Bose must consider co-opting the favorite marketing slogan “Own it your way” because of its Soundbar 500, a $499 (street price) offering in the brand’s new smart speaker line.
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Slim in proportions, but living large in performance, it’s prepared to serve various needs and aspirations with trendy Alexa voice activation, music streaming from both cloud and via Bluetooth, and a flexible sonic nature adjustable with a major kitbag of equalization tools and add-on accessories. That is a speaker made to please everyone from music-lovin’ kids and movie mavens to hard-of-hearing elders.
But first, a cautionary note. Like those TV manufacturers who wind up the brightness and contrast of their screens at the factory to accomplish blinding illumination on showroom floors, Bose applies to the gusto with the Soundbar 500. In everyday in-store comparisons, this new soundbar produced more high-frequency sonic sizzle than did Alexa voice-activated rivals from Sonos and Polk.
At home (right from the box and without making any adjustment) I was struck again-and sometimes put off-by how bright my review unit sounded. I was particularly disturbed by all of the harmonic hash selectively laid on speaking characters in a movie or Television show by soundtrack-sweetening engineers. This hyper-reactive speaker exaggerates such tweaking, and sensitive ears will see it wearing.
Ahh, that’s better
Fortunately, I could tame the beast using the soundbar’s companion Bose Music app, which is designed for Android and iOS devices. In my own primary test kitchen set-up I took the treble down two notches ( -20) and resulted in the bass (+10) in the app. This worked wonders! It leveled out 90 percent of the scratchy artifice, while retaining sufficient occurrence for character development and scenic ambiance.
I possibly could still hear the goodness in the micro-detailing-the reverberant concert hall acoustics, background street noise, and harmonic overtones of acoustic instruments poshing-up tech-savvy productions on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video productions such as for example Springsteen on Broadway, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Matt Groening’s twisted medieval cartoon series Disenchantment. These sonic cues were only modestly evident on the vintage Philips Ambilight HDTV hanging on my kitchen wall, plus they were just about a no-show on the family-room Panasonic, a high-end plasma with truly bleh back-firing speakers.
The Bose software makes music adjustments and playback control easy, but Bose depends on it simply a little too much.
Experimenting with the keeping the Soundbar 500 also helped optimize performance. Using its especially svelte proportions (31.5 inches wide, 4 inches deep, and 1.75-inches high) this sleek thing begs for wall mounting beneath a set panel TV, ideally at or near ear level. The innards likewise seem to be optimized compared to that end, with a rear-firing port and a configuration of three front-firing and two side-firing drivers (each 34.5 mm x 88 mm) working the Bose direct/reflecting sound strategy also deployed in the sister Bose Home Speaker 500 we recently reviewed here (and liked a whole lot.) Bose’s Soundbar Wall Bracket (yet another $40 from sources such as for example Amazon) lends the speaker an extremely stylish “floating” look, with sufficient clearance (0.75 inches) to increase port-on-plasterboard bass resonance and cable management.
Tonal re-balancing was trickier and a tad less satisfying when I plopped the soundbar down on a typical (20 -inch high) TV table before the free-standing 55-inch Panasonic. I finished up lowering the treble a supplementary notch to -30, elevating the bass to +20, and upping the separate center channel volume control to +10, which pushed speech and musical vocals forward.
A room-correction toolkit
Further sensitivity training was undertaken to good effect with Bose’s room measurement and re-equalization tool kit ADAPTiQ, an electronic sound sampling and processing system which has you wear a particular headband microphone that plugs in to the back of the soundbar. Afterward you move around the area to favored sitting/listening spots as the soundbar emits space-age tell-all tones. This technique noticeably improved the sense of stereo separation by throwing more content out the finish speakers in carefully timed fashion.
For those occasions where on-screen folks seem to be to be mumbling in a spanish, the Soundbar 500 offers a switchable Voice Assistant mode that amplifies frequency response in the 8- to 16kHz range according to an AudioSource real-time spectrum analyzer. Ironically, among the Netflix currents I enjoyed the most was Made by George Martin, wherein the fabled Fifth Beatle (now sadly gone) describes his despair at losing his hearing in the 12kHz range when he entered his 50s. A common syndrome, he explained: “You [still] hear the vowels, but need to guess at the consonants.” Reason enough to purchase a Soundbar 500 if you’re similarly indisposed. This thing does an improved job of voice enhancement than other soundbars I’ve tested-from Yamaha and ZVOX-that are overtly marketed as aids for the hard-of-hearing.
If you would like the low-end oomph that only a subwoofer can offer, you’ll have to drop an other $399 for the Bose Base Module 500.
Another way to change and tune things up is with the addition of a wirelessly Bose Bass Module 500, a cute little (10-inch cube) that works its subwoofer charms near a wall or corner. Once paired through the Bose Music app, a substantial amount of low-frequency action is shifted over from the soundbar. Its cost ($399 at Amazon) is justifiable if your thing is watching lushly scored or slam-bang movies and big-bottomed music. But turn off the sub and the Soundbar 500 still proves a full-bodied entertainer, with palpable bass and a surprising sense of stereo separation. Wireless Surround speakers are also available ($299 at Amazon), to make a Dolby-decoding home entertainment system.
Starting up this thing to network in multi-room fashion with sister products as well as your app-controlling smartphone is straightforward work, if each is within signal selection of your core Wi-Fi-beaming router. (There’s also a more substantial Soundbar 700 and Bass Module 700 in the brand new Bose smart speaker line).
But if you’ve deploying a bridged second router to increase your Wi-Fi network’s reach, as I’ve, you might experience a back room-situated Soundbar 500 drops off the network or can’t continually be manipulated with the app. Bose is studying the problem, a tech-support rep explained. For a work-around in my own iffy location, I made a hardwired ethernet connection by using a powerline ethernet adapter kit.
Obtaining the soundbar to handshake over HDMI with my six-year-old Panasonic TV in addition has tested a some-time thing. Another Bose tech-support agent shared that “the [HDMI] ARC audio tracks return channel isn’t properly standardized from brand to brand; we’re resolving this compatibility issue in updates.” Here, my work-around was to create an optical audio tracks cable connection between your TV and the Soundbar. The digital sound quality is merely as pristine, as may be the audio/video sync-but without ARC, you can’t switch on (or down) a whole A/V system with an individual button push.
The improved universal handy remote control (right) comes standard with the Soundbar 700, but you’ll have to pay extra to obtain it with the model reviewed here.
As the engineering team is working improvements, maybe they could easily get this soundbar to audibly “ding” when awakened with an “Alexa” voice command? A slim wisp of a light bar at the top left front edge blinks when you utter the wake word, however the indicator is hard to see when viewed off axis.
In addition, it annoys me some that you can’t audibly contact among the six channel/playlist/album presets on the Soundbar 500. Instead you can ask Alexa to summon a particular station, artist, song, or album by name: say, “play Real Jazz on SiriusXM” or “play the most recent album by Coldplay.”
Alternatively, you can press a dedicated channel preset button on the well-designed standard-issue remote (a more substantial, fancier Universal Remote is a $50 option), or you can tap the virtual buttons on the Bose Music software screen. The only user control on the Soundbar 500 itself is a thermal swipe or tap zone that turns the microphone on / off.
The Soundbar 500 sends nothing to a linked TV when it’s pulling content from streaming sources such as for example Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, SiriusXM or Tune-In. Channel, artist, track title, and cover art does arrive on the smartphone app.
The bottom line
From the company that’s built its rep on plug-and-play simplicity, the Soundbar 500 might catch some users and even retailers off guard, providing them with the incorrect out-of-box impression. As we discovered, this thing needs a lttle bit of fussing with to sound its best. Our rating of the machine (and emotional state of well-being) soared after making a few simple adjustments to tone levels and speaker placement. Bose should think about changing this speaker’s default setti