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Bose S1 Pro Multi-Position PA System

Let’s get small!


by Craig Anderton


When the first L1 system came out, I was one of those people who thought it was probably somewhat of a gimmick (“Bose...don’t they make radios?"). That was, until I tried it. My main application was using it as a full-range, flat-response (FRFR) guitar amp for a computer-based, hex guitar processing system using IK’s AmpliTube. In addition to the clean sound, the column speakers were great for feedback. I just positioned the guitar vertically, held it next to the column, and voilà—instant, and very controllable, feedback.


Oh, right...it worked well for vocals, too. Very well, in fact.


The people at Bose were a little taken aback by how I used it, but still thought it was a pretty cool application. Since then I’ve kept an eye on the evolution of their systems, and have also used them as intended. So when the S1 appeared, I couldn’t help but wonder if Bose had done it again, this time in a super-small format (under 15 pounds).


Let’s Violate the Laws of Physics


If you look at online reviews, people by and large love the S1. I think the reason why is because when you set it up, you calibrate your expectations based on what you would expect from a box like this. So when it pumps out a lot of clean volume, you can’t help but be impressed. People probably assume it over-promises and under-delivers, but ten minutes later you realize the reverse is true. I was a little more prepared for this because of IK Multimedia’s Micro-Monitors, which deliver sound out of proportion to their size. But they’re monitors; this is a miniature PA system.



Having two main input channels (with XLR combi jacks, bass, treble, guitar/mic ToneMatch, reverb, and channel on/off) might imply it’s designed for a singer/guitarist—and that probably is the preferred application. But the frequency response is such that I could easily see someone with an arranger keyboard using this for bar gigs. I do think whether the level will do it for you depends on more than just the size of the room and number of people; if the audience is yelling and drinking, even with only a hundred people you’re going to have to push the S1 hard to compete. But if the audience is actually listening, or at a restaurant, you can handle a relatively large room with ease.





A Battery of Features


An optional-at-extra-cost ($99) battery trades off about an extra pound of weight for freedom from the grid. Bose says you can get up to 6 hours of play time, and although I didn’t have a battery to test, knowing what I do about Li-On batteries and the kind of current an amp like this draws, that’s believable. The battery is easy to insert (two screws), and charges as long as the unit is plugged in. There’s also a Quick Charge mode, but you can’t play through the unit while this is happening. I see Quick Charge as something you’d plug in during the break, after which you’d take the S1 back out to the AC-less place where you were playing.


I Got the Blues(tooth)


There’s an additional channel for a 1/8” analog input or Bluetooth—stream backing tracks, or pre-show music. With this channel, there are no controls other than a button for pairing, so make sure you have the EQ as desired for what you’ll be streaming. For DJs who want a lot of bass, place the S1 against a wall, in a corner, or on the floor on a hard surface and you’ll emphasize the unit’s natural bass. I tested the S1 as a party sound system, and all I can say is I’m glad my neighbors like me. Either that, or the cops had bigger fish to fry on a Saturday night.


But Bluetooth also implies something about the S1: it’s not just a PA system for singer/songwriters. If you want to stream music for a pool party, then bring your smartphone, pair the two, take advantage of the battery power, and go. It’s also a floor monitor, with an accelerometer to sense the position and adjust EQ accordingly. This is what the “multi-position” label is about—you can place the unit on the floor and angle it up at the audience, put it on its side like a monitor wedge and have it direct its sound toward the musician, or sit on a pole and point straight out at a crowd.




Because this is a baby Bose, the ToneMatch is a baby version of Bose’s way to equalize for particular signal sources. The three positions are off, guitar, and mic. Although not as sophisticated as a full-blown ToneMatch system, in conjunction with the bass and treble equalization it’s still pretty effective. In general, the S1 has a lot of low end if it’s sitting on the floor. With acoustic guitar, I needed to roll off the bass all the way, even with ToneMatch. Granted this was an acoustic guitar with a piezo that already had a lot of bottom, but with a dry electric guitar—although again, one with a lot of natural bottom due to humbuckers—I also needed to roll off the bass. Putting the S1 on a pole created the most balanced response to my ears.


With voice, there’s no phantom power so as expected ToneMatch is voiced for dynamic mics. With an SM58 and close-miking, the bass rolloff was enough to undo the proximity effect. I didn’t really need to boost the treble, which was a bit of a surprise given an SM58. When miking instruments from more of a distance, the bass didn’t need much rolloff at all, and a little treble boost brought out the definition. Overall, although I felt somewhat limited in terms of EQ, I could end up with the sound I wanted—which is all that matters.




 Branching Out


For many situations, the S1 will be all you need. However, there are plenty of small effects boxes that extend what it can do. My favorite boxes in terms of size vs. what they deliver are DigiTech’s VoiceLive 2 and the Zoom MS-100BT Multistomp. With them, it was easy to really zero in on the total sound I wanted—the S1 provided “sound reinforcement” in the truest sense of the words. Between the S1, a small bag with effects/cables/mic, and a guitar, I was good to go.


Room for Improvement?


I doubt this was an easy box to engineer, and it’s definitely a quality product that delivers more than you might think. So while $599 may seem pricey, you do get value received. In the same general price range, the main competition is Fishman’s Loudbox series. For those who want to stretch to a higher price point, ironically I’d say its major competitor is the Bose L1 Compact system ($999).


The only significant improvement I can think of would be an app to control more sophisticated EQ and master volume via Bluetooth. I realize that would raise the price, and put Bose on the iOS treadmill (“We’ve decided to do an iOS change, guys...stop what you’re doing and update your app. Now. Oh, it better be free, too”). So I’m okay with how things are.


The Bottom Line


The Bose S1 aims for a specific target and hits it. You can find more powerful devices, but they’re heavier. You can find ones with more wattage, but they cost more. You can find ones that are voiced more like a guitar amp, but then they’re not voiced like a PA. And you can find ones that are smaller and better designed...hmmm...well actually, I don’t think you can. If you want a mini PA system that’s incredibly portable, well designed, loud, and easy to operate, that’s what $599 gets you. Bose has filled a hole not just in their own product line, but in the portable PA world.


Website: pro.bose.com




Craig Anderton is a Senior Contributing Editor at Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.


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Ben Lorentzen  |  June 06, 2018 at 1:15 pm
Thank you for this. I have been looking for a good small PA, and this seems to be interesting enough to check out.
How are the bass frequencies? 

Mikeo  |  April 27, 2018 at 8:17 am
I have a Roland AC 33 for street shows.  It's ok, but I would love to compare the Fishman Loudbox Mini battery power amp, with the Bose, as well as the the Roland AC 33. Might even add the Roland BA 330 to the line up. I was at one time think of grabbing a AER Compact Mobile, which seems very nice, but very pricey.  
The truth is the mobile battery power buskin amp options have come a long way in the past 4 years or so.
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