SoundLink Micro makes big sound for a tiny package; and The House falls down
By Jim Bray
First came the SoundLink, then a while later came the SoundLink Mini. So it was probably inevitable that Bose would follow up eventually with this new, micro-sized Bluetooth speaker.
It only makes sense, what with technology's continuous process of miniaturization and optimization. A computer that used to fill a room is now outclassed by a smart phone and room-filling speakers can now fill rooms from enclosures a fraction of the size of other types of loudspeaker.
With audio, however, the fly in the ointment is bass. Bass frequencies have longer wavelengths than the higher tones and that has traditionally meant you needed those honking big cabinets to reproduce those low frequencies faithfully, while you could get away with smaller speakers for the higher stuff. Hence the proliferation of subwoofers and satellite speakers.
Yet Bose has been figuring this stuff out for years and, in my experience, usually successfully. I've been watching them shrink Bluetooth speakers since that first SoundLink, and each has offered great sound for the size. Yeah, maybe the bass is a little less in the smaller Links, but it still blows me away what they manage to do with these increasingly tiny (or is it decreasingly huge?) products.
The SoundLink Micro is about the size of a hockey puck, 3.75 inches wide and deep, 1.5 inches high (9.53 cm wide and deep, 3.81 cm high). Unlike a hockey puck, however, it interests me (though I do use hockey pucks under the feet of my audio components to increase air flow between them and reduce vibration). It's also very svelte: it weighs in at a miniscule .64 pounds (.29 kg), which I thought would make it feel really cheap and flimsy in the hand - but it doesn't.
Not only is the Micro a Bluetooth speaker, you can also use it with your smart phone, via a multi-purpose button you can use to take or make calls or to access your VPA with one push and without having to figure out where you've left your phone. The Micro pairs via easy voice prompts and Bose says that if you add the downloadable Bose Connect app, you can have it sync with other SoundLink speakers to create Stereo Mode with separate left and right channels. If you're going to do this, you're best served having identical speakers (well, they can be different colours) for each stereo channel, to ensure you get the same sound from each side.
On the other hand, there's also "Party mode," which sounds like something out of George Orwell's 1984 but which, instead, lets you use different speakers in different locations (or rooms) to play the same tunes. And in that case you don't need identical speakers for the individual units. Pretty flexible, huh?
I couldn't get the Bose Connect app to work, unfortunately, because (according to the app stores) my phone is too old, so not only could I not try Party or Stereo mode, I had to cry myself to sleep the night I tried it. Knowing Bose as I do, however, I'm confident both features work as advertised.
To create the Micro, Bose used a new custom transducer as well as miniature dual-passive radiators. Developed along with them was a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that Bose says plays up to six hours of "surprisingly loud and clear audio and low bass." Of course they'd say that, but I've been using the Micro for about a month now and agree with the assessment of its sonic abilities. Heck, I figured there'd be no bass at all from a dinky little thing like the Micro - which can fit in the palm of my hand - but it's "surprisingly" good.
Good is a matter of perspective and function, of course. I'm not about to play the audio tracks from 4K videos through a Micro, just like I'm not going to play 4K videos out on the back deck (yet, anyway!). The Micro is the wrong tool for that job but as a portable, mobile speaker it's splendid. Its controls are minimal but easy to use (you can even skip tracks, which is a feature I'd missed on earlier SoundLinks), there's no base station to forget in your hotel room, and all you need to charge it is USB power.
Yet close your eyes and you'll forget it's a puck-ing speaker because - beyond the surprising bass - the sound is very rich. I tried it with everything from Beethoven's Ninth to bubble-gum music (and, fortunately, everything between) and I really liked the Bose's sound. Of course I usually like a Bose's sound; perhaps one of these days the company will surprise me with a dud, but so far so good.
Beyond the back deck, where it plays loud enough to annoy the neighbours in a "surprisingly" satisfying manner, I now use the Micro when I shower. I don't take it right into the shower with me - though I could: Bose says it's "waterproof from the inside out" (which sounds like an odd way to soak it) and can handle soapy (whew! Leaves out my showers!), salty or chlorinated water. I leave it on the vanity outside the shower stall and crank it loud enough - which is easy, thanks to its simple volume up and down buttons - to be heard over the streaming water.
Why not take it right into the shower stall? Because a side benefit of using it in my bathroom is that sitting the speaker on the vanity's marble top ups the bass ante a tad, kind of like an old fashioned loudness control on a stereo receiver, a welcome phenomenon I've noticed with other portable speakers as well.
Bose says the Micro is also designed to withstand "summer's extreme heat" and "winter's bitter cold." I can't imagine subjecting it to either, because that would entail going outside, but I guess if you camp or ski or hike this speaker may, well, speak to you. Heck, it even has a little strap on its back Bose says you can use to attach the Micro to bags, backpacks, bikes, coolers, and other things from which some stranger might rip it off when you aren't looking.
The sample Bose sent me was a rather unsubtle orange - at least I won't lose it in the hotel room! - but it's also available in black or midnight blue. The soft silicone case looks like it will be very durable, which may come in handy with such an easily droppable speaker.
I usually travel with my first generation SoundLink Mini, which I've used happily for several years. But in a couple of days I'll be embarking on my annual trip to the Canadian Car of the Year TestFest (at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, just beyond the event horizon that surrounds Toronto), and I'll be leaving the Mini at home, taking instead the SoundLink Micro instead.
Sure, the Mini still offers bigger sound, but I'm only going to be using the speaker in a hotel room and can't crank it - more than once - anyway, and that means the Micro's size and weight make it a more logical choice. And it isn't as if I'll be roughing it with some tinny little piece of, er, technology.
At $140CAD it isn't cheap, but considering the robust sound and build quality - and the extreme convenience - it doesn't seem overpriced.
What's next, one the size of a dime?
Burning down "The house"
Meanwhile, here are a few words about Warner Brothers' new comedy release, "The House," which comes to Blu-ray on October 10. It stars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, both alumni of Saturday Night Live, a show that used to be funny sometimes. I haven't watched it in decades so can't comment on its current humour quotient, but there's a reason I haven't been tempted to PVR the show since the Eddie Murphy days.
I've never found Ferrell funny and had never seen Poehler before, though I was familiar with who she is. Now I know that she isn't funny, either - at least when performing from a supposedly family-oriented script written by people who appear to have never had kids.
Here's how Warners describes it in their PR materials: "When Scott and Kate Johansen's daughter gets into the college of her dreams it's cause for celebration. That is, until Scott and Kate (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) learn that the scholarship they were counting on didn't come through, and they're now on the hook for tuition they can't begin to afford.
That's all true, but what's also true - despite me chuckling at least twice during this film's mercifully short 88 minutes - is that this comedy is just plain stupid. And a waste of your time.
Things with the illegal casino start out fine, but as is such plots' wont, the perps get greedy and things spiral quickly out of control. There's much more to the story than that, of course, but I hate spoiling such things for you, my readers. Just consider this a warning.
The House is as good an example of Blu-ray as it deserves. The 1080p picture is fine, with good detail and colour, and the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is fine as well, though there isn't a lot of surround use and it isn't very dynamic. Fortunately, it doesn't need to be because this title won't test your audio or your video equipment - just your patience.
Extras include a couple of lame - er, physically challenged - "making of" featurettes, some deleted/extended/alternate scenes, a gag reel that's supposed to be funny and "Line-O-ramas" which seems to be just a bunch of lines spewing from the mouths of the cast. There may be a rhyme or reason to them, but by then I'd stopped caring.
If you want to see a movie like this, done properly, I have a suggestion. I remember - though I haven't seen this movie in decades - a film about an ordinary, suburban guy who turns his family home into an illicit place of commerce in order to pay off some debts. Along the way, he learned some important life lessons, fell in love, and had a great couple of scenes hooning around in a classic Porsche 928.
I'm referring to Risky Business, the 1983 Tom Cruise/Rebecca De Mornay film. Written and directed by Paul Brickman (who didn't do much else, alas), Risky Business was funny, cute, sweet, and fun - everything The House isn't. It's well worth your time - and since it's distributed by Warner Brothers as well, I'm not steering any traffic away from their potential profit, just from a title that doesn't deserve to make them profit and toward one that does (if you can still find it!).
Doesn't that say a lot about how Hollywood has deteriorated? It's only taken 34 years for a "teen sex" comedy with no real stars to seem like a masterpiece compared to the supposed best that Hollowwood can dish out today.
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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