Design & Hardware: USB MissingThis latest Bose computer speaker set is a nice, innovative update of the compact and pretty impressive Music Monitor speakers.
In a rather typical Bose style, each Companion 20 satellite speaker is finished in a blend of matte grey and black materials and a sandblasted aluminium grille. The effect is subtle but stylish, as the speakers have a sleek, modern look—it's a far enough cry from your dad's hi-fi to look pretty cool, without falling into the trap of using shiny black plastic, which is often disappointing.
With each speaker weighing it at a kilo and standing 20 cm tall, this isn't the most compact kit on the market, but that's the price you have to pay if you want decent sound without a subwoofer.
The wired remote that accompanies the speakers has the same basic deign as the one seen in similar Bose products. In other words, it's a kind of round box with a smooth, easy-to-adjust dial around it for changing the volume. Plus, the metal circle on the upper face of the remote is actually a big touch-sensitive button that mutes the system. At first glance it looks a bit gimmicky, but it's actually very practical to use. The auxiliary inputs and outputs are built into the side of the remote.
Connections, however, are the main drawback of the Companion 20, as Bose has only equipped with this system with a mini-jack entry. Auxiliary connections are all very well and good, but a few extras wouldn't go amiss! Although the jack would have been sufficient a few years ago, we've got to admit that it's a bit poor by today's standards. We would have liked to see a USB port to make up for the low-grade soundcards often built into computers, for example. Wireless connectivity wouldn't go amiss either.
Audio Quality: Plenty of BassStereo speaker kits always come up against the same problem—whether to prioritise a compact design or bass. The Bose Companion 20 speakers offer a very interesting compromise between the two, as the speakers are about the height of a book but the audio output is graced with audible bass frequencies!
That said, these speakers are no bass-packed monsters. Even if Bose has a reputation for its particularly bassy output, we're nowhere near that kind of level here. However, the spectrum is relatively well balanced and medium frequencies hold up well, which pretty rare in multimedia speakers these days.
We couldn't help wondering just how Bose had managed to make bass frequencies so present in a stereo speaker kit. Although Bose isn't ready to divulge its manufacturing and design secrets just yet, the picture below shows that the on-board boomers seem to be derived from the highly effective VideoWave system, using Bose's much-loved Waveguide technology (a cross between a vent and a chamber) to help deliver decent bass in a compact enclosure.
The sound output is accurate, clean, with a wide soundstage and good source positioning. Bose has done a very good job of balancing quality between the various speakers in each enclosure. In speaker kits using a subwoofer, the satellite speakers often scrimp on mediums, forcing the manufacturer to over-use the subwoofer with pretty awful results.
In the end, the Bose Companion 20 is a very nice surprise. The faults we usually flag up in computer speaker kits are no-were to be seen, and its only real let-down is the limited connectivity. However, a quick glance at the competition shows that USB and other add-ons often push up price without necessarily bringing any boost in audio quality. Why pick up a flashy iOS dock for up to twice the price when the Bose Companion 20 does just as good a job?