In the soundbar market, the big names are competing for high-end customers looking for the latest features, like Sonos and Bose. They both make multi-room systems, and Sonos has made it a specialty. Bose started multiroom with its SoundTouch range in 2013. Its latest model is the Smart Soundbar 900. It is a direct competitor to the
Sonos Bow, which costs roughly the same price and has similar capabilities. But does the Bose have enough strengths to stand out?
An ecosystem choice
The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a Dolby Atmos soundbar that is compatible with all major music streaming services. It is compatible with Amazon Alexa voice assistants and the Google Assistant. Its design is very successful and in terms of audio quality, it is on par with the Arc.
In the end, the choice comes down to the ecosystem and the control app for each device, and that’s where Sonos takes over. It offers a wider and more affordable range of multi-room speakers, especially when you consider Ikea’s Symfonisk products, and its application is simpler and more intuitive. However, if you already own Bose gear, the Smart Soundbar is a high-performance soundbar that packs a punch for movies and music.
The Smart Soundbar 900 contains 9 speakers, two of which are oriented upwards for Dolby Atmos. It has HDMI eARC connectivity, Wi-Fi (Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2) and two-way Bluetooth streaming that lets you connect a pair of Bose wireless headphones. Soundbar 900 can be controlled via voice commands or via the dedicated mobile app. We’re sorry that Bose didn’t provide a few more HDMI inputs given the high price.
Soundbar 900 is available in black or white. According to Bose, it fits perfectly on TVs 50 inches or larger. Its top surface is made of tempered glass and encompasses upward-facing Dolby Atmos speakers. It has only two buttons: the activation and deactivation of the microphone and the activation of the assistant / play / pause. The soundbar can be combined with other Bose surround speakers, as well as the Bass Module 500 and 700.
The Arc can work with a wider variety of Sonos speakers, including the Sonos One and the Ikea Symfonisk line. The Sonos subwoofer is expensive ($ 799), but you don’t really need it with the Arc.
A perfectible application
Bose also offers its own music app, but compared to the dozens of streaming apps available on Sonos, the number of services is limited to the well-known ones, including Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music, and TuneIn. The Bose app is relatively easy to use, but not nearly as easy as the Sonos app. For example, to add new services, you need to touch the small profile picture that appears when you touch the soundbar. It cannot be accessed by pressing “settings” as expected.
Setup is relatively straightforward, though you should wear a game-style microphone on your head and get into five of your favorite sitting positions. But this setup routine is worth it because it offers much better performance. Just a small complaint, the profile created during the soundbar calibration is not enabled by default. The Soundbar 900 also comes with a small remote control for selecting volume and source.
We compared the Soundbar 900 to the Sonos Arc, with and without the optional subwoofers. We quickly discovered during our testing that you can’t really ask any of them to create true surround sound. They produce a sense of height and can fill the room with sound, but none have managed to fool us into looking over their shoulders.
With the movie Mad Max Fury Road, the Sonos arc was the most impressive in the opening sequence. By contrast, Tom Hardy’s voice sounded a bit phlegmatic. The Bose wasn’t as forceful as the Sonos, but the voice was natural. No sound bar managed to locate the voice of the little girl saying “Where are you?” directly above our listening position. This is an effect we’ve only heard with dedicated speakers.
We then hooked up the subwoofers and looked at the 1917 burned-out city scene (1:07:54) and found that the Bose did a better job of weaving a cohesive soundstage. The bounce of the bullets was sharper and the sound of the flares more urgent as they passed overhead. Although the Bose subwoofer is half the size of the Sonos, it produces a lot of bass. A heavy and disorienting sonic crescendo accompanied the camera’s “impossible” follow-up shot through the window as it descended into the ruins. The same scene played through the Sonos speaker also gave us goose bumps, but the sound wasn’t quite as expressive.
When it comes to music, the two soundbars were pretty much the same. The Bose proved more compelling with Grouper’s haunting The Way Her Hair Falls. The Arc gave the impression that the singer’s voice did not mix with the guitar, while the Bose correctly placed the two in the same space.
In front of this soundbar, we find therefore the Sonos Arc, obviously, but also other potentially interesting competitors. Our favorite is the LG SP11RA, which has the advantage of offering speakers to place behind the viewer. On the other hand, it is a bit more expensive, but if you can afford it, it will be a better alternative to take advantage of the Atmos.
The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 brings everything one would expect from a high-end soundbar – it looks good, sounds great, and offers a multitude of options, including the Bluetooth headset feature. Its main flaw compared to its rival in Sonos is that the latter offers a very similar product with a somewhat better application and more multi-room options. If you’re looking for a full surround system, the Bose is cheaper to equip thanks to its more affordable subwoofer, but we have a slight preference for the Sonos Arc, or even the LG SP11RA if you’re on the budget.
CNET.com article adapted by CNETFrance
Image: Ty Pendlebury / CNET
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