Bose knows how to make audio easy. It also knows a thing or two about crafting excellent sound. Add in a choice of voice assistants — both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa — and the $500 Bose Soundbar 500 rivals the $399 Sonos Beam for the simplest soundbar experience around. If you like Bose sound and don't mind paying a premium, the Soundbar 500 is one of the best soundbars available in its price range.
Bose Soundbar 500 design
The first thing I noticed about the 31.5 x 4 x 1.8-inch Soundbar 500 is how slim it is — it's noticeably slimmer than the 25.6 x 3.9 x 2.7-inch Sonos Beam. But the Soundbar 500's size belies the power and fullness of sound it produces.
The unit has one HDMI input, which you connect to your TV to use HDMI ARC as the sound source; that means you need to connect all video sources to the TV, not the soundbar. If your TV doesn't support HDMI ARC, you can use the optical digital audio input. You can also connect wirelessly through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or AirPlay 2.
The soundbar itself has only two buttons on it: one for muting the microphone and the other to engage a voice assistant. It comes with a remote for switching inputs and controlling the volume. The free Bose Music app offers more options. Like the Sonos Beam, you can add speakers to the system, including a wireless subwoofer and satellites.
Bose Soundbar 500 voice assistants: Google Assistant and Alexa
For a voice assistant, you must choose either Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa — you can't have both active at the same time. But you can switch assistants through the Bose Music app.
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Both responded to my requests. I could turn on the soundbar, change the volume and play music with voice commands, along with other typical tasks like getting the weather forecast. Neither assistant could change the input on the soundbar, though, so keep the remote or mobile app handy.
Bose Soundbar 500 performance
The Soundbar 500 excels at making dialogue clear and produces impressive bass for a small unit without a subwoofer — especially when listening to music. The soundbar delivers a wide sound despite its small footprint.
Peter Coyote's narration of Ken Burns' Country Music series was clear and resonant, as was the witty banter between Peter Parker and Mary Jane in Spider-Man: Far From Home. I found I missed a separate subwoofer during action scenes in Spider-Man — the speaker didn't produce enough rattle when Spider-Man and Mysterio battled the elemental creatures.
But the Soundbar 500 doesn't lack low-end when listening to music. It has the traditional bass-forward Bose sound. The bass and drums on Brittany Howard's "History Repeats" thumped, while her vocals remained clear. Yola's voice soared on "Faraway Look." On both songs, the cymbals and snare were too bright and sharp compared with the vocals and bass, leaving a hole in the overall sound.
The Soundbar 500 gets very loud, again surprising given its size. With the volume set at 50 percent, it easily filled a medium-size room. Turned up to the max, I measured 90 decibels.
Bose Soundbar 500 setup
The Soundbar 500 uses the Bose Music app for setup. It walks you through connecting to your Wi-fi network, and you can add music services such as Spotify and Amazon Music.
Bose's Adaptiq room calibration helps you get the best sound in your space. The process is a bit awkward, since you have to wear a headset that measures sound from five locations in the room (it makes Sonos' TruePlay process — in which you walk around your room waving your phone up and down — seem less embarrassing).
Once you've established your sound profile, you can adjust the bass and treble levels, as well as the center channel volume, through the app. You can also enable Dialogue Mode, which is supposed to make voices easier to hear, but I found I liked the overall sound better without it. There aren't any other sound modes to choose from.
The Bose Soundbar 500 is simple to use and sounds good for its size — exactly what you would expect from Bose. With the option to add a subwoofer and satellites, it could be the basis for a robust home-theater sound system.
Though it lacks features you can get with other soundbars in the price range — especially Dolby Atmos support and HDMI inputs — it rivals the Sonos Beam for sound and simplicity. The choice between the Soundbar 500 and the Beam comes down to which brand you prefer. If you already have some Bose speakers that work with the Bose Music app, the Soundbar 500 will make an excellent addition to your sound system.