Is Bose all washed up? Bose Soundlink Max Portable Speaker review

The refined yet hardy design of Bose’s flagship Bluetooth portable promises to be waterproof and sound great – but can it really deliver both?

from Bose
RRP  £399.95
Bose Soundlink Max Portable Speaker being washed up in a kitchen sink

by Chris Duffill |
Updated on

Bose is a premium audio brand with a reputation for understated design, unrivalled power and sublime sound quality. It’s also a marque that commands an eye-watering price tag for some of its best speakers at times. So, I really wanted to put the Bose Soundlink Max through its paces as a fully waterproof high end portable speaker.

Spotify Premium, with its higher bitrate, sounded truly exceptional. The Soundlink Max’s speakers are perfectly tuned for a wide and precise soundstage with more bass than the average mini hi-fi. Battery life is typically well over 15 hours, and even the harsh edges of compressed internet radio stations were pleasingly softened by the Bose.

My waterproof testing ranged from spraying it with a garden hose (and the good old British weather) to sitting it on top of cutlery in a full kitchen sink. As for dust, some DIY filling and sanding provided a considerable layer of it. It made its way to every grill hole, every one of the silicone-covered buttons, and even the charging and aux ports. I’m happy to say that both worked fine after a brief puff of air. Most importantly, it still sounds amazing, with more power and range than its looks give it credit for. Find out more about the sound in my review, below.

Please note: All prices are correct at the time of writing. Prices, stock and deals are subject to change without notice.

Bose Soundlink Max Portable Speaker on a shelf
©Chris Duffill, What's The Best

Bose Soundlink Max Portable Speaker review

When I heard that I’d be testing a Bose speaker I had high expectations. After all, the brand is synonymous with premium quality across the board. But, that doesn’t mean I was about to give it a free pass.

Connecting to my iPhone via Bluetooth was fast and rock-solid – even outside with my phone over 20ft away indoors. I kicked off with an electro-pop playlist and the thunderous bassline of I Can’t Lose You by Confidence Man. The Bose Soundlink Max delivered so much power that, for a split second, I thought my Marshall Stanmore III had powered up by mistake. Bose’s decision to ditch the older Bluetooth version, used on its Soundlink Flex, in favour of Bluetooth 5.3 gives much more bandwidth. Controls are simple, too - with a programmable shortcut button, Bluetooth, playback and volume buttons.

This is one of the best Bluetooth speakers for bass that I’ve heard. It will literally shake the floor if you leave it there and rarely sounds overcooked. The rest of the soundstage is wide and extremely well-balanced. None of the detail became muddied in Bad Seamstress Blues by Cinderella, even at high volumes – probably down to the two 2.5-inch Bose drivers and single 0.79-inch tweeter behind that wide font-facing grill. To my ears, there’s a lot more range here than you might find in much larger active speakers.

Knowing the price of this thing, I hesitantly set about testing the Bose Soundlink Max’s IPX7 rating against dust, water and shock. With a blast of Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult to accompany its (potentially) final moments, I sat it in a sinkload of washing up. After that, taking it down to the local park and even sitting it on the roof while I washed the car was worry-free. It’s a real trooper, even after a couple of minor drops.

Verdict: A robust and deservedly premium product that delivers a well-defined soundstage

Bose Soundlink Max Portable Speaker on a car roof being washed
©Chris Duffill, What's The Best

What’s good?

For me, the words Bose and bass are almost interchangeable now. Underneath that waterproof exterior, the Soundlink Max is up to some top-class audio wizardry. Given how densely packed they are, its two midrange drivers (alongside the tweeter) are capable of decent stereo separation. It won’t replace a quality hi-fi system, but it’s likely to outperform many much larger and similarly-priced portable speakers.

The addition of two-way USB-C charging is a welcome perk, working as a power bank in a pinch. I find it looks a little underwhelming for the money, but there’s no doubt that it's built to travel. I suspect there’s a steel chassis inside as it’s reassuringly weighty, at a hefty 2.2kg. It may be one of the best waterproof speakers around, but I don’t recommend putting it into warm water in a kitchen sink. I thought it was probably up to it – and I’m glad to be proven right.

The integration with the Bose app is excellent, too. It gave me plenty of fine control over equalisation plus checking the remaining charge and setting the shortcut button to play from Spotify. As for the battery, the Bose Soundlink Max kept on playing. It lasted close to 20 hours at medium volumes and took around five hours to fully charge – not lightning fast but fine for me.

Bose Soundlink Max Portable Speaker rope handle
©Chris Duffill, What's The Best

What’s okay about the Bose Soundlink Max?

The rope handle is a welcome change of texture from the wall of blue silicone that gives the Soundlink Max its IPX7 protection. I like its bungee-style pattern, too. But, I worry that it might get grubby over time. Thankfully, it is removable, making washing easier.

Although the auxiliary input and USB-C ports are waterproof without a cover, I do think that the annoyance of getting sand or dirt into them would have been worth a protective flap. As it is, Bose recommends that you thoroughly dry the charge port before plugging in or risk damage. That said, it does have moisture detection to let you know if any water has made its way inside - which it did. You can still turn it on, but you’ll need to dry it out to charge it. This is a testament to Bose’s high-end engineering – the convenience of not having to fiddle around with a weatherproof cover will suit most users very well.

I’m a bit perplexed by the addition of a 3.5mm aux input on speakers like this. In practice, anyone who wants to play their favourite tunes not using Bluetooth will probably have a better amplifier and speakers nearby. But, I’m glad it’s there nonetheless. As for battery life, I did notice that playtime would reduce by an average of 30 per cent with higher volumes, which is reasonable.

Bose Soundlink Max Portable Speaker rear
©Chris Duffill, What's The Best

Any negatives about the Bose Soundlink Max?

Although this fits with the slightly minimalist Bose aesthetic we’re all used to, I do find its looks a little underwhelming. I get that, at its core, it’s a simple device that needs few controls and can withstand being taken out and about. But, in its blue finish, I feel that it stops looking like a speaker worth almost £400 – after all, a budget Bluetooth speaker this certainly is not. But, that’s my personal take – those tired of the whole black-and-grey look for their speakers will love it.

As yet, there’s no ability to link this with another for better stereo separation – but that may be added this year via a future firmware update. Unlike many others, the Soundlink Max doesn’t have an onboard microphone – so you won’t be using this to pick up your incoming calls. I think this is a small oversight, especially on a device of this size and price. However, I do commend Bose for sticking so firmly to its ‘sound quality before extra features’ ethos. In many ways, it’s the gold standard of the no-frills approach to portable speaker design. As such, I think the Bose Soundlink Max should be at the top of anyone’s list of the best outdoor Bluetooth speakers for its sheer power and musicality.

Bose Soundlink Max Portable Speaker wet and on the kitchen worktop
©Chris Duffill, What's The Best

More items to consider

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The Soundcore Book 2 Plus provides hefty bass and a similar battery life to the Bose, plus a more traditional 'boombox' look. Read our review of the Soundcore Boom 2 Plus.

Pros

  • Unbelievably powerful outdoor speaker
  • Ultra-modern design
  • Packed with user-friendly features like Dynamic Lighting, BassUp, and PartyCast 2.0
  • Robust and transportable via shoulder strap

Cons

  • No easy way of telling how much charge is left

Expert rating:
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If you want something lighter and a little smaller with a faster charge time, this is it. Read our review of the Ultimate Ears Everboom.

Pros

  • Immersive 360-degree sound
  • Substantial power in a tactile, portable unit - quick to charge and long battery life
  • User-friendly and robust

Cons

  • Residual noise post-pause

Expert rating:
5.0
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Price: $299.99
Alternative retailers
Best Buy$299.99View offer
Bloomingdale's$299.99View offer
Newegg$299.99View offer

Possibly the Bose Soundlink Max's closest rival, the Middleton also has an IP67 rating and serious power – this time with a vintage amp look and feel. Read our review of the Marshall Middleton.

Pros

  • Excellent, expansive sound
  • Robust build and battery life
  • Timeless design

Cons

  • Too heavy to be super portable
  • Available in Black and Brass, Cream
  • Two 20 Watt Class D amplifiers for the woofers
  • Two 10 Watt Class D amplifiers for the tweeters
  • 20 minutes charge gives 2 hours of playtime
  • Box Contents: Middleton speaker, detachable carry strap, user manual and legal and safety information, USB-A to USB-C charging cable
Bose Soundlink Max Portable Speaker on a shelf
©Chris Duffill, What's The Best

Who tested it?

Chris Duffill is one of our Senior Tech Writers. He has a background in media production and videography and is experienced with a wide variety of audiovisual tech. At home, he enjoys both old-school analogue and high-tech multiroom audio, plus surround sound setups for movies and music.

How the product was tested

I tested the Bose Soundlink Max every day for around two weeks. It was used as a kitchen speaker (including playing in the sink while partially submerged), on the driveway while washing the car, and outside in various locations and weather conditions. It was also covered in dust from a DIY project. It was connected to an iPhone for playback, and an iPod Nano was used to test the auxiliary jack input.

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Chris Duffillis a Senior Tech Writer and Reviewer for What's The Best. His background includes writing, editorial, marketing, design, video production and photography.

He specialises in home entertainment and audiovisual tech, including speakers, amplifiers, turntables, streaming media players, and TVs. He is also one of our resident experts in computing (PCs, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches), DSLR photography and all kinds of digital cameras. He also writes about retro gaming, game consoles and various electronic gadgets. If it plugs in, lights up or makes a noise, he’ll write about it.

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