STEREO GUIDE test verdict
+ balanced sound tuning with good speech intelligibility, fine highs and rich bass
+ Controllable via app and infrared remote control and HDMI-eArc
+ Bluetooth connectivity, subwoofer output and possibility for wireless rear speakers.
- 3D effect of Dolby Atmos barely perceptible
- Bass clipping at higher listening volume makes sound seem shrill
- no analog inputs
Sound: Tonal balance / Transparency8.2
Sound: Bass / Dynamics8.1
Sound: Spatial imaging8.2
Ease-of-use / Connectivity9.5
As a reviewer, it is not often that Bose acts as a price breaker in an innovative segment. But in the case of soundbars with Dolby Atmos integration, that is indeed the case. While the competition in the 500-euro class is just capable of virtual Atmos and a bit of stereo base width expansion, the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 is equipped with real upfiring speakers and three discrete channels in front and on both sides. But that’s not all: Buy matching rear speakers*(Bose Surround Speaker 700*) and subwoofers – Bose Bass Module 700* or Bose Bass Module 500* – and connect them wirelessly. However, the price then increases from a low 550 Euros to around three times that amount. For that, you get a JBL Bar 1300 set that is just as fully equipped, which we last tested. We therefore first test the Bose soundbar as a one-box system.
But the Bose bar has another strength in comparison: It is extraordinarily compact and flat for an Atmos soundbar with discrete immersive channels. It is less than 70 centimeters wide and just 5.5 centimeters high. It does not get more inconspicuous on a designer lowboard in front of the TV mounted on the wall.
This is how the five channels of the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 work
There it is also acoustically ideal, because both to the side and upwards the individual transducers want to have some air to unfold. However, Bose also offers a wall mount* for the Smart Soundbar 600. For this use, the developers have included a special equalization in the Bose Music app, which we will talk about in more detail below. And it should definitely be activated then.
A total of five active, individually controlled transducers are hidden inside the compact bar. Two approximately oval full-range speakers radiate to the left and right sides. They are thus supposed to provide an appropriate spatial representation even with music. An additional, smaller tweeter aims right at the listener from the center of the soundbar and improves both voice intelligibility and the localization of dialogue taking place on the flat screen.
Two more full-range drivers sit on top of the cabinet, behind a demonstrative grille facing upward. They are supposed to provide the Atmos sound in indirect mode. As usual, Bose is silent about the wattage of the five integrated power amplifiers in the Soundbar 600. But such sales-promoting performance specifications are also irrelevant for normal users.
The dream of space: stereo becomes truespace
When stereo or normal surround material is played, a Bose proprietary blowup algorithm creates an Atmos-like 3D soundfield. Bose calls this Truespace, and we are particularly curious to see what it is capable of producing in terms of room imaging with stereo music in the listening test.
Two very long, winding bass reflex channels are supposed to give the Bose Soundbar 600 convincing low bass even without subwoofer support. They end at the back of the case, so we would really recommend a little distance in all directions around the bar.
Connections and codecs
The Bose Soundbar 600 is also surprisingly modern in terms of connectivity: It communicates with the TV via the HDMI-eARC port and decodes Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus as well as Dolby Digital streams.
Additionally, there is an optical digital input for streamers, CD players and older TVs. However, the Bose soundbar does not have an analog input. The two jack sockets are reserved for an external infrared command receiver and as a subwoofer connection.
After all, the Soundbar 600 can be easily connected via WLAN into the home network and understands all major wireless streaming protocols: Besides Airplay 2 and Spotify Connect, as well as Google Chromecast and Bluetooth 4.2. Amazon Alexa can be used for voice control with the Bose Bar, as long as you have a corresponding account and link it to the home theater speaker in the Bose app.
Alexa relies on Bose’s own array of multiple microphones to improve speech intelligibility. The Bose Voice4Video function can even be used to control the most important basic functions of the connected TV or set-top box via voice commands. The use of Google Assistant is also possible, but only when a corresponding smart Google device is integrated in the network.
Remote control or app?
Bose also grants the user freedom of choice in terms of control. An infrared remote control is included with the soundbar. It can only be used to control the basic functions such as volume, mute and source selection. However, it absolutely does its job as a replacement for the app or the HDMI ARC control with the remote control of the connected flat-screen TV.
In Bluetooth operation, the small credit card remote can even provide simple playback control of the wirelessly connected audio source. However, the most important functions can also be set on the touch surfaces on the soundbar itself. It is a pity that the small LEDs for visual feedback cannot be seen from many angles. And even if you catch a glimpse from the front in the direct top view, question marks remain without an instruction manual, what the TV speaker wants to tell you with that?
Practical app for easy customization of the soundbar
Bose has cleverly integrated the user manual directly into the corresponding app. We already know the free Bose Music app for iOS and Android from various other products, but it can only be used after registering with the manufacturer. It seems interesting mainly because of its grouping feature called SimpleSync. With it, you can quite easily integrate the Soundbar 600 with Bluetooth speakers from Bose into a kind of simple multi-room environment. However, all grouped Bluetooth speakers then play the same music synchronously, as with PartyBoost from JBL or the stack function from Marshall. If you expect real multi-room audio with different music in different rooms, you have to set up and control different listening zones via WLAN with the Music App.
The app plays a central role in the Smart Soundbar 600 right from the start: It does not make a sound without initial setup via the app. The app also provides useful functions for acoustic adaptation to the respective application. In addition to the already mentioned wall EQ function for wall mounting and near-wall placement, there are also bass and treble controls. The latter should not be confused with the “Height Channel” control. This is because it adjusts the level of the upward-facing effect speakers of the Height channels of Dolby Atmos. As for time delays between picture and sound, there is a lip-sync function here.
This is how much Atmos the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 does
If you equate Atmos with atmosphere, then the Bose bar does a good job. Even the initial check with a voice switching back and forth between the individual channels showed: A wide soundstage that goes a good bit beyond the limitations of the almost 70 cm wide soundbar on each side succeeds very convincingly. But we can’t report a tangible height difference in the reproduction any more than we can report a rear localization of the surround channels.
Who is more likely to reach the limit? The neighbor and the soundbar?
After all, the sound detached very well from the inconspicuous black casing of the TV sound system in the first run-through with music recordings in stereo. Tonally, the Smart Soundbar 600 follows the line of the house: Voices sounded full-bodied and clearly articulated, the trebles blended in harmoniously and unspectacularly. The bass was impressive for the size of the speaker – at least at room volume. However, anyone who overdoes it by turning up the volume, which is likely to lead to problems with the neighbors in normal residential buildings, will upset this well-dosed balance. The DSP chip inside the Smart Soundbar then limits the bass until drums only make a “pop” instead of a “thump”. The whole sound balance then tips into the aggressive with pointed voice reproduction.
Of course, a large, albeit acoustically optimized listening room like the one at the esteemed LowBeats colleague Raphael Vogt certainly represents the worst case for a bar like the Bose in terms of size – and at the same time the best case in terms of freedom to turn it up at will. If you stay within the limits of what is possible for normal people in normal living rooms, you might be amazed especially by the volume and the bass response. The subtlety and resolution of the overtones, such as those of cymbals, also need not hide for the moderate price of the Soundbar 600. So especially rock music with acoustic drums was really fun, especially since the punch of the bass drum was right.
Movie Fun for the Living Room
You will certainly reach the limits of the compact Bose sound system faster in movie playback. Those who like it bloodcurdling might already consider the costs of a subwoofer extension during the title sequence of the new Top Gun rehash, which is underpinned with fat synthesizer basses. However, the Bose solution does a good job of enhancing a flat-screen sound at room volume.
The unconventional concept with a central tweeter and the broadband drivers radiating to the sides, however, leads to a peculiarity, which, apart from sensitive reviewer’s ears, might not be noticed by all users: Dialogues in the center of the screen – i.e. from the center – sound more direct, sharper focused and better locatable than the diffuse sound cloud around it.
The Bose also fails to locate phantom sound sources from above or behind the seats when playing movies and music tracks in Dolby Atmos. The impression with the channel test disc held out by colleague Vogt is thus confirmed in practice, as expected. However, the multitude of channels and Bose’s tricky surround sound algorithms at least manage to conceal the comparably small dimensions of the soundbar case. The fact that the Smart Soundbar 600 doesn’t grant much transparency due to the automatic selection of sound formats and that attentive listeners can sometimes catch it pumping in the dynamics is collateral damage that such a concept brings with it.
Test conclusion and alternatives to the Bose Smart Soundbar 600
In the illustrious circle of smart soundbars with voice control and Dolby Atmos playback, Bose launches a real special offer with the 600. The advantages are considerable simplicity of use despite the inherently complex functions and the variety of formats. The surcharge to the popular Bose Solo 5 TV sound system is worth it for any reasonably ambitious user, if only because of the much larger connection and expansion options. As with the Sonos Beam 2 in the same price range, you should not expect too much from the Atmos support. Whether 2D or 3D sound makes practically no difference in the spacious but diffuse imaging. In this respect, you should not be put off by the fact that the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 does not support the DTS:X format.
Specifications Bose Smart Soundbar 600
- Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: 500 $
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 69.5 x 5.6 x 10.4 cm
- Weight: 3.1 kg
- Features: HDMI-eARC, Dolby Atmos with discrete treble speakers, Chromecast, Alexa Built-in, supports Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus formats.
- More at www.bose.de
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