After Bose surprised us earlier with what turned out to be a capable Soundbar 700, expectations are high for the successor, Smart Soundbar 900.
The Soundbar 700 is still as good as it ever was, and with HDMI ARC it can be used with any TV. But the time has come for Bose too to support Dolby Atmos with sound from above!
Bose Smart Soundbar 900
The big brother of the 900 series is slightly wider than the 700 model, partly to make room for top speakers for Dolby Atmos. These speakers direct the sound towards the ceiling, where it is reflected down towards the listener on the sofa. Bose uses acoustic waveguides, which they call PhaseGuides, to control dispersion so the soundbar can best simulate true surround sound.
The technology is used not only for the top-mounted speakers, which reproduce the overhead channels in a Dolby Atmos setup, but also for the side speakers – to create a wider soundstage that more fully embraces the listener. Bose combines dipole speaker units and so-called low-profile units in carefully calculated rows, which together with digital signal processing are intended to provide an extra-large sound image. Or, as Bose itself says, “a layer of realism that no other speaker can replicate”.
Even if the movie or music content doesn’t have a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, the technology should still be able to give the impression of it by “mixing” the soundtrack. For better or worse, it turns out, because this surround effect can’t be turned off, but will always be there – even when listening to music in stereo.
If you like bass, Soundbar 900 delivers “exceptional bass performance” with virtually no distortion, thanks to a specially designed bass reflex port. Bose calls it the QuietPort.
An important party trick is the ability to adapt to the room the soundbar is in, with so-called ADAPTiQ room correction. It comes with a headband microphone that you put on, then runs calibration through the soundbar. This is done five times from different seats in the room.
Features and connections
The new top model features HDMI eARC, which supports high-resolution audio directly from the TV. It also has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, as well as built-in voice control with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. It also has Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2, plus Chromecast via the latest software update. So there’s something for everyone here!
The soundbar can be paired with other Bose smart speakers, either as a multi-room system or by expanding the soundbar with rear speakers and external subwoofer.
The soundbar connects to the home wireless network by downloading the Bose Music app and pressing two buttons on the included remote to locate and bring the soundbar onto the network.
It supports both 2.4 and 5 GHz, with Bose recommending 5 GHz if possible. This is because it uses the same antenna for 2.4 GHz and Bluetooth – with the result that Bluetooth connection can become more unstable because the soundbar will constantly check whether it is connected to the network.
Bose Smart Soundbar 900 in use
With the soundbar on the network, it’s easy to use. You can download Spotify and Deezer from the Bose app, or play them and any other services via Chromecast, AirPlay or Bluetooth.
The TV plugs into the connector labelled eARC and the app will show if you’re playing content with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Handy. You can use the included remote to control the sound level, but the TV’s remote can also be used (make sure HDMI-CEC is enabled on the TV).
The soundtrack of the mafia epic The Irishman is reproduced with clear dialogue and serviceable dynamics. The bass is also surprisingly good without a subwoofer next to it. Rifles and pistols roar well, considerably more distinctly than with the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3. And there’s good control over the atmospheric music all the while.
It’s about on a par with the Sonos Arc, which has many strengths but is perhaps not the most explosive of its kind. In that discipline it has to face heavy defeat from the Samsung HW-Q910A and HW-Q960A (the latter with rear speakers) and also the cheaper Klipsch Cinema 600. And that’s not just because the other soundbars have a subwoofer, but because they’re inherently considerably more muscular.
The soundstage from the Bose soundbar is really big. Not quite as big, clear and tidy before room correction, but after correction we are presented with a gigantic soundscape. Much bigger than we’re used to from other soundbars. One almost wonders how this is possible without extra rear speakers!
It doesn’t sound entirely natural, though. Because in the prison canteen, where the discussion between Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Tony Pro (Stephen Graham) takes place in a bitter tone, an audible reverb has already been added to the soundtrack. When Bose adds its sound, it all becomes rather strange. It almost sounds like they’re sitting in a big parking garage.
Perhaps impressive at first glance, but anyone familiar with the film’s soundtrack can tell it’s not right. The reverberation also becomes a bit metallic, and when it’s about to fade out, it ends abruptly. Exactly as if there is a noise gate on the sound.
“It sounds huge and boomy even without a subwoofer,” says Audun. “But at the same time, there’s almost too much reverb here. It sounds like Bose have been a bit keen on the 3D effect. The sense of space can feel a bit artificial at times.”
The large holograph also weakens the ability to place dialogue in the middle. They become a little diffuse and slightly withdrawn. B&W Panorama 3 is better at just that. It may be experienced differently from recording to recording, but Bose’s digital manipulation of the soundstage is quite evident.
For the same reason, music is not the soundbar’s favourite. For music in stereo, we like to disable surround sound. We wanted to do that on its predecessor and even more so on this one. Because with the top speakers you get even more of the spectacular effects, while we ourselves prefer to hear stereo recordings in pure stereo. Not artificial surround. There is, however, plenty of dazzle here!
We recommend a subwoofer
As mentioned, the Soundbar 900 can be paired with a wireless subwoofer. Choose from the smallest Bass Module 500 or – most preferably – the largest Bass Module 700. The 700 bass really worked wonders with its predecessor, which got a huge boost in the deep bass register. And it will do exactly the same for the new soundbar, giving the soundscape a good bass foundation that contributes more to the cinema experience with movies and TV.
You could also consider the Surround Speakers or Surround Speakers 700 wireless rear speakers, but then the price also starts to approach a pretty hefty surround system.
The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a soundbar you should definitely listen to if you’re looking for the biggest possible soundstage without the use of rear speakers. It’s impressive what it’s capable of.
It doesn’t always sound natural, though, and we wish we could turn off the surround function – especially when listening to music in stereo. Unfortunately, that’s not possible.
That said, the soundbar has enough power and sufficiently clear sound for those good movie experiences, and it does fine on its own without a subwoofer. A sub should still be considered, even if it almost doubles the price.