Review: BOSE Companion 5

Discussion in 'Sound Cards and Speakers' started by RHochstenbach, Jan 13, 2011.

  1. RHochstenbach

    RHochstenbach Administrator Staff Member

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    Introduction
    I’m going to review the BOSE Companion 5 computer speakers. I’ve purchased these after my Logitech Z5500 system broke down. The box contains the following items:

    • ACOUSTIMASS subwoofer/amplifier
    • Two speakers
    • Control Pod
    • Demonstration DVD


    Accessories
    The system can be connected to a computer only using a USB 2.0 data cable, therefore it’s not required to have a sound card in your system. The major disadvantage here is that you can only connect it to a computer. Don’t think you can use it for your TV set or game console, unless you connect it through the 3.5mm audio jack in the control pod, which does not provide 5.1 audio.

    The control pod is a round shaped device with a circular dial to change the volume. The top of the control pod is a touch-sensitive button to turn the system on and off. A green light indicates it’s turned on, while an amber light indicates that it’s on standby-mode. It instantly turns on, although it’s very touch-sensitive. The front has two 3.5mm audio connectors, a output for headphones and an input for other devices. The audio of a device connected to that last port gets mixed with the output from your computer, which is useful to play alerts while listening to audio from for example your iPod.

    Most of the components are built out of aluminium, which makes the construction very strong. Also the control pod is outfitted with a rubber sheet which prevents it from sliding. Just press it down on your desk, and it won’t move unless you lift it up.

    Unfortunately there is no wireless remote, no display, no additional connections like an optical output and no output settings which is quite bad in this price range.

    Besides that, you can only change the bass compensation at the back of the ACOUSTIMASS module, and not on the control pod. If you only listen to one music genre, this should be a set-and-forget option. But if you listen to many different genres which require adjusting the bass compensation, this is going to be a real pain.

    Being built out of strong materials, it still doesn’t compensate the high price range. Most 2.1 audio systems below $200 have more features than the Companion 5.

    Then why is is so expensive? The most important feature of all audio speakers is the sound quality. BOSE claims to have excellent sound quality, which could cause the high price range. I’m going to find this out now.


    5.1 surround and upscaling
    The Companion 5 is basically a Audio Processing Unit (APU for short) which upscales stereo into 5.1 audio. By analysing the audio stream it tries to detect the vocals and sound that comes from the rear and sends those streams through the different audio channels. The Companion 5 does this quite well with “simple” music tracks, where the tone height of the vocals and the music differ from each other continuously. Examples of this include 80’s pop, Hip Hop and acoustic performances. However if there’s more complexity in the music tracks, it completely screws it up. These include Rock, Metal, R&B and electronic music. To make thinks worse, you can’t disable the APU to force it to use stereo. It simply is not possible, not even when setting it up as a set of stereo speakers.

    Each speaker contains multiple speakers which turns the Companion 5 into a “real” 5.1 system. The audio has a wide range but it still only surrounds you for 180 degrees, not 360 degrees like a properly installed 5.1 audio set. Therefore it’s best to consider it an enhanced 2.1 set, rather than a 5.1 set.


    ACOUSTIMASS
    The ACOUSTIMASS subwoofer looks quite small, but don’t be fooled. The ACOUSTIMASS is very powerful, so don’t underestimate it by putting the bass compensation all the way up. The low tones accompany the speakers perfectly, making it enjoyable to listen to it. It won’t take up much space, although it’s quite long.


    Cables
    The speaker cables which are used to connect both speakers to the amplifier are really short. If you have a high desk or have one or more wide displays stacked next to each other, you’re definitely running out of cable length. It might even be required to put the ACOUSTIMASS on your desk instead of on the flour. I can’t figure out why those cables are short, I mean for a $400 set they could surely double the cable length. These aren’t expensive, you know. Luckily the cable of the control pod is long enough to put it anywhere you want.


    Tones
    The speakers have serious problems with lower mid-tones. If you don’t know what these are, the mid-tones are the first tones which are higher than the ones the subwoofer plays. A perfect audio system should have no gap between the low-tones and the mid-tones. The subwoofer should play the low ones, and the other speakers should play everything the subwoofer doesn’t play. This is especially noticeable with classic and electronic music. This is very poor for a company who’s slogan is “better sound through research”.


    80’s pop and New Wave
    After extensive playing of 80’s pop music I was really impressed of the sound quality. The high tones sound very clear and detailed. The vocals appear between both speakers, like there’s an invisible Center speaker. And the subwoofer greatly accompanies the sound with low tones, which are great to listen to. Besides that, it is very good with drums. I have never heard any other audio system which produces drums as rich as the Companion 5. If you like this kind of music, you should really consider the Companion 5 if you can live with the issues this system is having.


    Hip Hop
    People who like listening to Hip Hop and Rap might also like the Companion 5 as long as vocals are combined with low-tones. A great example is West Coast Classic 80’s / 90’s Hip Hop, which feature very low tones. By using the bass compensation dial, you can create a unique listening experience.


    Rock, Metal and Punk
    This kind of music is known to have quite aggressive attributes. There are multiple electric guitars playing accompanied with drums (usually very fast ones), loud vocals (usually even at scream-levels when it’s Metal or Punk) and lately also include electronic music. This makes the APU of the Companion 5 upset, and therefore starts to output the sound randomly through the different speakers, because it can’t figure it out anymore. Occasionally it starts to output everything through the right speaker only, which is very bad. Especially Hardcore Punk and MetalCore performs dramatically bad. If you really like this kind of music, don’t even think of buying these, as it will ruin your day.


    Games
    I’ve been testing the Companion 5 on many of the latest games, including Call of Duty: Black Ops and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. It appears to have some trouble with shooters. For some reason it sounds like you are sitting inside a box or a different room. The audio sounds distant with mostly very low tones, which makes it a poor experience.

    Racing games sound much better, though. The sound of the car engines sound great and realistic, also other cars around you can be heard very clear. But the lack of physical rear speakers is really noticeable. Is an opponent’s car far away or very close to your car? This can’t be noticed properly. For this kind of detail you really need a “real” 5.1 speaker system.


    Movies
    Playing a movie which uses 5.1 audio performs surprisingly great, especially the speech is really noticeable. All channels can be heard properly, although rear audio gets distributed to the sides instead of the rear. If you don’t mind this, it provides a rich movie experience.


    Verdict
    The Bose Companion 5 features a minimal design with strong construction. For its small size it is surprisingly powerful. It performs great when playing movies with 5.1 audio. When it comes to playing music, it will only perform great if you only listen to 80’s pop, new wave and Classic Hip Hop. Beside that, it plays drums very clear and detailed. Not many audio systems have this ability.

    The lack of lower mid-tones and terrible audio processing makes it sound bad for all other types of music. Especially Metal and Punk are dramatically, so it’s absolutely not recommended for this kind of music. Having this in mind and looking at the lack of features, it really is a waste of money. For less than $200 you can get a much better 2.1 or even 5.1 system.

    The Bose Companion 5 is an overprices system with only a limited set of features and bad performance vs. price ratio. There are much better products in this price range, and even in lower price ranges.

    Pros:
    • Minimal design
    • Powerful
    • Great for movies
    • Good sound quality for some music genres
    • No sound card required

    Cons:
    • Limited features
    • Terrible sound in games, especially shooters
    • Worthless Audio Processing Unit
    • Has serious trouble with mid-tones
    • Doesn’t sound like a 5.1 system, while it’s advertised to sound like such a system
    • Very expensive
    • Short speaker cables

    Final score: 5.8
     
  2. Karimbo

    Karimbo Geek

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    surprised to hear the poor sound compatibility with certain music genres. i never owned a bose, but alwys thught of them as the cutting edge in high end audio equipment.

    I think i'll get a creative t40 in that case.
     
  3. RHochstenbach

    RHochstenbach Administrator Staff Member

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    Before I decided to try the Companion 5 I thought the same thing. But after trying them I really got disappointed. Luckily I could return them, so their service is great though.
     
  4. RHochstenbach

    RHochstenbach Administrator Staff Member

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    Before I decided to try the Companion 5 I thought the same thing. But after trying them I really got disappointed. Luckily I could return them, so their service is great though.
     

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