Bose Wave/PC Tackles Computer Audio

As the networked personal computer continues to evolve into a home entertainment center, some glaring weaknesses in traditional PC technology have become apparent.
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As the networked personal computer continues to evolve into a home entertainment center, some glaring weaknesses in traditional PC technology have become apparent. One is the quality of audio.

Cheap speaker/subwoofer combos, which offer some improvement in sound quality, have glutted the shelves of computer stores for years. However, with its new Wave/PC Interactive Audio System, Bose has not only improved the quality of computer sound, it has brought a new level of simplicity to an unwieldy process.

Built around the company's popular Wave radio technology, the Bose Wave/PC, priced at $449, integrates an outboard audio sound system with the user's Windows-based personal computer. It offers one-touch access – via a simple remote control – to AM/FM radio, Internet radio, MP3 and RealAudio files and CD music collections. It also enhances the sound of streaming video.

Though Bose products are frequently criticized by audiophiles for offering average-grade technology at top-of-the-line prices, the company's strengths center on clutter-free equipment design and operational friendliness for nontechnical users. This aesthetic continues with the Wave/PC.

CATCHIN’ A WAVE

From either the software control panel or the credit card-sized remote control, the user can seamlessly move from MP3 files to Internet radio stations to compact discs. It's this smooth integration of functions, coupled with good sound quality, that makes this new Bose technology attractive to users who despise having to constantly tinker with their PC.

Setup begins by installing the Bose system software on a Windows (98, 98SE, 2000 or ME) PC and attaching the outboard Wave/PC unit to the computer's RS-232 serial and soundcard connectors. Then the user enters his or her local ZIP code. The software then downloads information about radio stations in the area, including their programming format.

Though terrestrial radio broadcasts are navigated and indexed on the computer screen, the off-air signals are actually received via the tuner inside the Wave/PC box. Webcasts, using the RealAudio format from RealNetworks, are handled by the control panel as well. In actual use, broadcast radio and Webcasts are intermixed by the software, erasing distinctions between the programming sources for the listener.

The Wave/PC employs the computer's CD-ROM drive to play audio compact discs and to rip tracks as either uncompressed WAV or compressed MP3 sound files. These are saved directly to the hard drive. In addition to WAV and MP3 files, the system can play MP2, AAC, WMA and AVI audio files.

SMART KEYS

The real innovation of the Wave/PC is its powerful preset function. Essentially, these presets are smart keys that can hold "buckets" of user preferences. Almost anything can be assigned to a preset. You can have a playlist of music files, a radio station, a Web station and/or an individual artist. Assign Bob Dylan to Preset 2 and when you press that button on the remote, the unit will play all the Bob Dylan sound files on your PC.

Another preset can hold favorite songs. Another can hold favorite stations, both off-air and Internet.

Bose has succeeded with this system by again taking the complexity out of often confusing technology. Once the Wave/PC is set up to your liking, it's a no-brainer to use. You can easily search and store preferred music and radio formats from a single application.

The hardware remote serves the unique role of separating the entertainment side of the PC from its more traditional workday functionality. The remote can change tracks, source, volume and presets without interrupting the applications you are working on at any given moment. In effect, the Bose system gives the illusion of a totally separate sound system that's detached from the PC.

RETRO REQUIREMENT

On the downside, Bose introduced the system in May with the retro requirement that the computer have serial and soundcard connections. USB support, through an add-on upgrade kit, is due by fall at a to-be-determined price. Most common USB-to-serial adapters will not work with the system, a Bose engineer warned. The company is currently testing third-party converter devices for compatibility, but at press time did not offer a solution for the new breed of legacy-free computers.

Bose also chose not to support the Macintosh OS, an odd decision because Macs are often purchased by users who desire enhanced audio/video functionality over Windows systems. One can only hope Bose will eventually abandon its PC-centric view and offer a fully cross-platform USB-based version of this very promising new system.