Product Name : Soundbar 500
Manufacturer : Bose
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Bose is a company that many years now is manufacturing great performing, small sized speakers which has become a bit of a trademark of them. Their offerings may not be cheap that they were never meant to as it is their goal to offer premium quality products to their customers. Some time ago we had our first experience in a long time with one of their products as we tested their flagship soundbar, the Soundbar 700, and in general it left us with positive feelings both for it’s quality and performance.
Now we have the chance to try out the second in line soundbar in the series, the Soundbar 500, that comes with a lower price but also with lower specs and we are curious to see how much of a negative impact the lower cost has to it’s performance and if it can manage to offer us the kind of audio quality that all Bose products are known for. Keep reading our Bose Soundbar 500 review for our full analysis.
Design, Inputs and Features
As with it’s bigger brother, the 700, the Bose Soundbar 500 is rated as a 3.0 channels soundbar as it comes without any subwoofer or surround speakers in the main package. The soundbar is really compact in size measuring only 1.75″ (4.44cm) x 31.5″ (80cm) x 4.0″ (10.16cm) and with a weight of 7 lbs (3.18 kg) making it ideal for any kind of TV size, even smaller than usual where a big soundbar would look out of place. Also we definitely liked the lower profile compared to the 700 as it would certainly fit under almost any TV imaginable without blocking the panel or the IR sensor.
Being a middle tier soundbar the 500 doesn’t have the top premium look of the 700 but still have a certain quality level that we would describe as above average and clearly shows the quality Bose puts on their products even the ones that are not on the top of their class. Therefore the Soundbar 500 instead of the tempered glass of it’s bigger brother it gets a matte top finish that may not look so fancy and premium but it still has a nice look to it.
The front and sides are covered by a single perforated aluminum grill similar to the 700 while on the back we get all the connection ports grouped together. The Soundbar 500 may not wow you with it’s appearance but it comes with a build quality that is a few notches above the rest we have seen lately.
On the main body we only get 2 buttons with both of them located at the top left side. One of them turns off the microphone array if you don’t like some device hearing your voice all the time while the other is the voice control action button. Both buttons are touch sensitive making the whole design look more premium but on the downside as with all touch sensitive buttons finding them in the dark can be a bit of a pain.
Between these buttons and the perforated grill we get the same functions LED light bar that we had seen in the 700 model and it’s purpose is to give you a visual indication of the soundbar’s functionality at any given moment. Since there is no display this is the next best thing with various colors as well as lights depending what it is doing although we admit that it’s a bit difficult to remember every condition of this indicator. As with the 700 more than once we had to open the manual to check what a specific light color meant. A very nice aesthetic touch but not a very practical one.
Bose is selling a pair of wall brackets if you want to wall mount it but unfortunately you will have to pay extra for these which adds even more to it’s already expensive price. Also during wall mounting the soundbar has to be in the same horizontal position as when placed on a furniture due to the drivers placement which can make it extrude a bit from the wall. It’s not much but it may bother a few especially if you have very limited space.
One of the biggest differences we see between the Soundbar 500 and it’s bigger brother is that here we get less drivers in total meaning that this bound to have a negative impact on performance which we will analyze a bit later in our tests. This soundbar comes with five custom made, full range transducers with three of them in the front center as the main dialogue channel with the other two being placed at each side of the soundbar for the left and right channel.
Having the left and right drivers looking sideways is a bit of an odd design and one that we don’t see very often but we estimate that Bose did this in order to be able to push the boundaries of the soundstage that the 500 can create. We will see in our tests how much a design like this affects the resulting sound and if it was a good move from their engineers.
The soundbar also comes with what Bose calls QuietPort technology with the recessed ports using a piece of resistant screen to reduce vibrations and get more sound out of these narrow openings resulting in better, distortion-free bass from such a slim profile.
The soundbar can decode Dolby Digital but unlike the Soundbar 700 here we loose DTS decoding which is another victim of the lower price of the 500. Also there is no support for the latest Dolby Atmos or DTS:X as there are neither up-firing drivers nor any kind of virtual technology to support these which can really affect it’s performance and surround immersion.
The back of the unit hides all the connections grouped together and what we find here is an HDMI output that comes with eARC support, an Ethernet port for wired connection to the Internet, an Optical Digital input, the ADAPTiQ input for connecting the calibration microphone, a BASS input for connecting other devices, an IR input and a service only USB port.
Having just one HDMI can make it difficult for some situations and a second one would be preferable to have but unfortunately we have to settle with this. The unit also comes with full wireless capabilities and as such it comes with both WiFi and Bluetooth built-in and it’s clear that Bose has designed the unit around wireless functionality in order to keep physical connections to a minimum.
As our times dictate all devices must provide different means of control and Bose has done just that with the Soundbar 500 giving you many options to choose from. Obviously the most used means of control is with the included remote and here we find another difference compared to the bigger 700 model. The remote that comes with this unit is much smaller, has much less buttons and in general feels much less interesting than the one we used with the Soundbar 700.
While that remote had the ability to illuminate only the necessary buttons depending on the input source here we get nothing like that and instead we get one that has only the most necessary of buttons needed. As such on the top we get three input buttons, volume controls under them, playback buttons below and a set of 6 numerical buttons at the bottom. And although this remote is simple it has a nice matte rubber contour making it feel a bit more premium.
But if you are the type of person that likes to have everything in one device then Bose has also created the Bose music app which you can download to your smartphone and control the unit through that. We just need to warn you that if you are using the previous Bose SoundTouch app with some other Bose product that app is not compatible with the Soundbar 500 and you will have to download this new app to work with it.
But controlling the soundbar doesn’t end with only these two as we also get voice control functionality. In the unit there is a custom designed 8 microphones array that can detect your voice even in a loud environment. The unit supports both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant so you can choose whichever one you prefer the most. We tried Alexa with different levels of noise in our room and while in normal levels Alexa would detect our voice when we had the sound louder it became harder for the unit to detect our voice. In this case we had to pause the audio in order to issue our commands.
When talking to Alexa or Google Assistant the LED light bar indicates it’s status like listening, thinking or speaking giving you some visual information of the soundbar functionality at that given moment. Also you can use voice control not only to control the unit but also choose streaming services, hear news and weather forecasts among others.
Extra Features and Services
The Soundbar 500 comes with a few extra features that seem to be identical with what we saw in the 700 model. As such this soundbar includes a list of the most known streaming services including Amazon Music, Deezer, Pandora, SiriusXM internet radio, Spotify, TuneIn and iHeartRadio. Another streaming option is with Apple’s Airplay which allows you to stream audio from Apple devices while Airplay 2 gives you the ability to create your own multi-room environment.
Lastly we find in this unit the same kind of modularity that we saw in the Soundbar 700. This means that the Soundbar 500 may be sold as a standalone unit but you can improve it’s performance and capabilities by adding more speakers. You have 2 additional options to consider. The first one is the Bose Bass Module 500 which is a wireless subwoofer to help improve the low frequencies with the second being the Bose Surround Speakers in order to improve the surround immersion of the soundbar.
Both of them connect to the main unit wirelessly and you can configure them through the Boss music app. Connecting either of these extra speakers you can expand the base 3.0 system to a 3.1 system, 5.0 or go all the way to a 5.1 surround setup. Of course these extra speakers will up the cost considerably so you have to be sure of the total price.
One thing we should mention is that our testing was done using only the main unit without the Bass Module or the Surround Speakers because we wanted to determine the kind of quality we would get without the need of additional speakers that many people may not be able to afford. It’s a given that adding a subwoofer or surround speakers would improve the end result and if you can pay the premium price for them we definitely recommend to get them.
Having already some experience from the Soundbar 700 going through the initial setup was easy and painless although for people that are not used in such setups could take them a bit longer. But it is obvious that Bose tried to make the whole procedure as painless as possible and in this regard we can say they have succeeded. All you have to do is download the Bose Music App and go through the initial installation.
After making the necessary connections to our test TV we downloaded the Bose Music App in our smartphone and powered the unit for the first time. The initial setup includes connecting the soundbar to the WiFi as well as creating an Amazon account. After finishing these initial steps you have the option to go through the ADAPTiQ calibration which is a unique way of calibrating the soundbar, at least compared to other traditional means of calibration.
The ADAPTiQ includes a special headset that you wear and measures sound in various positions in the room. You will have to stay still and be quiet in order for the system to get as accurate measurements as possible but the results are very good in our opinion. We have experienced this system with the 700 model so we knew more or less what to expect from it.
Finishing calibration meant that our unit was ready for use. Of course through the Boss Music App you have the ability to further adjust the sound by changing the treble, bass and separate channels.
For our testing we decided to choose the 4K UHD version of Saving Private Ryan that comes with a fantastic Dolby Atmos audio track. Our soundbar may not be capable of reproducing the height effects in the track but the film offered a fine opportunity to test the limits of the unit we were testing and what kind of immersion it can offer.
The Soundbar 500 is basically a 3.0 channels system and as always with this film we tried the opening of the film with the landing of the Allied soldiers on Omaha beach. The first impression the unit gave us is that even with the unit’s relatively small size the front soundstage felt pretty wide while clarity and audio precision was very good. The soundstage was not as wide as we had experienced it during our Soundbar 700 testing but this was to be expected with a soundbar that is smaller in size and with less drivers at play. Dialogue was pretty clean and distinguishable even during busy action scenes and audio separation was pretty spot on.
It seems that Bose’s decision to place the left and right drivers sideways resulted in expanding the soundstage in the front far beyond the physical boundaries of the soundbar and there were moments that sound felt like coming from the far front corners even if the effect was not as obvious as we remembered with the 700 model. When the metal doors open and the German machine guns are ripping through the American soldiers you can hear the bullets fly to the left and right of the screen with very good precision.
As the unit is missing a subwoofer it’s low frequencies performance leaves a lot to be desired. If you expect rumble type of bass then you will disappointed as the Soundbar 500 cannot offer such a punch from it’s main unit. German artillery exploding on the beach lacked the oomph that would make us hold our breath during such a scene.
Another thing worthy of mentioning is the lack of any surround activity with most of the action situated in front of us. The soundbar lacks any kind of surround tech either through dedicated speakers or virtual tech that could improve the situation. If you want any kind of surround audio then have only one option to add the Bose Surround speakers and doing so you solve completely the lack of surround immersion of the core unit. When bullets fly past the camera you can hear them to the front right and left of the TV but there is no depth towards us or behind us keeping the action strictly at the front.
We get that not all people can afford or have the space to buy the subwoofer and the surround speakers. If you can and you are an avid movie fan then getting the whole 5.1 system is the way to go and you will really appreciate the result. If you can’t the main 3.0 channels unit is enough to elevate the basic TV audio experience and will offer a greatly expanded front soundstage but this is where it’s capabilities end.
Next we tried a few music tracks and here the Soundbar 500 fared a bit better as the omission of the surround speakers is not so obvious. We were still missing the subwoofer as bass was on the light side but we cannot say that it’s as necessary as with movies. We upped the bass of the soundbar a bit and things became better showing us that if you are mostly into hearing music the main unit can be more than enough for most people. In addition to a very solid mid-range and exceptional highs the unit was able to offer very good audio separation while vocals were sharp and precise.
We got the sense that during music the Soundbar 500 fared better as most action films ask for a more expanded soundstage that this unit fails to recreate faithfully while with music the front stage is enough for a good performance. We would still recommend the subwoofer but in this case we wouldn’t consider it a must have.
When you buy a soundbar it means that you want the best audio possible in the limited space you have because this is the most obvious reason to choose that over a dedicated audio system. In this regard the unit manages to get many things right.
It has excellent build quality that is a trademark of all Bose products, it comes with a nice Bose app that is easy and nicely made, it comes with voice control built-in, it has many streaming options for both online and through Bluetooth, it supports Apple’s Airplay, offers modularity in order to connect either a subwoofer or surround speakers while the main unit’s performance although not breathtaking it definitely elevated our experience from what we would have with the TV’s audio.
Obviously the number one drawback of the main unit is it’s price as with the same price you can get soundbars that include a subwoofer also. Also buying the subwoofer or the surround speakers, or both, separately ups the cost considerably and this can be a deciding factor for many. If you go just for the main unit the soundstage in the front feels full and rich but the same cannot be said about the surround as there is not much action happening behind us. The soundbar doesn’t have either the hardware or the software to create a surround immersion so expect all the action in front of you.
As with it’s bigger brother, the 700 model, the Bose Soundbar 500 model seems to have the same strengths and weaknesses as what we experienced was a unit that is not cheap but offers the kind of quality and performance that is characteristic of Bose. We would definitely recommend you to buy the Bose Bass Module 500 and Bose Surround Speakers also as they can elevate the performance of the unit so much more. But even the core unit in our opinion can offer the sound of quality and clarity that not many other soundbars can. And as such we definitely recommend it.
- Design Features : Metal construction with matte finish
- Integrated Components : 5 custom drivers, 8 microphones array
- Amplification Type : Active
- Output Features : QuietPort
- Audio Amplifier : Integrated
- Built-in Decoders : Dolby Digital
- Connectivity Technology : Wired, wireless
- Connectivity Interfaces : Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
- Internet Streaming Services : Amazon Music, Deezer, Pandora, SiriusXM internet radio, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeartRadio
- Features support : Airplay 2, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, optional Bose Bass Module 500 and Bose Surround Speakers (sold separately)
- Connections : HDMI (eARC), Infrared input, ADAPTiQ input, Ethernet port, USB (service), Bass in connector
- Dimensions (H X W X D) : 1.75″ (4.44cm) H x 31.5″ (80cm) W x 4.0″ (10.16cm) D
- Weight : 7 lbs (3.18 kg)