Bose Smart Soundbar 900 review: great features, great performance, high price

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In the hierarchy of soundbar manufacturers, two big names compete for premium customers who want the latest smart features: Sonos and Bad. The rivalry between the two is fierce and they both produce products in the multiroom market where Sonos made its name. Bose began making multiroom speakers with its own SoundTouch range in 2013 and the latest addition to the Bose smart home line is the Bose Smart Soundbar 900. Its direct competitor is the Sonos Arc, which costs about the same and has similar capabilities. But does the Bose have enough possibilities to allow it to stand on its own?

Like it

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Beautifully built
  • Two-way Bluetooth

I do not like

  • Costly
  • Streaming not as complete as Sonos
  • Not able to produce surround
  • Calibration is not activated by default

The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a Dolby Atmos soundbar which offers compatibility with a lot of music streaming services, a choice of voice assistants (Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant) and a nice design. In terms of sound quality, it is also similar to the Arc – both perform well with a wide range of materials.

Ultimately, the choice comes down to the ecosystem and app controller behind each, and this is where Sonos takes over. Sonos offers a wider and more affordable range of multiroom speakers, especially when you factor in Ikea Symfonisk products – plus the app is simpler and more fun. If you’ve already invested in the Bose universe, however, the Smart Soundbar is a fun and capable product with loads of power for your favorite movies and music.

Features

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 offers everything you’d expect from the name and price. The bar houses 9 drivers: two tweeters, four track transducers, a center tweeter and two dipole (up-firing) transducers for Dolby Atmos. The company uses its own PhaseGuide content for Atmos which, it claims, offers better audio positioning than competing soundbars.

The Bose is equipped with HDMI eARC connectivity as well as Wi-Fi (Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2) and two-way Bluetooth streaming. Bluetooth is something that Sonos lacks, and I appreciate that it allows you to connect a pair of wireless headphones as well. Like the cheaper 700, the 900 can be controlled via voice commands or via the Music app. For a $ 900 soundbar it would have been great if Bose could offer a couple more. HDMI input – something competitive Elevate Vice does.

bose rear panel

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The Soundbar 900 comes in a choice of white or black and stands 2.3 inches tall, 4 inches deep and 41 inches long. The company claims the “bar makes a good match for 50 inches and beyond” televisions. The top of the unit is tempered glass and looks quite sophisticated, encompassing its discreet and switched-on Dolby drivers. There are only two built-in controls: microphone on / off and an action button (activate assistant / play / pause).

You can choose to expand the soundbar it will pair with the outside peripherals like the Bose Surround Speakers ($ 349) and the Bass Module 500 ($ 449) and 700 ($ 799). Note that while the 900 has a 3.5mm “bass” output, this is for physically connecting Bose models – the soundbar does not support third-party subtitles.

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The optional Bose Bass Module 500 ($ 449)

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The Sonos Arc, meanwhile, works with a wider selection of speakers including the Sonos One ($ 200) and Ikea Symfonisk range. Compared to the Bose it’s annoying that Sonos’ cheapest (and only) sub is $ 799, but then you don’t really need it with the Arc.

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Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Bose also sports its own music app but, compared to the dozens of streaming apps on Sonos, the number of streaming services is limited to Spotify, Amazon Music, Pandora, TuneIn, Deezer, iHeartRadio, and SiriusXM. The Bose app is relatively friendly but it’s not as easy to use as Sonos. For example, adding new services involves tapping the small profile picture that appears when you tap the soundbar itself – you can’t get there by pressing “settings” as you’d expect.

Setting up the unit itself was relatively straightforward, although it does involve using a gaming microphone on your head and in five of your favorite sitting positions. It is worth going through the installation routine as it allows for much better performance. My only complaint is that when I calibrated the device, the resulting “Adaptiq” calibration was not turned on by default.

Finally, the Bose comes with a handheld remote with a volume rocker and source selector, and it’s a treat if you can’t find the TV remote (or phone).

How does it sound?

The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 looked lovely sitting on my TV stand and played music and movies well too. I compared it directly to the Sonos Arc both with and without optional subwoofers. I calibrated the Arc using iOS’s exclusive Trueplay feature and used Bose’s Adaptiq calibration. Before the Adaptiq, the Bose sounded thin and square, but later it gained a heavier bottom – a little too even, and I had to cut the bass down by about half.

I quickly found out during my comparisons that you can’t really ask either bar to create surround sound. Both project a sense of height and can sound as wide as the room, but neither could fool me into looking over my shoulder.

With a Dolby Atmos mix of Mad Max Fury Road, the Sonos Arc which was most impressive with the opening sequence, made the incorporeal voices swirl at the front of my listening room. However, it didn’t go well for Sonos. Tom Hardy’s voice sounded a little phlegmatic, which made phrases like “the black matter of my brain” even more ridiculous. The Bose wasn’t as flashy as the Sonos, but its voice was natural and easier to decipher. Didn’t both soundbars have the ability to position the baby’s voice while saying “Where are you”? directly above my listening position. This is an effect I’ve only heard getting from dedicated rear speakers.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

I then plugged in the subwoofers and looked at the burned-out city scene from 1917 (1.07: 54), where I found the Bose was more able to weave a coherent soundstage. The city became a great bubble of sound: the bouncing of bullets was sharper, the hiss of rockets more urgent as they arched overhead. Despite the Bose subwoofer being half the size of the Sonos subwoofer, it was still able to conjure up a lot of background for the view through the window to reveal. It was a heavy, disorienting sonic crescendo that accompanied the camera’s “impossible” sweep through the window as it descended into the ruins. The scene through the Sonos speaker also gave me goosebumps, but it didn’t seem quite as expressive.

The musical performance was basically a wash between the two speakers. The Bose sounded best with Grouper’s haunting The Way Her Hair Falls. The Arc dissected the simple folk arrangement and made it seem like the singer’s voice was disembodied from the guitar, while the Bose rightfully placed both in the same space.

I finally tested a feature that even Sonos doesn’t have: Bose’s Dialog mode. It is not configurable like the dialogue mode on Zvox AV357, for example – it’s simply a matter of being turned on or off. Activating Bose mode helped lift dialogue by making sibilants and other speech items clearer.

Should you buy it?

The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 does everything you’d expect from a flagship soundbar. It looks great, sounds great, and offers a huge range of entertainment options. Its wide range of features, especially the Bluetooth headset capability, also completes an all-round package.

Bose’s main Achilles heel, if you can call it that, is that Sonos offers a very similar product with a slightly better app experience and more multiroom options. If you’re looking for a full surround system, the Bose is cheaper to fully equip thanks to its cheaper sub, but the Arco is my pick for the nose.

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