Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar Review: Big Sound and Plenty of Features Without Being Complicated

Key Takeaways

  • Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar with Dolby Atmos offers spatial audio and simplifies home theater setup.
  • Key features include A.I. Dialogue mode for clearer voices, ADAPTiQ calibration for room optimization, and Bose SimpleSync for headphone compatibility.
  • Provides impressive audio quality for movies and music, and can be paired with wireless subwoofers for enhanced bass.

A home theater sound system can be complicated so the Bose’s Smart Ultra Soundbar with Dolby Atmos is an attempt to combat that. It offers great cinematic audio without needing to plug in more than a single cable—and power. Even though it comes in on the higher price spectrum for soundbars, it still delivers simplicity and room-filling sound.

smart ultra soundbar
Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar

$799 $899 Save $100

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar with Dolby Atmos® and Bose TrueSpace technology separates instruments, dialogue, and effects, and places them in different parts of a room for a truly immersive spatial audio experience like you’ve never heard it before.

Integrations
Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant

Ports
HDMI, Optical, Ethernet

Audio Format
Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD

Speaker Arrangement
5.1.2

Dimensions
41.14 x 2.29 x 4.21in

Colors
Black, white

HDMI Spec
2.1

Pros
  • Sleek design with full, robust sound
  • A wealth of connectivity options
  • Can be grouped with certain Bose headphones or earbuds
  • A.I. Dialogue mode did better than generic voice boost
Cons
  • Calibration process requires a wired microphone
  • High price for not having a subwoofer included

A High-End, Feature-Packed Soundbar

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar on a wood table
Tyler Hayes / How-To Geek

This Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar can reproduce a 5.1.2 home theater setup, which is ideal for people who want to avoid setting up additional speakers around the room—although it can support wireless rears and a sub.

It has eARC HDMI and optical connections—with those cables in the box—and can let Alexa change inputs if the voice assistant is enabled.

On the music side, the soundbar supports AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth. It’s a TV speaker and a music speaker.

While the long list of features that the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar has is great, I want to focus on three of the more interesting ones: A.I. Dialogue, ADAPTiQ calibration, and Bose SimpleSync. These features cover better clarity for spoken word, room calibration, and automatic linking of Bose headphones and earbuds.

There are versions of these things in other speakers and soundbars, but these items still aren’t fully solved definitively.

A.I. Dialogue Provides Some Voice Clarity

The ports on the back of the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar
Tyler Hayes / How-To Geek

For a variety of reasons, it’s become increasingly difficult to hear dialogue in modern TV shows and movies. Bose’s A.I. Dialogue mode is trying to solve this problem by using artificial intelligence to adjust and balance voices with surround sound noises automatically.

This is a tricky problem to assess because sound mixing varies from show to show. I watched scenes from loud and intense films like “The Batman” and toggled the setting on and off to see how much of a difference it made. I also left it on for a few days and left it off for a few days to see how it fared for normal TV watching in both scenarios.

In short, I thought it helped make voices a little more distinguishable, but not dramatically. Some soundbars with voice or clarity modes sacrifice the totality of the sound to make dialogue more obvious, but that wasn’t the case here. The background noises were still present. Movies still sounded like the movies the filmmakers intended.

Because the feature is limited to being on or off, there’s some ambiguity into how it will perform for the content you’re watching. It could work great or be a little too aggressive.

The A.I. Dialogue mode is the primary difference between this Ultra Soundbar and the Bose Soundbar 900. While I liked the feature, the 900 has been on sale for $600 and isn’t worth that much of a price difference between the Ultra’s $800 sale price.

ADAPTiQ Calibration Is Still Old School

We’re getting closer to the dream of placing speakers anywhere in a room and having them automatically transform their soundstage to compensate for unideal locations. Sonos and Sony are both aggressively pursuing doing this with little input from people by using microphones on the speakers themselves. That’s not what Bose is doing here.

Comically, you need to dawn a microphone headband that is connected by a wire and plugged into the back of the soundbar while it plays sounds for a few minutes to do the calibration here.

The process is silly, but it isn’t hard or complicated. Mostly, I wish it could have happened without the need for the one-time accessory. The calibration probably helped make the sound better suited for my room, but it wasn’t obvious. This feature should be uneventful for a lot of people who have traditional square and rectangular rooms.

The Benefits of SimpleSync

One promise of investing in a Bose ecosystem is being able to use the newest Ultra-branded products with each other. The company labels the ability to connect its headphones and earbuds with the Smart Ultra Soundbar as Bose SimpleSync.

Essentially, compatible headphones or earbuds are another speaker that can be grouped with the soundbar. Once activated, the soundbar continues to play audio out loud, but it is also pumped into headphones.

When I tried this feature, it felt a little buggy. No audio played through either device on the first connection. But the second time, after reconnecting, it worked as intended.

It’s hard to tell how popular this feature will be because it will be redundant for most people. But at the same time, I can think of several niche reasons it would be great, including for people who are hard of hearing or people who are wandering between different rooms—but still want to hear the football game, for example.

SimpleSync also provides some insight into what Sonos might do with its rumored headphones in 2024. The proposition of having great noise-canceling headphones for travel that can tap into your home’s speaker system isn’t a bad idea. It has been nice. SimpleSync is just that at the moment, however—simple. I’d love to see it gain more capabilities and even be able to be grouped automatically in some circumstances.

You need to group SimpleSync headphones in the Bose Music app, which is available for iPhone and Android. Grouping is front and center, so if you get into other Bose music speakers, those can also be selected here. The app interface is well-designed and all the common features are easy to find. I especially liked that the screen showing what was playing listed what type of audio was coming through. This makes it easy to confirm you’re getting Dolby Atmos from the source content.

Smart Ultra Soundbar Delivers Impressive Audio—For a Soundbar

Atmos up-firing speakers flank the sides of the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar
Tyler Hayes / How-To Geek

Going the soundbar route to improve home theater audio is compelling because it also certainly means simplicity. From the number of wires required to the amount of buttons needed to press, having a soundbar is about reducing complications. In recent years, it’s also meant not sacrificing too much on audio quality.

I’ve spent the last three years with a Sonos Arc, and this Smart Ultra Soundbar goes up against it directly. Both products retail for the same $899 and generally promise the same robust feature set for movies and music.

The Smart Ultra Soundbar worked wonderfully. One of my favorite test movies is the Star Wars film “The Force Awakens” because of its varied elements. It has a big orchestral soundtrack playing alongside digital lasers, explosions, and dialog from different types of people or aliens. I thought the soundbar handled the movie incredibly well and successfully reproduced those elements.

Even at a 60% volume level, the soundbar filled the room to the point that my kids didn’t want it any louder. It even did a good enough job at mimicking surround sound that, had I not known, I might have thought there were rear speakers.

Dolby Atmos is a mixed bag, but it’s also less noticeable on the Sonos Arc too. The allusion that up-firing speakers can facilitate heavily depends on the room’s acoustics along with your seating position. All that combined with which movie you’re watching. Don’t be bummed if the Atmost experience isn’t life-changing here, because it might not be no matter what setup you have.

I mentioned that this soundbar can also be used as a music speaker when the screen is off. It can’t provide the full thump on its own that a paired sub would give it, but it still sounded full and rich in my experience.

Unfortunately, the Bose Music app, available on iPhone and Android, doesn’t offer Apple Music support, so getting Dolby Atmos music onto the soundbar is a little trickier. (If it’s connected to an Apple TV you can use the Music app on there to get Atmos music.)

Price and Availability

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is available now and retails for $899. It did go on sale at the end of 2023 for as low as $799. The soundbar comes in black and white colors.

Should You Buy the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar?

Looking at the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar from the left
Tyler Hayes / How-To Geek

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is for people who want a straightforward setup and minimal fuss while still getting a full, rich sound, even if that means paying a premium. If you have the space or money, Bose’s add-on wireless subwoofers also take the speaker to the next level.

Although this is a high-priced option, its feature set is complete enough that even tech enthusiasts shouldn’t need or want a new soundbar for the next several years. That said, if you really want to add a subwoofer without going over the $1,000 mark, you might want to look at the smaller Bose soundbars that can also pair with a sub.

smart ultra soundbar
Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar

$799 $899 Save $100

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar with Dolby Atmos® and Bose TrueSpace technology separates instruments, dialogue, and effects, and places them in different parts of a room for a truly immersive spatial audio experience like you’ve never heard it before.


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