Bose Smart Soundbar 900 – Bose’s first Dolby Atmos 5.0.2 soundbar (review)
The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is its first Dolby Atmos (DA) all-in-one soundbar and more than a tacit acknowledgement that 3D spatial sound is the best way to view video content. With the caveat that you need DA content, and a DA enabled TV to best use this soundbar.
But the lack of a DA sound stream does not stop it as Bose TrueSpace technology kicks in remixing stereo 2.0 signals to add some ‘height’ without adding ceiling speakers. In other words, it can produce faux 5.0 surround sound.
It is expandable. You can add a Wireless Bass Module 700 ($1195), making it 5.1.2. Or add Bose Surround Speakers ($529.95) – sorry, it does not make it 7.0.2 – it is for reinforcement of the front Left/Right surround side-firing, e.g., it is still 5.0.2. Each rear speaker needs a separate wireless receiver/power module.
Of course, at $1,399.95 for the all-in-one bar and the options take it to $3125, we would be remiss not to mention that there are excellent soundbars at under $2,000 that have discrete rear speakers and up to 11.1.4 channels.
Who is the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 for?
Bose Buffs are its primary market where it can seamlessly become part of the Bose multi-room audio ecosystem. It also works exclusively with Bose SimpleSync capable Bluetooth headphones, earphones and speakers that connect to the soundbar to provide a simultaneous soundbar and headphone experience.
Bose Smart Soundbar 900 Dolby Atmos all-in-one soundbar
|Price||$1399.95 with free delivery Wireless Bass Module $1195 Rear Wireless surround speakers $529.95 Set $3125 Soundbar Wall Bracket (proprietary) $69.95|
|Colours||Black and Artic White|
|Country of origin||Malaysia|
|Company||Bose (Est 1964) by Amar Bose in 1964 in Framingham, Massachusetts. It is best known for its home audio systems and speakers, noise-cancelling headphones, professional audio products and automobile sound systems. Bose has a reputation for being particularly protective of its patents, trademarks, and brands and seldom reveals the specifications of its products. The majority owner is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.|
|More||CyberShack Bose news and reviews|
We suggest you read our guide, Five tips for better TV sound – Dolby Atmos for beginners to understand the different DA setups. Essentially these range from all-in-one soundbars to discrete speakers and home theatre.
Bose buffs are true believers about its products – it can do no wrong. So, it matters not if Bose doesn’t reveal specifications or if a review is indifferent (never bad in their cognitive dissonant eyes) because they will buy it anyway.
Why am I telling you this? Well, extensive testing for this review says it is worthy of the Bose name, and you will be delighted with it. But is it as good as other brand all-in-one soundbars (with or without the rears and sub) or discrete component home theatre? The answer is that it competes well in the right circumstances but not so much if you have to option it up.
What are those right circumstances?
This all-in-one soundbar has nine speakers/amps – 2 x Left/Right stereo racetrack (4), centre forward-firing tweeter (1), Left/Right side fire dipole transducers (2) and Left/Right up-fire tweeters (2). It uses PhaseGuide (a Bose term for psychoacoustics) to make sound directional.
Psychoacoustics rely on bouncing sound from the Left/Right up-firing (height) speakers off the ceiling and Left/Right side-firing (surround) of adjacent walls. Its PhaseGuide technology does that well if you have a standard ceiling height and adjacent walls.
If you have high ceilings and one or no side walls, psychoacoustics simply don’t work, and you need a system with discrete rear side-firing and up-firing to compensate. You could look at the Bose rear and sub solution at that time, but there are lower-cost alternatives.
Bose has ADAPTiQ technology to play a series of tones received by a ‘head-worn’ microphone to tune the speakers to the room. It takes measurements from five locations – where you sit to watch TV, to each side of that, and one further away.
The ‘before and after’ tuning is like ‘chalk and cheese’. Before – you get very much forward-centric overhead sound (as in most all-in-one soundbars), and Dolby Atmos definition is poor. After – you get a far better ‘seat-centric’ overhead sound, and the surround sound is better.
Bose says (and you know how Cybershack feels about marketing hype)
The Smart Soundbar 900 puts you in the centre of your music or movies in an entirely new way. By combining custom arrays, dipole transducers, and low-profile transducers with Bose spatial technologies, it produces a layer of realism no other speaker can duplicate.
Bose may be correct, but the proof is in the listening. Once it is ADAPTICiQ setup, it does a creditable job for an all-in-one. But we happen to have other 5.0.2 and higher discrete speaker DA soundbars on the testbed, and we need to call out the ‘no other speaker can duplicate’ bit.
Back to the review.
First impression – smick Artic white and a glass top
It is a lovely package. Arctic White and the glass top add an elegant look. The Black version has a two-tone glass top – also stylish.
On the rear are HDMI 2.1 eARC, Optical, Ethernet and four 3.6mm ports for the ADAPTiQ, IR blaster (you can add that if the IR remote won’t reach), and cabled sub (it is wireless but can use a cable).
Critics lament the lack of extra HDMI ports, but in reality, content devices should connect to the TV ports leaving the HDMI 2.1 eARC cable to pass through uncompressed sound.
In all, a class act!
- Download the Bose Music App (Android or iOS). You need to set up a Bose account and provide location permission
- Plug-in power, HDMI (or Optical) and Ethernet (or Wi-Fi)
- Follow the App, and that is it
- It has basic HDMI CEC meaning that it can use most TV remotes for power on/off and volume up/down.
Most HDMI eARC TVs should self-configure to use the bar. If you have issues, it is usually because you have an older HDMI ARC port or are using older HDMI Cables ( read HDMI cables are not all the same. Which one do you need?). Or you may have had a different soundbar attached, and the TV expects that. If so, a TV power down and power up (switching the power off/on) should work or, at worst, a factory reset of the TV.
We also had issues with a Windows 11 Media Centre that required a sound reset and to select a Dolby Atmos device. But it all worked in the end.
Finally, is mounting. At 104.5 L x 10.7 D x 5.81 cm H x 5.75kg, it should fit under most TVs but make sure it fits between the TV legs. If you want to wall mount, you can buy a pair of proprietary wall mounts.
Bose Music App features
- Supported audio format: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus
- No DTS content – it downmixes to PCM 2.0
- ADAPTiQ room tuning
- Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
- Voice4Video technology (Alexa only)
- SimpleSync connectivity
- Dialogue enhancement (no Night Mode)
- Basic EQ (+/- 6dB Bass, Treble)
- Chromecast, AirPlay2
The App is for all Bose devices and is usually bullet-proof. We had issues. It did not finish Google Assistant setup, required resetting the TV (explained earlier), and ADAPTiQ fell over during setup requiring App uninstalls and reinstalls. It all worked eventually. Please note that the NETGEAR RAX200 AX11000 router is less than 2 metres away, so it was not the home Wi-Fi network nor the Android device the App was on.
Voice4Video technology (Alexa only)
Alexa will take and make calls and enables the exclusive Bose Voice4Video feature that turns a TV on to the channel or input asked for. It has dual voice array mics good to about 5 metres away.
Remote (not backlit)
It has power, source buttons (music, TV, Bluetooth), volume, mute, media playback buttons (skip, play/pause) and six pre-set buttons (for audio or video channels). It is not highly responsive, but that could be an issue with IR sensitivity. In reality, you will use the TV remote most of the time and the App to make any changes.
You can simultaneously hear content via the soundbar and the devices below – good for the hearing impaired.
- Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
- QuietComfort® 35 wireless headphones II
- QuietComfort® 35 II Gaming Headset
- QuietComfort® 45 headphones
How does the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 sound?
It is an all-in-one soundbar, it does not have a sub-woofer or discrete rear speakers, and it must do all the 5.0.2 work. On that basis, it is comparable to similar all-in-one bars from Samsung, LG, Sony, JBL and Sonos.
Our testbed has the correct room setup, and the ADAPTiQ room tuning works a treat (most competitors have some form of room tuning). Before tuning, it has a very front-centric sound. After tuning, the height effect is closer to where you sit. Conversely, step out of that pre-set range, and there is no height effect.
We tested with DA, PCM 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM 5.1. Remember, it has no DTS.
DA sound is less distinct than comparable soundbars. You still hear the ‘helicopter’ overhead, but it tends to be less directional. Sound objects tend to blur into each other instead of independently moving elements.
PCM does not have height channels, and TrueSpace adds a slight sense of height, but the surround effect without rear speakers is limited.
It does not have a sub-woofer, so it misses the low-bass you can feel – no room shaking. It has good mid-bass and lower notes are excellent. It has flat mid and treble, making it close to a neutral sound signature. It is pretty typical of the Bose sound signature.
Finally, while the App’s Clear Voice switch does make a difference, it is not as clear as other competitive soundbars.
You may note the jagged treble (2kHz+) on the sound signature graph. The top end is not as well controlled as it could be (I am sure a firmware update can cure that) so it can get a bit harsh. It can get loud – over 85dB but distortion becomes more evident as you push it.
Price and Competitors
Cybershack does not comment on price. As famous investor Warren Buffet says, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” To use an analogy there are cars ranging Lada to Buggatti and you know what – they all have four wheels and an engine. So lesson #1 is that you buy the best you can afford.
To narrow that down if you have the budget then at $1399 it competes most closely with Sonos ecosystem and the $1499 Sonos Arc. If you search for Bose 900 vs Sonos Arc, you will find hundreds of comparisons that say both are excellent all-in-one designs, but the Arc perhaps has the edge. We can’t comment on the Bose with its optional (and damned expensive) speakers, but the Sonos becomes quite spectacular (Ditto) with its add on rear speakers and sub.
In fact, we happen to have the Sonos Arc on the testbed and the Sonos One SL rears and Sonos Sub. But for this comparison, we compare apples with apples – soundbar only. The Sonos Arc with eleven speakers/amps versus the Bose’s nine
- Is slightly ahead on sound quality, 3D sound object definition and clarity.
- Has more satisfying and realistic 3D height
- Equally good 2.0 surround up-mix
- Both Night mode and Clearer Dialogue settings (important for the hearing impaired)
- DTS Support
- Its TruePlay (for iOS only) room tuning is as effective as Bose ADAPTiQ
- It has one of the most convincing DA implementations of any all-in-one soundbar.
The Bose excels
- Slightly stronger mid-bass
- Simple Sync technology to connect Bose headphones to the soundbar for simultaneous listening
JBL 9.1 5.1.4 at $1499.95 is a worthy competitor because it has a dedicated sub and detachable rear speakers. There is no need to have the perfect room acoustics with this.
LG’s 2022 range are interesting competitors as they have a dedicated centre channel up-firing speaker and a separate sub-woofer. We have yet to review these, but the S90QY 5.1.3 is the closest competitor at $1299, and the S80QR 5.1.3 at $1499 has dedicated rears speakers. The flagship S95QR 9.1.5 at $1999 is spectacular (we heard that at the launch).
Samsung with its 3.1.2 HW-Q800B/XY at $899 or 5.1.2 HW-Q800B/XY at $1099. You can add 2.0.2 rear speakers as well. Or the 11.1.4 HW-Q990B/XY at $2099 could be what you want. We have yet to review these.
Sennheiser Ambeo 5.1.2 at $3499 is quite exceptional for an all-in-one soundbar.
CyberShack’s view – The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is great given the limitations of any DA all-in-one soundbar
It competes in that premium price bracket. But as with most all-in-one soundbars, it can be too forward-centric, resulting in a reasonable but not entirely convincing DA sound stage. The lack of DTS is not so much an issue, but you may be surprised how many DVD/Blu-ray movies have DTS:X spatial sound.
As far as audio streaming and its Spotify client, let’s just say that a soundbar to reproduce 2.0 content is great, overkill even.
And Bose Buffs will love its sound signature as that is what they hear via its headphones and speakers.
- Decent DA sound stage but lacks precise sound object placement
- Nice elegant design
- AdaptiQ works well if you have a suitable viewing space
- Six pre-set buttons on the remote are functional, but the remote is not backlit
- Dialogue enhancement is adequate but not class-leading
- Very forward centric sound if in the ‘wrong’ room
- Probably need the rears and sub for best performance, but that opens up the competition