(Pocket-lint) - The Bose Soundbar 700 is the company's 2019 soundbar to upgrade the previous 300 series model. It uses the same cabinet design and includes similar features like the automated ADAPTiQ audio calibration.
However, it also adds plenty of new features, including an HDMI connection that supports eARC (enhanced audio return channel), Apple AirPlay 2, Bose Music App, a redesigned universal remote control, and built-in smart assistants (Alexa and Google).
Bose says in its marketing that the Soundbar 700 is designed to be the world's best soundbar, which is a fairly bold claim. It needs to be given it doesn't include HDMI inputs or support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 'three-dimensional' object-based audio – both of which should be considered standard at this price.
Attractive but flawed design
- Available in black or white
- 978 x 108 x 57mm; 4.7kg
The Bose Soundbar 700 is an all-in-one soundbar, which means it's a single-box system with no external subwoofer (although one is available separately, as you can see in the official pictures gallery). It uses the same basic design as last year's Bose SoundTouch 300, which is both good and bad news.
The good news is the design is slim, sleek and sophisticated, with a choice of glossy black or arctic white. There's a perforated wraparound aluminium grille combined with a tempered glass top, giving the 700 a very elegant appearance.
The bad news is the glass top reflects the TV screen, which can get very annoying during dark scenes at night. It's also a fingerprint magnet, and although Bose includes a microfibre cloth, you'll struggle to keep it clear of smudges.
The design takes minimalism to the extreme, with only two controls on the top left of the soundbar and virtually no display. The touch-sensitive controls are power and mute (for the smart assistants), while the display is little more than a simple horizontal bar of light.
The soundbar is wide enough for TVs of 40-55 inches, and at 57mm high it shouldn't block the screen. However if it does, or you simply want to wall-mount the 700, then there's an optional bracket available for £35.
Smart both inside and out
- QuietPort and PhaseGuide technology
- Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
- Support to add subwoofer and rear speakers for 5.1 surround sound system
The Bose Soundbar 700 boasts a number of cool features, but is also missing some that many would consider standard at this price.
The main new feature is the inclusion of smart assistants and voice control, with a choice of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. You can setup either (or both for that matter), all you need to do is link to your existing account(s) through the Bose Music App.
It's quick and easy, and once done you can use the Soundbar 700 as a smart speaker, allowing you find out the news or weather, play music, listen to the radio and enjoy limited voice control. There's a choice of four music services – Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer and TuneIn Radio.
The soundbar itself includes Bose's proprietary PhaseGuide and QuietPort technology; the former is intended to send audio to the sides of the soundbar to create a wider front soundstage; the latter is designed to deliver deeper, cleaner and distortion-free bass.
The Bose can decode 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS, but here's no support for lossless codecs like Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio, let alone object-based audio like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. This is serious omission at this price (and somewhat negates the inclusion of the eARC HDMI port, which we'll cover later).
The Soundbar 700 comes as a single-unit – but if you want to beef-up the bass or add rear channels to create a proper 5.1 system, Bose offers the optional Bass Module 700 (£615) and Surround Speakers 700 (£499). Although at a combined cost of over £1,800 this approach is pricey.
- HDMI output with eARC and CEC
- Ethernet; Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; AirPlay 2
- Optical digital input; Micro-USB port
- Bose Music App
The Bose Soundbar 700 houses all its connections in two recessed areas on the underside of the soundbar. However, this the space is limited, making it difficult to actually push the cables in at times. The soundbar comes with HDMI and optical digital cables included in the box, which is handy.
Bose has dropped the HDMI input included on the SoundTouch 300, leaving a single HDMI connection. That means you'll have to connect all your physical sources to the TV and send the audio back via HDMI, but at least it now supports eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel).
In the same recess as the HDMI port, you'll find an optical digital input, an Ethernet port and a Micro-USB port for service. The other recess contains the socket for the two-pin power cable, four 3.5mm jacks for a subwoofer, data, IR extender, and the ADAPTiQ headset.
In terms of wireless connections there's a choice of Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz bands), Apple AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth. However, the last of these is limited to the SBC codec, so for the best quality audio you should choose one of the other two options.
There are no more controls on the soundbar beyond the two touch-sensitive controls already mentioned, so you have a choice of the included universal remote or, to a certain extent, the Bose Music App and your own voice.
The universal remote is solidly made with a nice metal case and a motion-activated backlight. It allows you to control all your sources from a single zapper, and it's easy to pair any number of devices, including a TV, Blu-ray player, games console, video streamer, cable or satellite box.
However, in certain respects it's also disappointing: it's too large for a start, and the soft rubber buttons are not only impossible to see when not illuminated but also attract dust and fluff. Even when they are illuminated there's no text, just icons which aren't always obvious to interpret.
The Bose Music App is better, with a slick and responsive interface that takes you through setup. You can fine-tune the performance of the Soundbar 700 using the app (centre channel, bass, treble, universal remote), and access Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, TuneIn, AirPlay and Bluetooth.
Where's the bass?
- ADAPTiQ audio calibration
The Soundbar 700 is a piece of cake to setup, thanks to the Bose Music App. Just launch the app, follow the instructions, and you'll up-and-running in no time.
Even the ADAPTiQ audio calibration feature – designed to analyse a set of different frequencies and adjust for any negative effects caused by the room itself, ensuring optimal performance – is hassle-free, just plug the headset into the soundbar and pop it on. You take five measurements in total, starting at the sweet spot and then moving to other seating positions in the room.
If that sounds silly (it's definitely not a good look), this approach makes perfect sense. The calibration is based on the position of the listener's head, so what better way to take the measurements than from that very location? It immediately establishes the sweet spot, and adjusts accordingly.
It's straightforward, and there's no doubt that engaging ADAPTiQ makes a big difference to the overall sonic signature of the soundbar. With ADAPTiQ on the audio feels bigger and livelier, with a more balanced soundstage overall.
Listening to Go! by Public Service Broadcasting is an enjoyable experience as the driving beat is perfectly synchronised to the communications chatter surrounding Apollo 11's historic landing. The result is a pleasing delivery that blends the instruments to create building tension that ultimately leads to a sense of euphoria.
The performance remains impressive when watching TV, especially with less demanding programmes such as the news, documentaries and game shows. The soundbar also handles live broadcasts, such as the Rugby World Cup well, with a suitably big presence. However, with more complex sound designs the limitations begin to show, especially in terms of surround and bass.
The layout of the drivers in the Soundbar 700 is such that there are four mid-range drivers in the middle – two either side of a central tweeter. At the far left and right is the PhaseGuide technology, which is designed to widen the front soundstage. While this works, it does so as the expense of the imaging, with dialogue and effects sounding less precise than with a more directional driver.
This is fine with a less demanding film like Stand By Me, where the soundtrack is dominated by dialogue and music, but put on The Matrix and the highly directional effects that accompany the bullet-time sequences lose much of their cohesion. The Soundbar 700 sacrifices any real subtlety for a big room-filling sonic presence, and there's no real sense of surround effects.
In addition the QuietPort technology is no substitute for a dedicated separate subwoofer. As a result a bass-heavy soundtrack like Godzilla: King of the Monsters lacks much of its impact, and the titular hero sounds more like a tadpole than a behemoth. At this price film fans are expecting immersive audio and titanic bass, neither of which the Soundbar 700 is able to deliver.
The Bose Soundbar 700 certainly feels like a high-end product with a super finish and some excellent features. If you want one or both of the main smart assistants this soundbar has you covered, and the ADAPTiQ audio calibration ensures the sonic performance is often impressive.
However, this soundbar isn't quite as clever as it thinks. For a start, if you really want a smart speaker there are plenty of cheaper alternatives. Secondly, if you're buying a soundbar what you really want is cutting edge object-based audio and full support for TV and movies.
This is where the Soundbar 700 falls down, creating a soundstage that often fails to produce any sense of immersion or deliver deep bass. To be fair music and TV generally sounds very good, but movies often lack any real impact. In summary: at this price there are better options.
The Sonos Playbar delivers great sound, offers a super easy setup, and is excellent as both a TV speaker and a standalone Sonos speaker. It offers all the features that come with the Sonos system, including an intuitive control app, voice control via an Alexa-enabled or Google Assistant-enabled device and fantastic multi-room capabilities, as well as additional TV functions.
The Samsung HW-Q70R is an excellent soundbar and subwoofer combination that delivers a big and bold Atmos and DTS:X performance. There's an HDMI input, and while it doesn't have a smart assistant built-in the soundbar does work with Amazon Alexa. Most importantly the separate sub ensures the Q70R can produce the kind of deep bass that will delight movie fans.