Robust sound with strong bass • Sleek design gives it a premium feel • No distortion • even at high volumes • Alexa integration is good
Painfully pricey • Display doesn’t do much • No way to share connected services across accounts
The Bose Home Speaker 500 is more expensive than other smart speakers like Apple HomePod or Google Home. But you get excellent sound in addition to smarts.
Sonos and Apple need to move over as Bose is entering the high-end smart speaker market.
Don’t get me wrong — $399.95 is a lot for a speaker, especially one geared for a wide consumer audience. Bose is hoping that its audio tech will give the Speaker 500 an edge over the competition.
On paper, it’s smarter than the HomePod thanks to Alexa (Amazon’s assistant is just better than Siri at this stage of the game), and Bose says the Speaker 500 creates “the widest sound of any smart speaker.” I was eager to see if there’s any truth to that claim.
The Speaker 500 has a $399.95 price point, so you’d hope it at least packs a punch. Well after testing the speaker almost every possible way, I’ll can say that it does.
Apple and Amazon opted for an exterior mesh design for their smart speakers, but Bose took a different approach and went all-in on the choice. It’s also clearly one of the reasons for the speaker’s high price.
At first glance, the sleek chassis doesn’t quite look like a speaker. It’s relatively small, just 8 inches tall, and it’s shaped like an oval. It’s not portable (you plug it into a wall), but it’s easily transportable, since it weighs 4.75 pounds. It comes in luxe silver or triple black; I’d recommend the latter.
The bottom half of the speaker has perforations all the way around it for sound. However, Home Speaker 500 doesn’t produce omnidirectional sound — it comes out of the left and right sides. That separation normally isn’t great for true stereo, but the speaker will use the walls and space around the speaker to create room-filling sound. This isn’t unique to the Speaker 500; it’s a claim that many smart speaks make, the Amazon Echo included.
Bose put a small LCD in the center of the front of the speaker. It looks nice and can display the time, making this one of the more expensive clocks you’ll own.
The physical controls live on the top and include the typical play, pause, volume, and mute buttons. You also can manually turn on Bluetooth or switch to the Aux minijack input in back. You can customize the six preset buttons via app to give you one-touch access to various music sources. You can get pretty granular with it — for example, you could set Preset 2 as Hits 1 from Sirius XM.
Bose is obviously trying to stay current by adding smart features, but the company built its reputation on sound quality, and it doesn’t take a backseat on the Home Speaker 500. It can play mighty loud — without distortion or any loss of quality. It sounds good playing any genre of music. However, try as it might, it never convinced me there was more than one speaker in the room.
It can fill a room with sound, and you can hear it throughout a house even at mid volumes, but clear separation isn’t really there.
I tried out a lot of tracks. Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street,” a more subdued track with lots of instruments at different tones, was a great showcase for what the speaker could do. The beginning opens up with some mid and high tones from a piano melody before the vocals begin. This continues with more instruments layering on top, but the Home Speaker 500 didn’t let one part of the track overpower the rest, even when the drums kicked into high gear.
To my ears, the Home Speaker 500’s sound quality is comparable to the HomePod. The HomePod packs more bass and is bit more well-balanced. However, the Home Speaker 500 has the advantage of being able to easily adjust the bass. It definitely can play louder than the Sonos Play:1 and the second-generation Amazon Echo Show.
Alexa provides the smarts
Amazon’s Alexa is on board the Home Speaker 500, and it performs well. It’s mostly the same smart assistant you’d find on an Echo or other third-party Alexa speaker.
The eight-array microphones on top of the device can hear you from a distance since they’re far-field and utilize Bose’s proprietary microphone tech, which also powers active noise cancellation on some headphone models. The best part is they let you activate Alexa even with the volume all the way up (some Echo models have trouble hearing when the music is loud). It should also let you save your voice since you won’t have to scream when you say, “Alexa.”
As with most smart speakers, you can press a mute button on the top, which will cut power to the microphones.
The display is neat but doesn’t do much
Amazon’s Echo Spot and Echo Show have laid the groundwork for using Alexa with a screen. But that hasn’t influenced the Bose Home Speaker 500 at all; its 2.3 x1.3-inch LCD doesn’t show any of the Alexa-powered media you see with Amazon’s products.
The screen is really just a small window to see the time, what song is playing, and which music service you’re listening to. For supported services, it’ll showcase album artwork, and it was hit or miss with Bluetooth streaming. But beyond that basic info, the screen doesn’t add anything of value. Also, the LCD is hard to look at when you’re not looking straight at it.
A very connected experience
Building off Alexa, Bose allows you to connect a plethora of streaming services to the Home Speaker 500. All of this is controlled through the Bose Music app, the same one needed for setup. If you’re thinking, “Oh no, another app,” I’m with you. Bose alone has 10 different apps in the app store — it really should do something about that.
Setup encompasses you creating a Bose account, connecting the speaker to WiFi, and linking Alexa. Within the app, you’ll link Bose to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Deezer, Sirius XM, and TuneIn. You can also stream music from any Bluetooth device. (or any device, via the Aux input).
It’s a really fluid experience, and since the Home Speaker 500 lives on your WiFi network, anyone can connect to it. The disappointing thing here is that the services tied to the Bose speaker can only connect to a single account. That means everyone in the home needs to use the same sign-on, which can be annoying at times. I’m hopeful support for multiple profiles will arrive in the future.
iOS users are due to get some extra love in 2019, when Bose has promised support for Apple AirPlay 2, which lets users stream music to multiple audio devices at the same time.
The price you pay
Ultimately, the Bose Home Speaker 500 comes down to a price decision. If you’re looking for a great-sounding dumb speaker or an equally good-sounding smart speaker, there are other options. At $399.95, this option isn’t the most affordable.
It produced good, room-filling sound for all genres of music, which few speakers of this size can claim to do, and Bose makes it easy for you to connect streaming services to the Home Speaker 500. Alexa comes in handy, and the microphone technology is truly impressive.
If you like Bose and trust the brand, you won’t be disappointed. But if you want similar results for less money, it’s not hard to find alternatives from Sonos and even Apple.