Bose Soundbar 500 review: Alexa, make me a sleek, smart sound bar


Bose ought to consider co-opting the popular marketing slogan “Have it your way” for its Soundbar 500, a $499 (street price) offering in the brand’s new smart speaker line.

Slim in proportions, but living large in performance, it’s ready to serve a variety of needs and aspirations with trendy Alexa voice activation, music streaming from both the cloud and via Bluetooth, and a flexible sonic nature adjustable with a big kitbag of equalization tools and add-on accessories. This is a speaker designed 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 crank up the brightness and contrast of their screens at the factory to achieve blinding illumination on showroom floors, Bose goes for the gusto with the Soundbar 500. In casual 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 out of 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 the harmonic hash selectively laid on speaking characters in a movie or TV show by soundtrack-sweetening engineers. This hyper-reactive speaker exaggerates such tweaking, and sensitive ears will find it wearing.

Ahh, that’s better

Fortunately, I was able to tame the beast using the soundbar’s companion Bose Music app, which is available for Android and iOS devices. In my primary test kitchen set-up I took the treble down two notches ( -20) and turned up the bass (+10) in the app. This worked wonders! It leveled out 90 percent of the scratchy artifice, while retaining just enough presence for character development and scenic ambiance.

I 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 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, and they were pretty much a no-show on the family-room Panasonic, a high-end plasma with truly bleh back-firing speakers.

bose image 6 Jonathan Takiff

The Bose app makes audio adjustments and playback control easy, but Bose relies on it just a little too much.

Playing around with the placement of the Soundbar 500 also helped optimize performance.  With 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 flat panel TV, ideally at or near ear level.  The innards likewise seem optimized 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 lot.) Bose’s Soundbar Wall Bracket (an additional $40 from sources such as Amazon) lends the speaker a very stylish “floating” look, with just enough clearance (0.75 inches) to maximize 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 conventional (20 -inch high) TV table in front of the free-standing 55-inch Panasonic. I wound up lowering the treble an extra 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.

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