The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 delivers big, immersive Dolby Atmos audio but is less convincing when handling non-Atmos content
- Unified, confident and eloquent Atmos
- Well made and usefully compact
- Easy to integrate into a bigger system
- Non-Atmos content isn’t as coherent
- Wall bracket is a cost option
- Plenty of worthwhile alternatives
It’s no put-down to say you generally know what you’re getting with Bose. In terms of specification and build quality at a given asking price, the company is generally right on the money – and where out-and-out sound quality is concerned, well, there’s a broad template Bose set down some time ago.
And so it proves with the Bose Smart Soundbar 600. It’s usefully proportioned, properly constructed, gives more than a hint of Dolby Atmos sound from an appropriate soundtrack, and is priced to mix it up in an already competitive area of the market. Oh, and it sounds very much like a Bose product – which, again, is no put-down.
Add in a stack of well-implemented control options, a willingness to become part of a wider home cinema sound system and a mild-but-definite pride of ownership, and the case starts to look quite compelling. If the Smart Soundbar 600 didn’t insist on trying to force a facsimile of spatial audio out of soundtracks of any standard, and if it wasn’t lining up against such credible and capable opposition, it would be near the top of any sensible consumer’s shortlist.
Bose Smart Soundbar 600 review: What you need to know
The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 sits more or less in the middle of the company’s soundbar lineup – it’s a range that starts at less than £180 (the Solo Soundbar II) and keeps going all the way to pennies short of £900 (the Smart Soundbar 900). It’s designed to strike the sort of winning balance between size, price and Dolby Atmos sound quality that makes the similarly priced (and sized) Sonos Beam Gen 2 such an across-the-board favourite.
To do the audio business, it’s fitted with five drivers, arranged to offer a sensation of the sonic height that’s the whole point of spatial audio soundtracks. This being Bose, the amount of power that’s on offer is a secret, and the frequency response of the Smart Soundbar 600 is classified, too. But it’s a decently flexible device, with control available via Amazon Alexa, the Bose Music control app or a smart little remote control that ships with the product. And as well as the HDMI eARC input that’s essential to getting Dolby Atmos soundtracks on board in the first place, the Bose can connect to sources using its digital optical input, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Wi-Fi and Spotify Connect.
As well as acting as a standalone audio system, the Smart Soundbar 600 can be easily integrated into a wider multichannel or multiroom setup using other appropriate Bose speakers.
Bose Smart Soundbar 600 review: Price and competition
The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 will set you back £500 – at least, it will if you buy directly from Bose. You don’t need to be any kind of search engine Ninja to find you don’t have to pay quite that much.
Regardless of whether you’re paying top whack or have found it with as much as 10 percent off, though, the 600 finds itself involved in a scrap with some well-regarded products in an extremely fiercely contested area of the soundbar market.
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is probably the frontrunner – or, at least, is the alternative with the highest profile. It uses digital processing to deliver its impression of Dolby Atmos rather than aiming physical drivers in all directions, but if reviews (not least ours) and sales are anything to go by that hasn’t held it back. Its membership of the world’s leading multiroom ecosystem doesn’t do it any harm, either.
It’s also worth spotlighting the Samsung HW-Q800A and its 2022 update, the HW-Q800B, at this point, too. Both are designed to give a rendition of Dolby Atmos sound, come complete with a wireless subwoofer, and support Samsung’s “Q Symphony” feature, which integrates the soundbar’s audio with that of compatible Samsung TVs.
Bose Smart Soundbar 600 review: Design and features
As far as design is concerned, a product such as the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 has a tightrope to walk. It needs to be compact enough to look the part when sitting beneath a modestly sized TV, but it needs to have sufficient presence to do the business when partnering a properly big screen. It needs the power to fill even quite a large listening room with sound. And it needs to look and feel like a premium product despite the fact it costs fairly mainstream money.
Happily, the Smart Soundbar 600 pulls it all off, and in some style. At 694 x 104 x 56mm (WDH), it’s nicely proportioned, won’t look lost under a 65in screen but doesn’t look oversized when accompanying a 43in TV, either. At 3.1kg it’s absolutely no burden to mount on the wall if that’s your preference, although the fact that Bose wants another £35 of your money for the 600’s dedicated wall bracket seems a bit cheeky.
The Smart Soundbar 600 is built mostly from plastic, but it’s high quality, quite tactile by prevailing standards, and all fitted together with obvious care and attention. There’s an area of metal grille across the top of the soundbar and more of the same wrapped around the front and sides. By the standards of soundbars, the Bose is an understated and almost elegant looker.
As far as actually delivering sound is concerned, there are five speaker drivers doing the business here. Front and centre there’s a 32mm soft-dome tweeter taking care of the top of the frequency range, and there’s a full-range 44 x 102mm racetrack driver at either end of the front face of the soundbar – each one is angled out in an effort to provide some sonic width to the 600’s presentation. On the top surface of the soundbar, behind that tightly perforated metal grille, there are two 57mm full-range drivers firing up and out. To generate some sonic height, these drivers intend to reflect sound from the ceiling. This means (a) there’s no point in positioning the 600 with a surface directly above it, and (b) this is not a soundbar for use in a room with a vaulted ceiling.
This driver layout, along with a couple of rear-venting bass reflex ports for some low-frequency substance, is of course intended to serve up a sensation of Dolby Atmos spatial audio. But Bose doesn’t want all that clever engineering going to waste if you’re listening to non-Atmos content, so its “TrueSpace” technology attempts to wrangle a sensation of spatial audio from whatever you’re listening to, no matter if it’s 5.1-channel, stereo or whatever.
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Bose Smart Soundbar 600 review: Controls and connections
On both counts here, you’ve plenty of options. If you can’t easily connect it to the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 and then easily control it, you’re just not trying.
Where control is concerned, well, take your pick. Along with a mains cable, HDMI cable and digital optical cable, the Bose packaging includes a tidy little remote control handset. And it’s not one of those credit card-sized clickers that sometimes accompany less auspicious (but no less affordable) soundbars, either. It’s quite a robust and tactile device with long-travel buttons, and it puts you in control of power on/off, input selection, volume up/down/mute and play/pause.
The Bose is compatible with Amazon Alexa voice control, too, so if you like getting things done simply by asking for them, go right ahead. Should you require a bit of privacy, there’s a touch control on the top of the soundbar via which you can switch the integrated mics on and off. If you’re more of a Google Assistant sort of person, you’ll need an appropriate smart speaker on a common network if you’re going to control the 600 this way.
The most comprehensive way of taking charge, though, is by using the Bose Music control app. It covers every eventuality, from adjusting volume and selecting source input to finessing the response of the centre and/or height channels. Here’s where you can check for updates, fiddle with bass and treble response, or integrate your Smart Soundbar 600 into a multichannel system with a subwoofer and/or rear speakers. It’s also where you set up Amazon Alexa voice control, enable Chromecast and plenty more besides. Though not the most dynamic or good-looking control app, it’s logical, stable and comprehensive, which is all we can realistically ask for.
Physical connections are stored in a little recess on the rear of the soundbar. There’s an input for mains power, of course, and an HDMI eARC input to get your state-of-the-art Atmos soundtracks on board. There’s also a digital optical input, a USB slot that’s purely for servicing, and connections to hardwire a subwoofer or IR blaster. Wireless connectivity, meanwhile, is covered by Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2 (with SBC and AAC codec compatibility), Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Spotify Connect. Wireless connection to appropriate Bose rear speakers and/or Bose subwoofers is available, too.
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Bose Smart Soundbar 600 review: Sound quality
Plug and play is taken to a logical extreme here: remove the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 from its packaging, position it where it needs to be placed, plug it into the mains and connect it to your television. That’s it. There’s no calibration to run; power it up and away you go.
Given the right stuff to deal with – which means a Dolby Atmos soundtrack derived either from your favourite streaming service or, preferably, from a 4K UHD Blu-ray player – the 600 is absolutely no kind of chore to listen to. It’s an uncomplicatedly enjoyable performer, capable of generating an open, articulate and actually quite immersive sound that will wipe the floor with the sound of any TV that doesn’t have an expensive audio system of its own already on board.
It’s a fractionally warm listen in absolute terms, slightly rich and fleshy in a way that can make some voices sound like they belong to people with too much dairy in their diet. In the right circumstances, this tonal characteristic makes the 600 sound expensive and luxurious; in the wrong circumstances, it can give a hint of woolliness.
The epic Dolby Atmos soundtrack to Denis Villeneuve’s Dune delivered via a 4K Blu-ray makes the point in unequivocal fashion. This is an absolute barnstormer of a soundtrack, with huge dynamic variation, pinpoint effects placement, bass that’s on occasion more readily felt than heard, and a soundstage that reaches for miles in every direction. The Bose Smart Soundbar 600, it’s fair to say, laps it up.
When you consider the Smart Soundbar 600 has speaker drivers facing in four different directions, the soundstage it creates isn’t, perhaps, as big as you might be hoping. But then when you consider it has speaker drivers facing in four different directions, the soundstage it creates is impressively coherent. The positive, up-front attitude of the forward-facing tweeter is complemented nicely by the side-firing full-range drivers – there’s width to the stage, and effects moving on a horizontal axis are obvious and convincing.
The upward-facing drivers are similarly impactful; there’s more than a hint of height and elevation in the many moments during the movie that are designed to showcase the spatial audio effects. You’ll never confuse the sound the Bose presents with actual, physical overhead speakers, of course, but there is nevertheless a vertical axis apparent, and the 600 can manoeuvre effects upon it. It sounds consistent with the rest of the presentation, too – some soundbars can get a bit carried away with showing off their spatial audio chops, but the 600 simply integrates those sounds with the rest of the soundtrack. And it sounds all the better, all the more immersive and all the more convincing for it.
Despite the slightly warm tonality, there’s decent bite and shine at the top of the frequency range. And the low frequencies, while not the deepest nor the most impactful you ever heard, are solid and – most importantly – properly controlled. The attack and decay of individual low-frequency sounds can be as abrupt or as drawn out as the soundtrack demands, and so rhythmic expression (not that there’s much by way of rhythm in this particular soundtrack) is confident.
The midrange – which is where the bulk of the action is – is rendered assertively, with real positivity and projection to dialogue and a whole stack of fine detail retained and revealed. From the bottom of the frequency range to the top, integration is smooth and seamless, with nothing overstated and nothing underplayed, which is doubly impressive when you consider just how assertively the 600 delivers dialogue.
Given that Dune enjoys a Hans Zimmer soundtrack, and given that Hans Zimmer enjoys a big dynamic shift in the same way that Boris Johnson enjoys a free lunch, the Smart Soundbar 600 demonstrates real determination when it comes to significant shifts in volume. It doesn’t alter its sonic stance; it simply gets louder. And when it comes to the more nuanced dynamic variations apparent in, say, a soliloquy, the Bose is equally adept.
When you step down from Dolby Atmos content, the TrueSpace algorithm tries its hardest to make whatever you’re listening to occupy the same sort of space as a native spatial audio soundtrack. In this, it’s partially successful – which is the same as saying it doesn’t get it right with any sort of consistency. It can create meaningful sonic width from a soundtrack in which there is none, it’s true, but there’s a degree of haziness about the sound where previously there was absolutely straight-edged positivity, and so the overall presentation is vaguer and less well defined than is ideal. If there was a method of defeating TrueSpace and just getting your stereo stuff, say, presented in stereo, then all would be well. As it is, though, the 600 insists on forcing its impression of spatial audio on you when sometimes you’d prefer to do without.
Bose Smart Soundbar 600 review: Verdict
If every soundtrack was a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, it would be hard to find meaningful fault with the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 given its price and physical dimensions. It’s a bigger and more confident listen than any number of nominal rivals, it has control options as impressive as its build and finish, and it’s ready and willing to become a component in a larger audio system.
Yes, in ultimate terms its tonality is a little toastier than is ideal, but it’s a trait that’s quite easy to accommodate. Its insistence on turning everything into a spatial audio extravaganza isn’t entirely successful, though – and given that it’s going to pull out this party piece whether you like it or not, the door is left ajar for its posse of very credible rivals to turn your head (and consequently your ears) in their direction instead.