'm comfortable recommending the Revolve to anyone that wants a stylish Bluetooth speaker that makes good sound and suits party listening. You just have to get over that hefty initial price tag in the first place.