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Bose Soundbar 700 review: Voice control can’t save this lacklustre soundbar

Christopher Minasians
1 Aug 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
695
inc VAT

Bose’s Soundbar 700 might replace your smart speaker, but it’s no substitute for a properly cinematic audio system

Pros 
ADAPTiQ audio calibration
Built-in Alexa and Google Assistant
Excellent app integration
Cons 
Fails to deliver an engaging sound
Doesn’t support Dolby Atmos or DTX:S
Oversized remote control
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When it comes to audio, Bose is a household name. It’s been around for five decades, and currently makes some class-leading headphones, notably the QuietComfort 35 and the all-new Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

The company also has a decent portfolio of home cinema gear and speakers, and in August 2018, it came out with the intriguing Soundbar 700 – a low-profile TV speaker with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built in.

READ NEXT: Samsung HW-N850 review: The best soundbar

Bose Soundbar 700 review: What you need to know

The Bose Soundbar 700 is an all-in-one soundbar that also functions as a smart speaker. On setting it up you can choose whether to activate Alexa or the Google Assistant, after which it’ll listen for your commands and respond just like a regular Echo or Google Home device. You can also control it from the Bose Music app, which lets you play music directly from various services and grants access to multi-room capabilities.

To me, the Soundbar 700 looks like it’s designed to take on Sonos in a market where the latter has been dominant – and, like the Sonos Playbar, the Soundbar 700 has its limitations. While it’s compatible with both Dolby Digital and DTS, it doesn’t support surround sound metadata with height information, which means Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are off the table. It also doesn’t include a subwoofer: that’s an additional purchase, on top of the £700 you’ve already spent.

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Bose Soundbar 700 review: Price and competition

The Soundbar 700 isn’t cheap. The manufacturer’s website lists a price of £800 for both the black and Arctic White models; the black one can be found online for £695, but the white version that I tested will indeed set you back a full £800

For that price, there are numerous alternatives to consider, many of which support either Dolby Atmos or DTS:X – or, in some cases, both. These systems combine upward, sideward and front-firing drivers to deliver a more immersive experience than the Soundbar 700. Examples include the Samsung HW-N850 at £665; LG’s SK9Y soundbar at £549 and the SK10Y at £709; and Onkyo’s HT-S5805 system at £599

These systems also all come with a bundled subwoofer, which the Bose lacks. If you want to add proper cinematic depth to your Soundbar 700, the Bose Bass Module 500 costs an additional £380, while the more powerful Bass Module 700 comes in at £684. If you don’t need a subwoofer, the excellent all-in-one Samsung HW-MS750 makes a great alternative to the Soundbar 700 for a much more affordable £369. And if you don’t care about Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, the Samsung HW-N650 uses Samsung’s “Acoustic Beam” technology to simulate a surround sound experience for just £300. 

For those seeking true multi-room functionality, the obvious competitor is the Sonos Playbar at £699. And if you’re taken by the idea of voice assistant integration, the £227 Polk Command Bar comes with Amazon Alexa built-in – and, again, it comes with a separate subwoofer included in the price.

Bose Soundbar 700 review: Connectivity, design and features

The Bose Soundbar 700 measures 97.8cm in length, so it’ll pair well with a 40-55in television. It’s available in two colours – black and Arctic White – with a tempered glass top. This looks elegant but has a tendency to attract fingerprints, so Bose provides a microfibre cloth in the package. A metal grille wraps around the front and side of the soundbar, protecting the drivers.

Along the top left side of the bar, there are two touch-sensitive buttons – one to power it on, the other to mute the voice assistant. Unfortunately, these are rather small, which I found made them finicky and frustrating to use.

Around the back, you’ll find a multitude of ports. Alongside the eight-pin power connector, there’s a TOSLink optical input, HDMI (ARC/eARC) and an Ethernet socket, plus four 3.5mm jacks for data, IR, bass and Bose’s ADAPTiQ audio calibration system. It’s a decent spread, but it’s disappointing not to find a secondary HDMI port.

As well as Ethernet, the Soundbar 700 supports Wi-Fi (on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands), along with Apple AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth. Sadly, the latter is limited to the lowest-quality SBC codec; to get the best sound quality I’d suggest you stick to one of the other options.

The other major feature, of course, is the voice assistant. I tested Amazon Alexa, which was a simple matter of linking my Amazon account through the Bose Music app. With that done I could ask Alexa for the weather forecast or even to turn on my TV. If you’ve linked one of the four available music services – Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music or TuneIn Radio – you can also instruct Alexa to play music or tune into your favourite radio station. To indicate when the virtual assistant is listening, a soft-tone LED resides between the glass and metal grille frame, near the touch-sensitive buttons on the left side of the bar.

If you’d rather control the soundbar through physical means, you can use Bose’s Universal Remote. This is quite nicely designed, with a metal enclosure, soft rubber buttons and a backlight that activates upon motion, but at 23cm it’s preposterously large. Still, it doesn’t just control the soundbar: you can pair any number of digital devices to it, such as a television, a Blu-ray player, a games console, a video streamer (such as Apple TV or Roku) and even a cable or satellite box. It’s great to be able to control all your devices, including the Soundbar 700, with a single remote; however, there’s no built-in mic, so I couldn’t use the voice search feature on my Samsung 55Q9FN television.

READ NEXT: Polk Command Bar review: The best soundbar under £300

Bose Soundbar 700 review: Sound quality

Before diving into the sonic characteristics of the Soundbar 700, let’s talk about Bose’s “ADAPTiQ” system. One of the first steps required after you install the smartphone app is to go through the ADAPTiQ calibration process; unlike Sonos, Bose doesn’t limit this to iOS devices, but uses a proprietary headband-type device, which plugs into the soundbar. The app will instruct you to sit in five of your favourite spots in your living room – each time you do, the Soundbar 700 will output a set of frequencies and measure the response via the headband, which, in turn, gives you a tailored sound profile. If you happen to change the placement of the bar or get new furniture, it’s recommended to re-run the five-minute audio calibration through the app.

There’s no doubt that ADAPTiQ makes a huge difference to the sound. With it enabled, the Soundbar 700 comes to life, with a more engaging, livelier sound that’s tailored to the environment it’s placed in. 

I first chose to listen to Maroon 5’s “Sugar” on Amazon Music over Wi-Fi. The song is joyous and filled with plenty of positive vibes, but on the Soundbar 700, even with ADAPTiQ processing, it seemed to lack pizzazz and energy. That’s due to the rather one-dimensional sound the Bose soundbar produces: without upward- or sideways-firing speakers, all the sound comes out the front, rather than filling the space. 

The driver configuration doesn’t help matters either: it has just four four mid-to-low end drivers, positioned just off-centre, with a tweeter separating each pair. At the extremities are two passageways for its PhaseGuide technology, which routes sound around the back of the soundbar. This is supposed to give you room-filling coverage, but I found it was no match for a properly directional driver array.

That’s obvious as soon as you compare the Samsung HW-N850. With 13 drivers – nine evenly distributed along the front, two at the top and two on either side – it produces a sound that’s immediately more engaging and exhilarating. By comparison, the Bose Soundbar 700 sounds dull and closed, with little in the way of instrument separation.

The same limitations apply to cinematic audio. The Soundbar 700 supports both Dolby Digital and DTS, but in Transformers: Age of Extinction, supposedly powerful explosions sounded constrained, and actors’ voices felt as if they were being funnelled down a stereo channel. The HW-N850, with its more numerous array of drivers, brought the experience to life – and with Dolby Atmos-enabled, it absolutely wiped the floor with the Soundbar 700. There’s simply no comparison.

Another problem is the bass. Since there’s no dedicated subwoofer included in the package, the four main drivers have to handle both the mid- and low-end frequencies. As a result, the bass response is pushed in favour of forward-sounding mids, while low-end rumble is almost entirely missing. You’re simply not going to get that thrilling bass response with this system, without spending hundreds of pounds on the additional subwoofer.

The most positive aspect of the sound is its mid-range frequency response. When I tuned into BBC Parliament, Theresa May’s latest announcement on Brexit sounded neither boomy nor tinny, but clear and solid.

READ NEXT: Samsung HW-N650 review: Surround sound without the hassle

Bose Soundbar 700 review: Verdict

The Bose Soundbar 700 simply isn’t quite up to scratch. Frankly, it feels like an overpriced smart speaker with an HDMI connection, rather than a soundbar with voice assistant features built-in. Mind you, the same could be said about the Sonos Playbar.

There are certainly better options out there for the money. As I’ve noted, the Samsung HW-N850 really exposes the Bose Soundbar 700’s shortcomings. It also supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and ships with a subwoofer – for around £30 less. 

Alternatively, if you’re sold on the idea of a soundbar with an integrated voice assistant, consider the fantastic Polk Command Bar, instead. It sounds better, includes a subwoofer and costs just £227.

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