We’ve had a look at just about all of the best portable Bluetooth speakers on the market but Bose, a company known for high (prices and) quality speakers, has never made our ‘best of‘ lists. Its regular Soundlink and Soundlink II products at $300-$349 have sound and features that lower-priced competitors, especially Logitech UE,  JBL Charge and even the Beats Pill were able to handily beat.

All of that ended the moment I got the $199 Bose Soundlink Mini, a product that shows that Bose is willing to think outside of its “hyper-premium price” box without sacrificing the quality of its product…

I attended the Bose Soundlink Mini launch event in June which was a good opportunity to get a first listen to the new offering and discuss the product with some of the engineers involved in its creation.  Right off the bat, you’ll note the substantial build quality and weight on the SoundLink Mini.  It is wrapped in very Apple-like silver anodized aluminum and weighs about as much as the much bigger Logitech Boombox or Big Jambox.  According to the engineers, all of that extra weight is due to big magnets and you can’t get the type of bass this thing produces in any other way. They are right, the base on this thing is no joke and is helped even more if placed within a foot of a vertical wall.

I got my Soundlink Mini right before a road trip around Europe so I thought I’d put this portable device into a trial by fire.  It comes in simple, elegant packaging and I opened it on the way to the rental car outlet. In the small box comes only a small AC adapter and a charging stand. It came with a small bit of charge but because it doesn’t charge via USB, we weren’t able to use it in the car on the way to our first destination.  Once plugged in at our hotel however, we were easily able to pair a MacBook, an iPad and an iPhone in a matter of minutes. The Soundlink can ‘remember’ 6 different Bluetooth devices which is really handy when switching between different devices. It fully charges in about 3 hours, even while playing, and easily gets the 7 hours of playback from its 7.4V, 2330mAh, 17Wh, Li-ion battery that Bose boasts. That was good enough for most full days but a universal USB adapter, even if it charged much slower, would have been preferable (strangely, it has a micro-USB port right next to the dock charging interface, but alas, it is only for Firmware updates). Also the SoundLink will turn off after a few minutes of non-use when on Battery only. I’d prefer a bit more time.

The Mini comes with a rubber bottom that keeps it mostly from bouncing around and for another $18-25 you can buy a colored ‘soft cover’ that will protect it from scratches and give it a personalized look. Another $45 buys you a full Travel Bag (overpriced). The buttons on top are clearly marked though not terribly easy to access, especially when it is adorned with the soft cover. I do like the mute ‘kill switch’ but a back-forward button would also have been appreciated. I also appreciate Bose’s attempt to keep its price down but a remote control option would have been nice as well.

The sound. The Sound…and the Sound. This is the best-sounding portable Bluetooth player I’ve ever heard. Full Stop. It is like magic what comes out of this thing. Take it to the beach or a public park and watch people freak out at how much deep, rich sound comes out of such a small object.

Here’s a great YouTube video comparison of the sound vs. the original Jambox. You can replace the Jambox with just about any sub-$200 Bluetooth speakers out there (Pill, Charge, UE Boom, Big Jambox) and expect the same total obliteration. The sound level even matches bigger, more expensive Logitech Boombox or Big Jambox but is much, much clearer with a much richer bass.  This product sounds like a quality home stereo albeit without the stereo separation. In fact, I think the sound might even be better than Bose’s own more expensive, much bigger original SoundLink product. Bose, you might as well throw those out the window.

Drawbacks: If this were only about sound and price, you could stop reading and go buy a $199 SoundLink Mini right now. But there are other variables to consider here.

The Bose Mini doesn’t have a Mic or “Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile (HFP1.5)” so you can’t use it for a speakerphone like the Logitech Mini/ Boom or Jamboxes.  I don’t use this feature often but for some, it could be a dealbreaker.

As I mentioned before, it won’t charge via USB; only the included AC adapter. That’s a bummer for trips because it means you have to carry around an extra adapter and be tied to an outlet if you need a recharge. If that’s a dealbreaker, the $149 JBL Charge, which also lets you charge other USB devices with its much bigger 14-hour battery might be in your cards. Again, the $199 Logitech Boom or the Beats Pill also charge via microUSB as well.

The big buttons on the Big Jambox also let you skip forward and backward in songs and it works with some cool apps. Bose’s buttons are minimalist and recessed.

Also, the SoundLink Mini is about the size of the original Jambox, meaning you can easily throw it in a bag, purse or even a coat pocket – but it is way heavier. If you are looking for extreme portability and/or a lower price point, head to the $90 Logitech UE Mini, Beats Pill,  or even the $40 Oontz Angle.

Wrap Up.

Bose makes premium audio products but unfortunately usually prices itself outside of most budgets.  With the SoundLink Mini however, Bose keeps the incredible sound of its $350 product, makes it more portable, and then cuts the price to $199.  I highly, highly recommend this product, unless one of the nitpicks above makes an inferior sounding product a more sensible buy. Hit our full Bluetooth Speaker roundup for the best options there.