2023 saw Bose introduce several new flagship products, including the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds and QuietComfort Ultra Headphones which both impressed us, especially with their top-class noise-cancelling abilities.
Bose also introduced this new Smart Ultra Soundbar. With similar looks, dimensions and driver configuration to the previous range-topper, the Smart Soundbar 900, it’s reasonable to wonder what the differences between the old and new bars might be, and whether the new model offers enough to come out on top in the supremely popular Dolby Atmos soundbar arena.
The current price of £799 / $899 / AU$1499 puts the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar up against some top rivals, including the Sonos Arc and Sony HT-A7000, which set high benchmarks for Dolby Atmos soundbars at this level. The Arc currently retails for £899 / $899 / AU$1499, while the Sony HT-A7000 costs £969 / $1399 / AU$1699.
Bose's new Smart Ultra Soundbar sports the design and build quality you would expect of a flagship bar at this price. It’s solid and weighty, feeling robust and well-made.
However, if you’re expecting a brand new look and design over the previous model, you would be mistaken: the new soundbar features a similar outer grille and polished tempered glass top as the previous generation and is also available in black or Arctic white. It measures 105cm in width and 5.8cm in height, so it should fit under most TVs.
Connectivity HDMI (eARC), optical, wi-fi, Bluetooth 5.0, AirPlay 2, Chromecast
Format support Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus
Streaming Spotify Connect, Amazon Music, Deezer
Voice control Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
Dimensions (hwd) 5.8 x 105 x 11cm
The new Bose features a total of nine drivers: there are three tweeters (one at each end and one positioned centrally on the front panel), plus six ‘racetrack’ full-range units, two of which fire upwards to create the Dolby Atmos effect.
Located on the rear of the bar are HDMI eARC, optical, and ethernet ports. The placement of these main connections is nicely spread out across the middle of the bar’s rear so they are unlikely to interfere with one another. There’s no HDMI passthrough, which you do get from some rivals (such as the Sony HT-A7000) but not others (the Sonos Arc, for example).
Additionally, there are four 3.5mm sockets with three offering users extra functionality: a ‘Bass’ port for a Bose subwoofer to be connected, one labelled ‘ADAPTiQ’ for hooking up the included headset used to calibrate the soundbar, and an ‘IR’ port for adding a separately-sold infrared receiver. The fourth 3.5mm socket labelled ‘Data’, as well as the USB-C port labelled ‘Service’, are both used for servicing purposes.
The Bose features two buttons on the top panel with accompanying status LED indicators. The ‘action button’ prompts Amazon Alexa while the other mutes the microphone. The LED light bar located beneath the ‘action button’ is used to display several different statuses and notifications, ranging from wi-fi and Bluetooth connections to Alexa or telephone call status.
The Bose can be controlled via the included remote or the Bose Music app. The remote is a simple design that can adjust volume, pause media being streamed via Bluetooth, switch between media sources, and turn the bar on or off.
The Bose Music app is a more comprehensive way to control the soundbar, allowing users to access AirPlay or Chromecast, as well as select from a range of radio stations. The app also offers users the option to boost or cut bass and treble frequencies to better suit the room, as well as adjust the relative volume of the centre and height channels. We find these controls to be responsive and useful while fine-tuning performance.
Additional features include ADAPTiQ calibration, which optimises the soundbar’s performance in your room. To set this up, first connect the included headset to the port on the back of the bar. Then head to the ADAPTiQ section of the Bose Music app where you will be prompted to wear the headset in five of your favourite spots around the room. While you are in each location, the bar will produce a range of sweeping tones and deep thumps and uses the microphone built into the headset to analyse the sound. Once that’s done, it will set the equalisation settings accordingly. The system works well, producing more balanced results.
On the streaming front, the soundbar offers support for Spotify Connect, Deezer, and Amazon Music. It does not, however, support Tidal Connect. This is disappointing news for those preferring to stream in higher-resolution formats, but you can still stream from Tidal via Bluetooth 5.0, an update from the previous model’s version 4.2.
One of the new features included is the AI Dialogue mode. Accessible via the app, it’s designed to enhance dialogue and help speech stand out during louder scenes. When engaged, we find it brings actors’ voices slightly forward in the mix by boosting certain midrange frequencies while cutting others. It does what it’s intended to do, but affects the innate balance of the sound too much, so we leave it off.
The Bose presents audio with an impressive sense of height and width. During scenes in John Wick, raindrops scatter from all directions and we’re given a good sense of depth and space. The same is true in the opening scene of Unbroken as planes and bullets rain down from all angles of the open sky, the soundbar presents the scene with a nice sense of scale and size.
While the placement of the different sonic elements is noteworthy, the overall sound is disappointing, especially during scenes with dialogue. We find ourselves distracted by the bar rather than being taken in by what’s on screen. The midrange of the Bose sounds somewhat congested and the highs feel harsh and scratchy at times. The aforementioned raindrops sound closer to a rustling bag than real rain and, as a result, often bury any accompanying dialogue. Switching to music, the hi-hats and shakers used in Bailando by Enrique Iglesias and Sean Paul have an unwanted grit and abrasiveness that is unpleasant, losing their smooth shuffle.
With the Smart Ultra Soundbar, the differences between loud and quiet moments don’t have the same impact as they do through other comparable bars, with the louder moments lacking conviction. This muted dynamic expression can be heard in scenes with sudden crashes, such as midway through The Batman as numerous car engines growl and heavy objects collide. Everything sounds a little too compressed and lacks clear separation, although the low end is usually present and intact.
Listening to a live Marcus Miller jazz trio performance, the percussive clunk of Miller slapping his bass strings along with the rhythmic intricacies of the drummer’s groove aren’t conveyed well, as the band veer towards a singular, squashed sound. The performance doesn’t lack width or size, however, what should be a variety of timbres and tones sound homogenised.
Switching to a class leader like the Sonos Arc, all of the intended subtleties shine through. Each instrument holds its own separate spot, with those finer occasional rhythmic elements captured and projected with more finesse. Enrique’s shakers sound sweeter while retaining their rhythmic drive and the rain in John Wick is delivered with more naturalness. Overall, the Bose presents audio in a wider and more expansive way, but everything we listen to sounds clearer and more refined with the Arc.
At this price, the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar puts itself up against some serious competition. It must be praised for its excellent build quality and immersive capabilities, but unfortunately for Bose, the considerably better audio quality provided elsewhere at the same price cannot be ignored.
- Sound 3
- Build 5
- Features 4
Read our review of the Sonos Arc
Also consider the Sony HT-A7000