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One of the most immersive speakers I've ever heard is not made by Sonos or JBL

The Bose Soundlink Max delivers what a portable Bluetooth speaker should: it's loud, well-balanced, and built like a tank.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The Bose Soundlink Max.

The Bose Soundlink Max looks like an unassuming speaker, but it delivers in all the right areas.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Bose Soundlink Max is available now for $399.
  • This unassuming Bluetooth speaker delivers the high-quality sound that Bose is known for, with the battery life to keep the party going all night.
  • Its price might be a turn-off, given you can get perfectly capable speakers for less.

Decades ago, when I was working for an audio installation company, we used to have a saying: "No highs, no lows, it must be Bose." Keep in mind, we were dealing with speakers that cost tens of thousands of dollars, so the idea of anything consumer-grade was laughable.

Fast-forward to today, and it still holds true that Bose makes speakers, headphones, and earbuds that are capable of producing rich, elegant sound with wide soundstages, punchy bass, and crisp highs. Such is the case with the Soundlink Max.

Also: This small Bluetooth speaker is secretly a powerhouse with room-shaking audio

When listening to the Soundlink Max, I'm very much reminded of the original Soundlink, a great speaker from about a decade ago that I always felt was one of the best I'd ever used. This new iteration is even better, as it's able to push the volume to new heights without the slightest bit of distortion.

Although the sound might not satisfy the ears of a discerning audiophile, its big bass and powerful volume is certainly a crowd pleaser. Let's get into it.

View at Amazon

Bose Soundlink Max tech specs

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.4
  • Weight: 4.9 lbs
  • Dimensions: 4.73 x 10.42 x 4.13 inches
  • Battery: Up to 20 hours
  • Ports: USB-C, 3.5mm in
  • Colors: Black, blue
  • Buttons: Media controls along the top
  • Water and dust resistance: IP67
  • Price: $399 on Amazon

The first thing I noticed on this speaker was the typical Bose processing, which makes the sound seem a bit airy. This pairs very well with audio from popular genres that typically don't demand too much from the hardware and is due to how Bose processes mid-range sounds for a stereo effect. Unfortunately, it can translate into imprecise mid-range sounds that are slightly off-color. I've experienced that with just about every Bose speaker I've purchased or tested.

It's not a bad thing, it's just a Bose thing.

I also couldn't help but notice the lack of features on this speaker. It allows two devices to connect simultaneously, has a three-band EQ (accessible from the minimal mobile app - Android/iOS), and includes a play/pause button. That's it.

Here's the thing: a quality portable speaker doesn't need a deluge of features. I want the device to sound great, have plenty of battery life, and be simple to use. The Bose Soundlink Max easily checks all of those boxes.

Also: I replaced my expensive Klipsch soundbar with this JBL, and it surprised me in the best way

When I started testing this speaker, I changed up my usual testing strategy. Being familiar with the Bose sound, I decided to throw two different albums at it to see how it fared. The first was "Big Generator" by Yes. This album was recorded and mastered at a time that perfectly suited the Bose sound, and it sounded better than I expected. The mids were ideal for Jon Anderson's chorus, the guitars were perfectly crunchy, and the soundstage was surprisingly wide.

Next, I opted for a genre that isn't quite suited for the Bose sound: classical. I was taken aback by how George Frideric Handel's "Wassermusik" sounded. It was rich, lively, and not at all out of place. No party is complete without a Baroque masterpiece, of course.

Also: This portable Bluetooth speaker from Anker is so good, I forgot how affordable it was

As far as the bass is concerned, the Soundlink Max does a great job to around 65Hz. Below that, the bass rolls off a bit, so you're not going to feel the kick drum as you might with a bigger speaker. Given the size of this device, however, it holds its own on the low end.

ZDNET's buying advice

If you're a fan of the Bose sound and want a portable speaker that can fill a room (and then some), the Soundlink Max is the obvious choice. If you're iffy on the Bose sound, prefer to have more EQ options than three bands, or balk at the price, then you should check out the Anker Soundcore Motion X500, which sells for around $170.

Ultimately, fans of the Bose sound will enjoy this speaker, and given that it's built like a tank, you won't have to worry about it at a crowded party.

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