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Review: Bose Smart Soundbar 900 – More refined than expected

Review: Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a bit of an outsider in the top segment of soundbars. In terms of finish and design, it is more than okay.

Bose is one of the biggest names in audio, but when it comes to Dolby Atmos soundbars, it remained silent for a long time. With the Bose Smart Soundbar 900, Bose brings a device that competes with the many rivals in the top segment. Can the company use its vast know-how to create something exceptional?

No matter how hard everyone tries, the soundbar market was mainly dominated by Sonos and Bose in the past. That is a bit different, partly because Samsung and other TV brands released new and innovative products en masse. You can’t say that it stopped at Bose, but for some reason the American brand has been less in the spotlight in recent years. However, new devices were released. You see a similar evolution with noise-cancelling headphones, where Sony has become very dominant. But now there is this Smart Soundbar 900. It is a new top model for Bose, equipped with streaming options, voice control via Google Assistant and support for Dolby Atmos. Bose also tries to make a statement in the design field. The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 costs 999 euros, and comes standard without subwoofer or other extras. But you can optionally add it, also later.

What 5.0.2 sound bar
Inputs HDMI-eARC, optical
Streaming Bluetooth (SBC), Chromecast, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Bose Music app
Surround codecs Dolby Atmos (and older)
Extras Bluetooth headphones, expandable with rear speakers and sub, voice control (Google Assistant and Alexa), ADAPTiQ room calibration
Dimensions 5.81 x 104.5 x 10.7cm
Weight 5.75 kg

 

Sleek design with glass

Bose has always had a preference for clean lines and ‘hard’ materials such as aluminum and glass. The Smart Soundbar 900 doesn’t really differ from that. The top of this device is completely made of glass, for example. There are only two oval recesses where the above speakers radiate upwards. What is special is that this glass layer seems to float slightly above the housing. Good, we think so. Unlike the Sony HT-A7000 we experience no distracting reflections from the screen. But as with the Sony, we should note that this depends on how far you turn off the soundbar from your TV and the situation. In a dark room and with bright content – games, for example – that can be a thing. We probably shouldn’t tell you: such a glossy surface is really a dust magnet and shows fingerprints quickly. Bose is certainly not alone in having to deal with this. Incidentally, we visited the black version, there is also a white Smart Soundbar 900 with a white glass plate.

Compared to the Bose past, the Smart Soundbar 900 is at least a bit more subtle and elegant. The floating glass plate, the rounded corners and the narrow metal grille that forms the front provide a beautiful result. The device can even be called relatively compact. It’s narrower than most competitors, which are typically the exact same width as a 55-inch TV. That is not the case with this Bose. If we place it with our wall-mounted LG OLED55C9, it is still 10 cm shorter on each side. It is also good in depth. Due to its modest height of just under 6 cm, the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 can easily stand in front of a TV on a foot. However, do not slide it under, because those above speakers really have to be directed freely towards the ceiling.

In terms of connections, Bose goes for minimalism. There is one HDMI-eARC port and an optical input. Then you have a series of four identical-looking 3.5 mm jack inputs, all of which have a different function. For example, you can connect an IR blaster here, although it is not clear in which scenario you would want to do this.

Adapts to the room

You can set most soundbars that we visit these days via the Google Home app or via AirPlay. Not so here. You use the Bose Music app (iOS and Android), which will guide you step-by-step through the setup. Depending on which functions you want, you will be redirected to an app from Google. For example to set up the voice control.

One of the last things you have to do during the setup: adjust the soundbar according to your living room. You do this via ADAPTiQ, a feature that Bose has offered for some time. There are more soundbars with room calibration, because it is a very useful function that can solve acoustic problems in a room, so that the sound is more balanced. More unusual is that Bose carries out the measurement via a kind of headset that you have to place on your head while playing the test tones. It doesn’t take long, but it does look different. And you’ll never in your life get the long, thin cable of the ADAPTiQ headset neatly coiled up again, you’ve been warned. Then you can easily toggle ADAPTiQ adjustment on and off in the Bose Music app, so you can compare and decide for yourself. We decided to leave it on partly because it removed a room mode that greatly increased a bass frequency. Listening impressions that you read below are all made with ADAPTiQ on.

In the app you will find even more tweaking options. We’re very happy that you can adjust the volume of channels (such as the center channel used for speech) individually. Taking some time for that can make the experience much better, we have noticed with soundbars before. A little surprising is that you have no sound modes or equalizer adjustments. Others bombard you with separate modes for music, film and gaming, but that’s not the case here.

Spotify in the app

Bose does more things his way. And that is also noticeable when it comes to streaming. You can play music very quickly via Bluetooth, but signing in to a small number of streaming services in the Bose Music app is another option. Surprisingly, Spotify is one of them. This makes Bose the only one besides Sonos to receive permission from the streaming service to integrate it into its own app. Almost all other soundbars and other audio devices have to make do with Spotify Connect, where you work via the Spotify app. With the Smart Soundbar 900 you choose: whether you work via the Bose Music app or you choose your music via the Spotify app. The integration of Spotify in the Bose Music app is relatively extensive, by the way. You can search, browse playlists, genre lists and charts.

The Bose Music app also integrates TuneIn by default. That makes it easy to listen to internet radio, including local stations. Deezer and Amazon Music are the other two options when it comes to music services. A downside is that you have to log in to a service per mobile device. The soundbar does not remember the data, so that everyone in the family has to log in separately to, say, Spotify in the app. That could be centralized.

Built-in microphone

The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is Chromecast and AirPlay 2 compatible. You can therefore also stream other services, such as YouTube Music and Apple Music, via these routes. Both technologies allow you to group the soundbar for music with compatible speakers from other brands.

We have now extensively discussed the Bose app, but a physical remote is indeed included. The remote is something small, seemingly designed to disappear between the sofa cushions. When you find it, it offers essential controls and something that is typical of Bose: six numbered presets or favorites. These are quite useful, especially if you regularly use the soundbar to listen to music. When you press one of those buttons, the linked playlist or radio station will automatically start. You set these favorites via the app or by long-pressing a button.

Thanks to a built-in microphone, the Bose soundbar works with voice control. There is support for Amazon’s Google Assistant or Alexa. We set the first one, because only Google supports Dutch. We ourselves are not so convinced of the usefulness of speech recognition on a soundbar. It’s often more cumbersome than just diving into an app or using a remote, not to mention the “voice control and kids” phenomenon. Nevertheless, it does work well on this Bose. The microphone also picked up our voice without any problem while a movie was playing, and there were no real intelligibility issues. Although we were once offered a playlist from Queen when we asked for some jazz. But that is due to Google’s poor music knowledge.

You can expand – at a price

As is often the case with Bose soundbars (and high-end soundbars from other brands), you can expand the Smart Soundbar 900 with additional devices. If you want a better bass experience, get the Bose Bass Module 700. This subwoofer connects wirelessly to the soundbar. There are also extra wireless speakers that you can connect to the Smart Soundbar 900. You place them behind and next to the sofa, so that you get a better surround experience. We think it is positive that you can get both the Bass Module and the Surround Speakers 700 in black or white. This is especially useful with the rear speakers, for example if you hang them on a white wall.

However, the extra speakers are pricey. You pay 800 euros extra for the Bass Module 700 and 600 euros for a pair of wireless Surround Speakers. The full surround setup therefore carries a price tag of just under 2,400 euros. Although the Smart Soundbar 900 is competitively priced at 1,000 euros, the total package is more expensive than rivals such as Samsung HW-Q950T .

Because this is a ‘Smart’ product from Bose, you can combine this soundbar with other Smart devices anyway. Bose also offers an even more unique feature, SimpleSync. However, SimpleSync also allows you to share sound with any branded Bluetooth speaker. Can be useful if you want music a little further in an adjacent room that plays synchronously with the soundbar. You can also connect Bluetooth headphones late at night.

Not quite what we expected

With previous Bose soundbars, we often came to the conclusion that they do have a strong bass presence, but that those low tones often came across as woolly and without detail. It was powerful but also sometimes overwhelming when it comes to details. That is different with the Smart Soundbar 900, especially after using ADAPTiQ. The beats and the deep organ-like synth tones of the Daft Punk scores and final theme on ‘Tron: Legacy’ come across relatively controlled and balanced. Overall, that is even an apt description for this soundbar. It doesn’t seem specifically geared to action movies with big explosions, as cheaper devices often are. An advantage that we notice when viewing different types of content is that we are less likely to fiddle with the volume control. That’s nice.

When going through Dolby demos, we already get a first view of the Atmos performance. On ‘Amaze’ the thunder sounds deep and far, and the rain is relatively realistic (but a bit dull). The moving tones and chimes of ‘Audiosphere’ are three-dimensional, with clear highs. The spaceships at ‘Horizon’ also clearly fly into the screen from left and right; the height effects sit high but not very far above the screen. That is also the impression we get later when watching movies: the Smart Soundbar 900 creates a soundstage that is large, but not extreme either. Making the height channels louder via the app does help a bit, but it doesn’t get very expansive.

Bose pays a lot of attention to higher frequencies with this soundbar. As a result, atmospheric effects sometimes jump out of the mix. For example, when James Bond visits Vesper Lyn’s grave on a hilltop in ‘No Time To Die’, you can hear the sand being blown away by the wind. The explosion that follows is a bit understated, but the debris that rains down and the Specter agent’s motorcycle stand out again. Even during the hectic pursuit through the Italian town, it is striking that the Smart Soundbar 900 opts for a somewhat reserved presentation of powerful sound effects. That surprises us a bit, and gives this soundbar a different profile than rivals that bet on bombast. Maybe the addition of the extra Bass Module would change things, but we haven’t been able to test that.

‘Paddington 2’ is just as British as Bond, but in content something completely different. In addition to its feel-good story, the soundtrack excels through the successful use of playful music and playful effects. The Bose transfers that mix well, just like the dialogues that are delivered cleanly by the separate speaker for the center channel. A little dull perhaps, but the speech mode is too nasal. On the other hand, when watching TV late at night at low volume, we really had to reach for the speech mode to keep it intelligible. But that worked very well. Paddington 2’s Dolby Digital 5.1 mix also sounds nice and horizontal in the room.

There is certainly something to be said for the tuning of the Smart Soundbar 900. Although you don’t get a banging experience, there is enough dynamics and openness in the presentation to accommodate most effects. For example, the Norwegian forest scene of ‘No Time To Die’ remains atmospheric and compelling, gunshots and motorcycles driving in the distance reverberate more narrowly after what keeps the 3D feel modest. You get a cinema experience that is an upgrade compared to the TV speakers (and cheaper compact soundbars), but that soundstage is not huge now either. Refined in its way, and some people will prefer that to a fierce, more dynamic rendering.

 

Conclusion – Bose Smart Soundbar 900

The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a bit of an outsider in the top segment of soundbars. In terms of finish and design, it is more than okay. The glass top plate in particular is really nice – although it does attract dust. Some will certainly find the fact that the Smart Soundbar 900 is a bit more compact. Other top models are significantly larger. In terms of performance, the Bose soundbar offers solid Atmos performance that is more balanced than you might have expected. Perhaps because no sub is included, the Smart Soundbar 900 does not come across as a spectacle beast. It is more balanced, presenting movies and TV series in a more balanced way. But some will miss a wow feeling because of that. Music does it well again.

Pros

  • Luxurious and compact design
  • Great app with Spotify built in
  • Chromecast, AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth, Voice Control
  • All-round display that puts detail and total experience first
  • Expandable to true surround
  • Good for music
Negatives

  • Altitude channels are a bit weaker
  • Doesn’t deliver the most powerful experience
  • Expansions do cost a bit
  • No DTS

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