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


In the hierarchy of soundbar manufacturers, two big names compete for premium customers who want the latest smart features: Sonos and Bose. The rivalry between the two is fierce, and both produce products in the multiroom market where Sonos made its name. Bose started making multiroom speakers with its 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 going for it to enable it to stand on its own?

Like

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

Don’t Like

  • Costly
  • Streaming not as comprehensive as Sonos
  • Not able to produce surround
  • Calibration doesn’t turn on by default

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

In the end, the choice comes down to the ecosystem and the controller app behind each, and that’s where Sonos gains the upper hand. Sonos offers a larger and more affordable range of multiroom speakers — especially if you factor in the Ikea Symfonisk products — plus the app is more straightforward and fun. If you’re already invested in the Bose universe, however, the Smart Soundbar is an entertaining, capable product with plenty of punch 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 racetrack transducers, a center tweeter, plus two dipole (up-firing) transducers for Dolby Atmos. The company employs its own PhaseGuide for Atmos content which it claims offers better audio positioning than competing soundbars.

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

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Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The Soundbar 900 comes in a choice of black or white and stands at 2.3 inches high, 4 inches deep, and 41 inches long. The company says the ‘bar makes a good match for 50-inch-and-over televisions. The top of the unit is tempered glass and looks quite sophisticated, encompassing its discrete, up-firing Dolby drivers. There are only two onboard controls — microphone on/off and an action button (activate assistant/play/pause).

You can opt to expand the soundbar will pair with external peripherals such as 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 the Bose models — the soundbar doesn’t support third-party subs.

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The optional Bose Bass Module 500 ($449)


Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The Sonos Arc, meanwhile, works with a bigger 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 instance, adding new services involves tapping the small profile pic that appears when you tap on the soundbar itself — you can’t get there by hitting “settings” as you’d expect.

Setup of the unit itself was relatively straightforward, although it does involve wearing a gaming-style microphone on your head, and in five of your favorite seating positions. It’s worth the effort going through the setup routine because it enables a much better performance. My only complaint is that when I calibrated the device, the resulting “Adaptiq” calibration wasn’t turned on by default. 

Lastly, the Bose comes with a palm-sized remote control with a volume rocker and a source selector, and it’s a nice-to-have if you can’t find your TV remote (or phone).

How does it sound?

The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 looked lovely sitting on my TV stand, and it also played music and movies well. I compared it directly to the Sonos Arc both with and without the optional subwoofers. I calibrated the Arc using the iOS-exclusive Trueplay feature and used Bose’s Adaptiq calibration. Before Adaptiq the Bose sounded thin and boxy, but afterward it gained a weightier bottom end — a little too much even, and I had to back off the bass by about half.

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

With a Dolby Atmos mix of Mad Max Fury Road, the Sonos Arc that was the most impressive with the opening sequence — it made the disembodied voices swirl around the front of my listening room. It wasn’t all good for the Sonos, however. Tom Hardy’s voice sounded a bit phlegmatic, which made phrases like “the black matter of my brain” sound even more ridiculous. The Bose wasn’t as showy as the Sonos but his voice was natural and easier to decipher. Both soundbars lacked the ability to place the little girl’s voice as she says “Where are you”? directly above my listening position. That’s an effect I’ve only heard dedicated rear speakers achieve.

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Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Next I connected the subwoofers and watched the burnt-out city scene from 1917 (1.07:54), where I found the Bose better able to weave a cohesive soundstage. The city became a large bubble of sound — the ricochet of bullets was sharper, the fizzing of the flares more urgent as they arced overhead. Despite the Bose sub being half the size of the Sonos sub, it was still able to conjure up plenty of bottom end for the reveal of the vista through the window. It was a weighty, disorienting crescendo of sound that accompanied the camera’s “impossible” tracking shot through the window as it descended into the ruins. The scene through the Sonos speaker gave me goosebumps as well but didn’t sound quite as expressive.

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

Finally I tested a feature the Sonos also doesn’t have: Bose’s Dialog mode. It isn’t as configurable as dialog mode on Zvox’s AV357, for example — it’s simply a matter of being on or off. Enabling the Bose’s mode did help lift dialog by making sibilants and other articles of speech sound clearer.

Should you buy it?

Bose’s Smart Soundbar 900 does everything you’d expect from a flagship soundbar. It looks great, it sounds great, and it offers a wealth of entertainment options. Its extensive range of features as well, especially Bluetooth headphone capability, complete a well-rounded package.

The 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 kit out thanks to its more-affordable sub, but the Arc is my choice by a nose.



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