Here at What Hi-Fi? we endeavour to review and recommend a wide variety of soundbars at price points that range from budget to premium. But, just as the term ‘budget’ has become increasingly subjective lately, at the other end of the scale, matters aren’t always clear-cut either.
You need only take a look back at the evolving specs of our What Hi-Fi? Award winners over the last few years to see that technology in this area has improved rapidly, with Dolby Atmos and eARC now familiar features that were deemed uncommon not so long ago. So when describing a soundbar as being a premium model, it’s necessary not only to take into account a product's place within a brand’s range and the wider market, but also the year in which it was released.
With its long legacy in innovation, Bose prides itself on being a high-end audio brand. However, the company has been more than a little late to the Dolby Atmos party. Up until this year, when it released the Smart Soundbar 900, its flagship soundbar was the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 – a slick prospect when it was first released back in 2019 with its glossy finish, multi-room wi-fi streaming, voice control and room calibration software. But a lot has changed in three years, both in terms of technology and consumer expectation, not to mention Bose’s product line-up. So in light of all this, is there still a space for the Bose Smart Soundbar 700 at the top end of the soundbar market?
The Bose Smart Soundbar 700 launched at £800 / $800 / AU$1000 and can typically be found for around 6 per cent off. But despite being a few years old, it hasn’t undergone a significant price drop, which is surprising as it skirts rather close to the territory of Bose’s new flagship model, the Soundbar 900 with Dolby Atmos support, which currently costs £849 / $900 / AU$1399. In the wider market, both of these models are competing against the formidable What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Sonos Arc, which officially costs £899 / $899 / AU$1499 but is frequently available for around 15 per cent less.
Both Bose and Sonos give users the option to incorporate their soundbars into a multi-room system and/or add to them to create a full surround sound system. For Bose, this includes the additional Bose Surround Speakers 700 (£550 / $549 / around AU$1000) and Bose Bass Module 700 (£800 / $799 / AU$1000), whereas the Sonos can be expanded through the addition of two One SL speakers (£358 / $358 / AU$538) and a Sub (£749 / $749 / AU$1499).
While its cost might compare to the Sonos Arc, features-wise the Soundbar 700 is more on a par with the Sonos Beam Gen 2 (£449 / $449 / AU$699), though, unlike the Bose, the compact Sonos speaker also offers virtual Dolby Atmos decoding and eARC.
What it lacks in the features department the Soundbar 700 makes up for in appearance, with a slick, sophisticated finish. Available in black or white and with rounded corners, a metal wraparound grille and a tempered glass top, it's a design that’s made to be seen. Unfortunately, that glass topper can be seen a little too well as it reflects a fair bit of light from the TV screen above it.
Inside it contains just four racetrack woofers positioned close to the centre of the bar with two arrays of drive units at either end, using Bose’s waveguide technology to propagate sound outward and toward the listener. Meanwhile, a pair of curved bass ports with resistant screening augments the system’s low-end, which Bose claims is virtually distortion-free.
At the rear is a host of physical connections, though not the ones we’d most like to see. There’s a choice of HDMI ARC or optical to connect to your TV, but no eARC support or HDMI passthrough ports to connect external devices. Arguably, eARC isn’t necessary as the Soundbar 700 doesn’t support high bit-rate formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but a lack of any extra inputs is a disappointment. There are, however, plenty of ways to stream to the Soundbar 700, with wi-fi, Bluetooth, Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect compatibility.
The back of the soundbar is also where you’ll find a quartet of 3.5mm sockets that offer connectivity for a wired bass module, data, an infrared transmitter and, most importantly, the included ADAPTiQ headset. Setting up ADAPTiQ is done via the Bose Music app, and unlike other room calibration systems that use onboard mics, this one requires you to wear a headband with a microphone on the top as you sit in multiple listening locations around your room. This is actually less annoying than it sounds, and in our listening room adds more sparkle to the top end. There's the option to toggle the resulting changes on and off.
Connections HDMI ARC, Ethernet, Optical
Sound format support Dolby Digital, DTS
AirPlay 2? Yes
Voice control Google Assistant and Alexa built-in
Dimensions (hwd) 5.72 x 97.8 x 10.8cm
Weight 4.76 kg
On the soundbar’s surface, there are two capacitive controls, one multi-use ‘action’ button and a mute/unmute for the built-in microphone array used to activate either of the supported voice assistants – Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. The built-in Alexa also allows users to make and receive intercom calls to other Bose smart products and Amazon Echo devices or make hands-free calls to anyone from within your contacts list. Meanwhile, Bose’s Voice4Video feature further expands Alexa's capabilities by enabling users to turn on and control their TV or satellite box using their voice.
Unusually, the Soundbar 700 boasts a full-size motion-sensitive backlit remote that would make most TVs and AVRs jealous. Buttons can be assigned that are specific to your set-up, and it can be used as a universal controller for other devices too. It's a nice, well-designed addition that lends the 700 a touch of luxury. Unfortunately, the same amount of insight hasn't gone into the slim LED light bar that indicates the status of the soundbar through a confounding array of pulses and colour changes, and which requires the use of a key in the manual to decode.
Any concerns that the Soundbar 700 may be lacking in drivers is subdued by the convincing performance of those side firing arrays, which remarkably broaden the soundstage, spreading sound to either side of the listening position.
Watching the bike chase scene in Matera from No Time To Die on Blu-ray, the motion of the vehicles across the screen is more extensive than the soundbar’s dimensions, with a relatively solid and consistent projection.
In this respect, the Soundbar 700 actually seems to have a more tangible grip across its breadth than does the Soundbar 900. There’s clever processing at play in both bars, but the 900 has a more synthetic sound, with effects becoming less precise as they approach the periphery of the soundfield.
Unsurprisingly, the compact stature of the Soundbar 700 means that there are some instances where it struggles with bass frequencies. In the opening of Blade Runner 2049, there are moments of distortion as the lowest synth notes of the score are unwieldy and push it beyond its limits. Later in the scene where K heads to the orphanage, the 700 backs off from impactful explosive effects, leading to some dynamic unevenness.
Switching to the opening bar scene in The Social Network, vocals are notably crisp and clear and forthright but occasionally dominated by the background noise, which seems to be more emphatically projected to the listening position. Switching to Dialogue mode thins out these atmospheric sounds without adding too much in the way of tonal colour.
Like most soundbars, the 700 isn’t the most musical speaker, but it still manages a decent, entertaining performance. Streaming Blister In The Sun by Violent Femmes there’s a nice quick attack on the acoustic guitar in the intro. However, when the arrangement shifts from solo to the full band, things start to sound cluttered, and the crescendos are a touch limited. Even the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Sonos Arc has a restricted approach to music, but overall its performance is smoother and more enjoyable as a multi-use speaker.
The Bose Smart Soundbar 700 boasts a lovely design and a few nifty qualities that help distinguish it from the rest of the crowd, but ultimately struggles with something of an identity crisis as it lacks the key features consumers expect at this price point. For the same cost, or slightly more, it's possible to get a truly excellent Dolby Atmos soundbar such as the Sonos Arc, and there are plenty of solid mid-range bars available for less, including the Sonos Beam Gen 2 and the Samsung Q800A.
That said, with a sound performance that is broad, straightforward, crisp and in many ways more controlled and polished than Bose’s current flagship soundbar, the 900, the Smart Soundbar 700 may still make sense for those who are looking for a simple way to boost their TVs sound and aren't fussed about fancy features such as Dolby Atmos processing.
- Build 5
- Features 4
- Sound 4
Read our review of the Sonos Beam Gen2
Also consider the Sonos Arc
Read our Samsung HW-Q800A review
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