The American giant has been a long time coming, but Bose now offers its Dolby Atmos "3D" soundbar. A real figurehead, the Soundbar 900 promises us "an immersion like we've never experienced before". A program that leaves you wondering...
At a time when all the major manufacturers are launching soundbars with three-dimensional sound virtualization, driven by the marketing power of Dolby Atmos, it's not surprising to see Bose land with its proposal. Launching at $1,000 in late 2021, the Soundbar 900 is thus positioned as the new reference for Bose soundbars with support for Dolby streams, the inevitable Atmos included, and the integration of several proprietary technologies to create the most convincing sound bubble possible.
When it comes to usability, bar interaction and functionality, the Soundbar 900 is almost perfectly in line with other previously launched Soundbar models. Network features (streaming service, Bose multiroom, AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Google Assistant/Alexa integration) via wifi or RJ45, Bluetooth, companion app, supplied remote control, connectivity and very simplistic display remain on the agenda, for example.
The Soundbar 900 is unsurprisingly a direct continuation of the other Soundbar models in terms of design. This Bose soundbar has clean lines, a slim, elongated design that gives it a certain elegance and allows it to slide easily in front of a television (5.8 x 104.5 x 10.7 cm). The quality of the finish itself is once again very good, with the use of a large metal grill combined with a tempered glass surface and a dense plastic. From a practical point of view, it would have been more appropriate to select a material that is much less dirty and reflective on the upper surface.
The Soundbar 900 has an eARC HDMI port and a Toslink optical input: a great simplicity that also rhymes with particularly limited possibilities. The absence of an HDMI input on the bar obliges the user to have a television set compatible with the eARC standard to enjoy Dolby Atmos content. Moreover, the bar unfortunately only supports Dolby multichannel streams (Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital+, Dolby True HD), thus excluding DTS and multichannel PCM.
An RJ45 port is also on the back to connect the Soundbar 900 to the network (wifi is integrated for wireless communication). It is also possible to connect the bar to a source via Bluetooth.
Connecting the bar then leads to an initial configuration via the Bose Music application, which is as simple as ever thanks to the step-by-step tutorial displayed. The latter also presents the vast majority of the available features, including the connected aspects that we cover in more detail in the dedicated section of this test.
After this stage (which takes about ten minutes), the Soundbar 900 is fairly simple to use, although sometimes too simplistic in certain respects, particularly in terms of interaction: only a very discreet light bar is located on the bar, and no display or TV interface is offered. You can always go back to the application if you're not sure, but the operation is a bit tedious.
The Soundbar 900 can be precisely controlled with this app, but also with its small dedicated remote control (supplied), nice and easy to handle (but not backlit), or with the voice thanks to the integrated pickup system and the compatibility with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. As always, some basic commands can be done directly with the TV remote. Bose does not embarrass itself in terms of customization: bass level adjustment, treble, center channel level, speakers dedicated to the reproduction of surround effects/Atmos, as well as a Dialogue mode to put the voices forward. No frills, then.
The Soundbar 900 is part of the Bose Music ecosystem and therefore benefits from its share of connected features. The ecosystem hasn't really evolved since the Soundbar/Home Speaker was introduced and, despite being very simple and pleasant to use, is not very generous in some respects. This is particularly true of compatible streaming services, whose list remains extremely limited (Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer, TuneIn for web radios). It's still out of the question to read files stored on the local network, or even on the smartphone with the Bose Music app.
Support for AirPlay 2, Alexa Cast, Chromecast and Spotify Connect is therefore all the more welcome here, as it significantly expands the possibilities for streaming music and managing remote playback in the home. Another reason for satisfaction is the possibility of choosing between the two intelligent voice assistants Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
As far as voice recognition is concerned, the Soundbar 900 performs just as well as its little sister, the Soundbar 700, and this is clearly not to our displeasure.
The integrated microphone system manages to pick up our wake-up calls and requests without any difficulty in a quiet environment, even at a good distance from the bar and without having to specifically raise the voice level. The observation is also very good in a slightly noisier room (kettle, oven and extractor hood in operation a few meters away). The interaction with the assistant is natural as long as you stay a few meters away and take the trouble to turn to the bar to make a request.
In more complex conditions, in a noisy room and/or when the soundbar itself is broadcasting audio content, it will be enough to approach and speak out loud to make yourself understood, as you would when addressing someone. While this has nothing to do with the intrinsic performance of the bar's pickup, we note as always that Alexa is a little harder of hearing and a little less adept at hearing our wake-up call and understanding the content of our requests when the ambient noise level gets relatively high.
Even if the continuity of sound performance was obvious between the Soundbar 500, 700 and 900, we sincerely hoped that Bose had taken advantage of the evolution of acoustic architecture on its flagship to improve sound precision. Alas, despite some qualities, the Soundbar 900 still shows weaknesses on this point.
Again without surprise, the acoustic behavior of the Soundbar 900 is in the direct line of the previous Soundbars. Without AdaptiQ correction, this soundbar reveals a penchant for low frequencies that is unfortunately much more pronounced than the frequency response curve alone would suggest. Indeed, combined with the very average precision of the bar in this area, this behavior results in a sound that is certainly warm and round, but also gives the bass a boomy, cottony and invasive side that harms the readability and overall balance. The effect is all the more audible on content that is demanding in this area (explosions, gunshots, engine noises, musical content with fast, close-range percussion, for example) where it becomes difficult to properly separate the different elements. Even the voices are partly obscured by the mask effects.
It is still possible to "unblock" the bass slightly and to regain a little "air" and homogeneity by acting on the bass level in the EQ of the companion app, while preserving the extension in the extreme bass (which is correct considering the volume of the bar). However, we will not be able to mitigate the accuracy problems mentioned above. Concerning the rest of the audible spectrum, the Soundbar 900 shows a good balance, but suffers there too from a certain lack of relief and detail, as well as from a "chemical" sound characteristic of many Bose products.
In addition to the bass attenuation provided by the EQ, the configuration and activation of the AdaptiQ acoustic correction optimizes the soundbar's frequency balance and further improves its homogeneity and clarity. The result is a little more controlled and convincing on all types of content, but we are still frustrated by the bar's lack of precision, which prevents us from taking full advantage of its very generous power reserve (at the risk of exacerbating the aforementioned defects). Fortunately, the remaining power is quite sufficient to enjoy music and movies in a medium-sized living room.
As for the reproduction of sound space, the Soundbar falls far short of delivering the truly immersive experience it promises. The way the Soundbar extends the front stage - and the stereo field in music listening - beyond its physical limits is particularly appreciable; however, the reproduction of surround and height effects is unconvincing. Extension is particularly limited: the sound space extends timidly beyond about 50/60° on either side of the bar and 1/1.5 m above it. It is far from a half-sphere and even more from a true feeling of envelopment. Moreover, the localization of the sources and effects in this space is very relative.
Particularly ambitious, the Soundbar 900 turns out to be rather timid when it comes to sound performance and even misses the mark on three-dimensional virtualization. In itself, this model will give some satisfaction to those looking for an all-in-one soundbar with many features, but these are qualities found in some direct competitors offering a more accomplished sound experience. The choice is quickly made...