Review: Bose Computer MusicMonitor

Bose Computer MusicMonitor
What’s insanely small and costs way too much? A diamond. What else? Bose’s new Computer MusicMonitor desktop speakers — but they sure are shiny with their silvery aluminum finish. Bose cleverly combined two ingenious ideas and added a little DSP magic to make what are quite possibly the finest speakers of their size. Of course, all that science costs money: These tiny speakers will run you $399 a pair, and a travel case costs an extra $59!

Full review after the jump.

Brushed-aluminum cases are all the rage these days thanks to Apple, but Bose took it a step further and used stiff metal to help dampen vibrations. Each silver-grilled speaker measures a barely-there 4.8 by 3.8 by 2.5 inches and is angled about 15 degrees upward, which is handy for a desktop or low table.

Inside each speaker is a small tweeter and a pair of opposing passive radiators — woofers that move in opposite directions — squeezing air (sound) between them and out .5 by 2-inch slots on either side. That means bass and mids get dispersed horizontally, while the tweeters shoot the highs and upper mids straight out front. Combined with the sturdy enclosure and a DSP chip that beefs up the bass and the highs, this gives the Computer MusicMonitors surprisingly clear and full sound even at top volume.

The speakers match my MacBook Pro perfectly, which should help move a lot of these in Apple Stores. They also look pretty well-coordinated with the new aluminum-faced iMacs… or any silver/gray metallic computer, for that matter.

Setup is very simple: Plug the left speaker’s audio cable into the back of the right speaker. Note that the cable is not removable from the left speaker and has a proprietary connector, so you can only have the speakers a maximum of 6 feet apart. Of course, unless you have a truly enormous desk, this isn’t a big deal.

The AC power cord connects to the back of the right speaker, but the wall-wart plug is insanely huge. That’s partly because it has an integrated cable winder — good for travel, not so good for crowded outlets or power strips.

You can hook up any audio source to these speakers via the included eighth-inch to eighth-inch audio cable, though I was a bit surprised to see the cables connectors aren’t gold-plated. For nearly $400, you’d think Bose would spend a couple extra bucks on a classier (and less corrosion-prone) cable.

The included remote control is a simple three-button job. It handles power on/off and volume up/down, and that’s all she wrote.

I certainly wouldn’t call the sound “reference quality”, but it is very musical — meaning it’s warm and pleasant to listen to even though the sound isn’t as accurate as a good studio monitor. The overall sound is best for music listening, though the speakers aren’t bad for some types of movies. Gamers and action movie fans may not be impressed, though, since there isn’t a whole lot of low rumble.

Acoustic jazz like John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” sounds crisp and clear with bouncy bass and sparkly highs, though the piano gets a little lost during horn solos. Classical music retains a surprising amount of depth and richness, whether it’s a full orchestra or solo piano.

Rock fares very well on these speakers. Bands like Cake, the Killers, and Led Zeppelin all have plenty of crunch and thump, while guitars and effects pan, swirl, and shriek like they should. R&B and soul tracks do pretty well too; Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Erykah Badu’s vocals all come through loud and clear, and the bass has only a little of that typical “Bose bloat.”

Electronica often has parts that are so deep, nearly all small speakers have trouble handling them. Bass Mekanik’s Faster, Harder, Louder and the Gorillaz self-titled album both have some impressively low bass, and the MusicMonitors basically choked, though you I could feel them vibrating when I touched them. This is exactly what makes these a poor fit for games and movie explosions.

Volume-wise, these will fill a small room (think dens or home offices) and don’t distort appreciably even at top volume. But they’re definitely made for near-field listening while you’re sitting at your desk.

Overall, it’s hard to recommend these given their high price and lack of versatility. The main thing they have going for them is their tiny size, which Bose seems to think will appeal to laptop and desktop users alike. But perhaps they haven’t heard the venerable Klipsch ProMedia 2.0, which are damn impressive portables and cost under $100.

The science behind these speakers is pretty cool, and Bose learned from its Herbie Hancock-hawked Wave systems that blinding people with science can actually sell products. Still, Bose should have included a subwoofer output and cut the price in half if they wanted a runaway hit. Lucky for them they can sell just about anything on the Bose name alone.