At the top end is the Lifestyle 650, a $6999, 5.1 sound system that “suspends belief that a sound bar can sound so good.” At the other end is the SoundTouch 300, a $999 sound bar that punches so far above its weight that Bose state, “It delivers the best sound of any comparable sound bar its size.”
Sales of all makes of sound bars are to the point where my retail sources say it is rare not to sell one with a smart TV (now over 50% of Australian sales) – what was originally the province of discrete AV amplifiers and speakers. Bose says that its sound bars, however, handle TV, cinema and sound as they should be, “Bose signature sound is to faithfully reproduce a live performance – not to add or take away from it.”
I was impressed with both and can see room for both in the market. Read on for an ears-on test.
First a little about Bose. It was founded in 1964 in Framingham, Massachusetts and is named after MIT graduate, Dr Amar Bose. Needless to say, eight years before he started Bose, he was disappointed with his first premium stereo system purchase, so he began extensive research aimed solving what he felt were fundamental weaknesses plaguing high-end audio systems.
The principal weaknesses, in his view, were that overall, the electronics and speaker failed to account for the spatial properties of the radiated sound in typical listening spaces (homes and apartments) and the implications of spatiality for psychoacoustics. Bose was born with the mission to achieve "Better Sound Through Research."
Interestingly another of Bose’s tenets is not to publish detailed specifications of Bose products – you have to listen, he says, not take note of numerical test data!
Bose Lifestyle 650 (and 600) Home Entertainment system. – White or Black (US site)
This is a 5.1 system comprising four OmniJewel speakers, an OmniJewel centre speaker, an Acoustimass wireless bass (subwoofer) and a Console.
Let’s start with the Console because it drives the speakers. Think of it as an AV amplifier.
- 6 x HDMI inputs for connection of Satellite/cable set top box, 4K Blu-ray, Xbox, etc;
- 1 x HDMI ARC output to connect to the smart TV;
- 1 x optical audio;
- 2 x coaxial audio;
- 2 x analogue L/R inputs;
- 1 x Ethernet port for SoundTouch multi-room systems and software updates;
- 1 x 3.5mm headphone jack (and for ADAPTiQ sound calibration setup);
- 1 x IR repeater port;
- 4K Ultra video pass through (no upscale) for six HDMI sources (HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2);
- Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, Multichannel PCM, 5.1 upscale;
- Audio streaming – not video streaming (Computer or Roku box required); and
- Universal remote
What we don’t know is the RMS wattage, total harmonic distortion, or any other specifications. What we do know is that it filled the cavernous “INXS” loft suite at the Ovolo Hotel at Woolloomooloo with heaps of RMS to burn.
The OmniJewel speakers are very small brushed aluminium rectangles (47mm wide/deep and 147mm high) and use two speakers (one firing up and one down) into a centre dispersion baffle to give 360° sound. The front two are wired, and the rear pair can be wired or wireless (wireless adaptors supplied). They are heavy little speakers weighing about 1.72kg each. They can easily be wall, stand or table mounted.
The OmniJewel wired Centre channel speaker (48mm high x 47mm deep x 542 mm wide) has five phase transducer speakers and some porting to deliver a full frequency response, especially clarity of voice for TV and vocals.
The Acoustimass wireless bass uses patented “quiet porting” and adds that ground thumping bass so reminiscent of Jurassic Park. It is amazingly small at 30cm wide/depth and 38cm height.
One of the tricks to Bose sound is its use of an ADAPTiQ headset (supplied) to set up the system for any room type. For example, the INXS suite had vaulted ceilings and window blinds in them – not the best environment. The test set-up was in a room at least seven metres square.
Bose also uses a Unify set-up that displays step by step guides on the connected TV – the remote is used to input network data, etc. The remote has an LCD and the familiar navigation “circle” – it looks intuitive and well-designed for people who don’t read manuals.
SoundTouch is Bose’s multi-room, Wi-Fi, lossless sound system and it can be controlled by an iOS or Android app or the remote. You can use this to stream most major music services to the system and any compatible speakers in other areas. Bluetooth/NFC is for pairing to a smartphone.
Enough of the tech – how did it sound?
I felt that it did a great job with the Bass, but then it has a gutsy sub-woofer. Similarly, the mid was detailed, and the treble was crisp and clear. Using the universal sound signature measurement, I would say it's Balanced (bass boosted – punchy, mids detailed, crystal clear treble boosted), perhaps verging on bassy but that is adjustable. Yes, it achieves its aim to faithfully reproduce a live concert and I felt it delivered natural undistorted sound.
The Lifestyle 600 was not on display. It costs $5499 and uses different Jewel Cube speakers and a Jewel Cube Centre. From what I understand that is the only difference.
Bose SoundTouch 300 sound bar (US Site)
To position this, it is an $999 base model sound bar with the option of adding a $999 Acoustimass bass (same as the Lifestyle 600/650) and two additional wireless rear speakers ($499) to make it a 5.1 system for $2497. Prices are recommended only.
For this demonstration, we went to the AC/DC suite (like the INXS suite) and again were suitably impressed.
The base unit has the same sound signature — Balanced — but the addition of the Acoustimass bass makes a reasonable difference. The sound bar has clarity as its goal – TV watchers will rejoice at the crystal-clear conversations, and it packs plenty of volume for a large room.
The sound bar has three centre speakers and two phase guide transducers — one on either side — to direct sound into the room more effectively than simply using angled speakers. The spatial sound was impressive for this type of sound bar. It also uses the QuietPort technology for its bass.
Negatives were few. No 3.5mm headphone jack, and it only has 1 x HDMI input in addition to its HDMI ARC output (to the smart TV). It will not handle several HDMI devices (like the Lifestyle 600/650), but your TV may support that anyway. It also has 1 x optical audio input, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth/NFC and Ethernet. It supports Dolby Digital, DTS and 4K pass-through.
It also has ADAPTiQ and will support the SoundTouch multi-room, Wi-Fi systems. The remote control is a little more complex than the Lifestyle, but it can also use the App for most of the setup. It can also connect to a computer via micro-USB for setup and as a music source.
How did it sound? Naturally, we had been spoiled by the Lifestyle 650, but to its credit, it performed very well for TV, movies and music.
Where do you get it?
Most mass retailers will stock the SoundTouch 300 as it is very much a plug-and-play purchase. Some will stock the Lifestyle 600/650, but in keeping with its professional quality you are more likely to find it at specialist sound retailers.
Lifestyle 650 – unreal 360° sound, very sexy design, ticks all boxes for a home theatre device. It reminded me of what 5.1 sound should sound like – very directional and very real.
Some years ago, I bought a very expensive Pioneer/Jamo, 5.1 AV system. I remember at that time there were a plethora of AV amps and speaker brands. I can’t say this is the best out there, but I can say that it is up there with them. I think that going to a sound specialist that stocks Bose and other brands would be the way to go and I venture to say that you will walk out with the Bose.
SoundTouch 300 – good sound signature, plenty of distortion-free volume, but I suspect you will want the whole kit and at $2497 it is paddling at the extreme top end of a very crowded market. This is what you will buy from JB Hi-Fi or Myer etc., and here it comes down to personal preference. While I think the Bose brand means something even in the cost-sensitive end, it is going to be a tougher choice over fully featured consumer electronics offerings from Samsung Atmos, Sonos, Klipsch, Yamaha, Denon, Harman Kardon, to name a few. If you are an audiophile rather than a smartTV watcher, then Bose is the choice.