Looking at the design of the Bose Companion 5 speaker set, you might assume that there was more to it than met the eye.
Although it only consists of two satellites and a subwoofer, it manages to emulate surround by firing sound to the sides of the room as well as directly in front of where they are positioned. It’s quite expensive for a mere three piece system, and their strange design would seem to justify it. But as we all know, design isn’t everything.
We were initially surprised to see only a USB interface, however there is a 3.5mm input on the control unit, which provides a useful -- albeit somewhat limited -- secondary input, which we’ll discuss in further detail soon. There are no drivers to install as Windows automatically detects the speakers and uses them as the default audio device.
For the novice with an aversion to coloured headphone sockets, the USB interface is a good idea. For more advanced users though, it adds an unnecessary premium to the system, as the outputs of modern onboard sound cards are actually very good.
Despite this apparent inflexibility, the system provides headphone and line-in sockets at the front of the combined mute button and volume wheel. The controller is nicely weighted, and the base is coated with a thin layer of black plastic which provides enough friction to keep it planted firmly on the desk.
The line in socket is only connected to the speakers, so your computer won’t be able to record whatever you plug into them. Plug in an external source and you’ll hear it through the speakers though, however if you’re using headphones the touch-sensitive mute button will be disabled. It’s handy, for should you want to plug in an iPod, the computer’s output is mixed with the line input, effectively giving you two inputs.
The speakers themselves are both raised and tilted towards the listener’s ears. They sound quite treble heavy; splash and ride cymbals stick out above the rest of the mix. The matching subwoofer is unfortunately very boomy, and try as we might to properly tune the ‘bass compensation’ dial at the back of the unit, we couldn’t find a sweet spot that would make the bass gel with the rest of the music across all genres.
The problem is more pronounced because the satellite tweeters don’t produce much low-to-midrange. Although vocals are clear, we agreed that we could hear a trough in the sound somewhere between 300 and 500 Hz. It throws the bass guitar and kick drum out of balance.
We expected the sound quality to be far better for $599, but the unit’s simple connectivity and setup, combined with its striking looks, go some way to mitigate the substandard audio performance. The speakers don’t sound atrocious, but there are better alternatives out there, especially for this price.