After Bose previously surprised us with what turned out to be a powerful Soundbar 700, expectations of the successor, the Smart Soundbar 900, are high.
The Soundbar 700 is still as good as ever, and with HDMI ARC it can be used with any TV. But it's also time for Bose 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, also to make room for top speakers for Dolby Atmos. These speakers direct the sound to the ceiling, where it reflects down to the listener on the sofa. Bose uses acoustic waveguides, which they call PhaseGuides, to control dispersion so the soundbar can best simulate real 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 encompasses 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 ensure an extra large sound image. Or, as Bose himself says, "a level of realism that no other speaker can replicate".
Even if the movie or music content doesn't have a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, the tech should still be able to give the appearance of one by "mixing" the soundtrack. For better or worse, because this surround effect cannot be turned off, but it is always there - even when listening to music in stereo.
If you like bass, the Soundbar 900 delivers "extraordinary bass performance" with virtually no distortion, thanks to a specially designed bass reflex port. Bose calls it the QuietPort.
An important party trick is adapting it to the room in which the soundbar is located, with something called ADAPTiQ room correction. It comes with a headset microphone that you put on and then performs a calibration through the soundbar. This happens five times from different places in the room.
functions and connections
The new top model features HDMI eARC, which supports high-resolution audio directly from the TV. It also has 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, as well as Chromecast via the latest software update. So there is 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 an external subwoofer.
The soundbar connects to the home wireless network by downloading the Bose Music app and pressing two buttons on the included remote control to locate the soundbar and bring it onto the network.
It supports both 2.4 and 5GHz, with Bose recommending 5GHz whenever possible. This is because the same antenna is used for 2.4GHz and Bluetooth - with the result that the Bluetooth connection can become less stable as the soundbar constantly checks whether it is connected to the network.
Bose Smart Soundbar 900 in use
With the soundbar on the network, it is easy to operate. You can download Spotify and Deezer via the Bose app, or play them and other services via Chromecast, AirPlay or Bluetooth.
The TV plugs into the port labeled eARC and the app will indicate if you're playing content with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Practical. You can use the included remote control to control the volume, but you can also use the TV remote control (make sure HDMI-CEC is enabled on the TV).
The soundtrack of the mafia epic The Irishman is rendered with clear dialogue and usable dynamics. Even without a subwoofer next to it, the bass is surprisingly good. Rifles and pistols boom well, much more clearly than the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3. And the atmospheric music is well under control.
It's about on par with the Sonos Arc, which has many strengths but might not be the most explosive of its kind. In this discipline, it has to admit defeat to the Samsung HW-Q910A and HW-Q960A (the latter with rear speakers) and the cheaper Klipsch Cinema 600. And not just because the other soundbars have a subwoofer, but because they're inherently more muscular.
Gigantic sound stage
The soundstage of the Bose soundbar is really big. Not quite as big, clear and tidy before the room correction, but after the correction we are presented with a gigantic soundscape. Much larger than what we are used to from other soundbars. One almost wonders how this is possible without additional rear speakers!
However, it doesn't sound entirely natural. Because in the prison canteen, where the discussion between Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Tony Pro (Stephen Graham) is conducted in a bitter tone, an audible reverberation has already been added to the soundtrack. When Bose adds its sound, things get pretty weird. It almost sounds like they are sitting in a large parking garage.
Impressive at first glance, but anyone who knows the film's soundtrack knows it's not true. The reverberation also becomes somewhat metallic and ends abruptly just before the fade away. Just like 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 is almost too much reverberation here. It sounds like Bose was a bit keen on the 3D effect. The sense of space can sometimes feel a bit artificial.”
The large hologram also weakens the ability to center dialogue. They become a little diffuse and slightly withdrawn. B&W Panorama 3 is better at that. It might be experienced differently from recording to recording, but Bose's digital manipulation of the soundstage is quite evident.
Music isn't the soundbar's favorite for the same reason. For music in stereo, we like to turn off the surround sound. We wanted to do that with its predecessor and even more with this one. Because with the top speakers you get even more of the spectacular effects, while we prefer to hear stereo recordings in pure stereo. No artificial environment. However, there is a lot of blinding here!
We recommend a subwoofer
As already mentioned, the Soundbar 900 can be paired with a wireless subwoofer. Choose between the smallest Bass Module 500 or – best of all – the largest Bass Module 700. The 700 Bass worked wonders with its predecessor, which received an enormous boost in the low bass range. And it will do exactly the same for the new soundbar, giving the soundscape a good bass foundation that contributes more to the cinematic experience with movies and TV.
You could also consider the Surround Speakers or Surround Speakers 700 wireless rear speakers, but then the price is also approaching a fairly beefy surround system.
The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is a soundbar that you should definitely check out if you're looking for the widest soundstage possible without using rear speakers. It's impressive what it can do.
However, it doesn't always sound natural, and we wish we could turn off the surround feature - especially when listening to music in stereo. Unfortunately that is not possible.
Nevertheless, the soundbar has enough power and clear enough sound for good movie experiences, and it does well without a subwoofer. A sub should still be considered, even if it almost doubles the price.