Bose Solo 5 Full Review
But can this compact TV speaker system compete with some of the more intricate and robust competitors?
To see, we used and tested the Bose Solo 5 in our office, putting it through its paces with a variety of different media.
What We Like About the Bose Solo 5
The Bose Solo 5 is a standalone 2.0 channel bar that doesn’t come bundled with a sub or satellites like higher-end models.
Instead, it’s a very compact and sleek device. If anything, it looks more like a dedicated 5.1 center channel speaker than a soundbar.
It doesn’t cover the entire width of most TVs, so it should fit neatly and nicely in front of it. Also, it’s not very tall, so it shouldn’t obstruct your view of the screen. It can also be wall-mounted with ease.
Being from Bose, the Solo 5 is well built and uses quality materials.
Its all-black design is largely minimalist except for the Bose logo and status indicators on the front. But even these are subtle. The indicators light up in different colors and combinations to tell you the Solo 5’s current mode; for example, glowing amber when its dialogue mode is turned on.
There also aren’t any control buttons on the soundbar itself. Despite this, the setup is easy and we were watching the match, with the Solo 5 amplifying the sound of the crowd, within five minutes of taking it out of the box.
This is largely due to the inclusion of an extremely handy universal remote control. While a remote is included with most soundbars and isn’t exactly earth-shatteringly new tech, the Bose universal remote can be programmed to control other devices using the database of manufacturer IR codes included. Extremely useful and very impressive. In fact, this remote offered the most functionality of any remotes that we’ve come across in our testing.
Therefore, it has additional buttons to control these other devices: channel and menu buttons, and the like for controlling anything from your television, satellite receiver box to a Blu-ray player. But this doesn’t make it cumbersome or complicated. There are six labeled shortcut buttons at the top and each one can be programmed to control a different device; just hold down the relevant preset button and input the manufacturer’s IR code to program.
The Bose Solo 5 also has an auto-wake function when it detects a sound source so you don’t have to manually turn it on with your television.
Sound quality when watching movies isn’t at all bad. Dialogue especially even is clear, crisp, and comprehensible. And that’s even without selecting its specific Dialogue mode. This will be particularly useful for anyone hard of hearing, as it emphasizes the spoken word, while at the same time decreasing the bass to improve intelligibility.
Its dynamic range is broad enough for us to be suitably surprised by loud noises, while at the same time, the quiet dialogue has the required hushed intrigue. For sure it has good, if not great, clarity.
The Bose Solo 5 is certainly loud enough in volume to fill a medium-sized room easily. Listening to music, it performed well with a fairly good and neutral audio reproduction. Its response is well-balanced, with vocals and instruments accurately reproduced. In particular, mids and trebles are nice and crisp.
Its soundstage, the perceived size, and the width of the sound created by the soundbar are well-focused, and sound isn’t diffused. Objects seem to be coming from a more accurate pinpoint location rather than from a general area.
It also has a decent stereo frequency response, especially for its size. And with these, its stereo Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) performance is good. At a normal volume, it sounds clean and offers great fidelity of audio reproduction.
As a 2.0 soundbar setup, the Bose Solo 5 doesn’t have a dedicated center speaker. Yet its performance with a ‘phantom center’ is still decent. The sound profile is still fairly neutral and accurate which won’t affect dialogue too much.
In fact, we’d say that this well-built bar is at its best, and so a good option, for audio content like podcasts, audiobooks, and TV shows where dialogue is the most important factor.
What We Don’t Like About the Bose Solo 5
In truth, opinion was divided in our office whether the all-black aesthetic of the Bose Solo 5 is stylishly minimalist, or just makes it very ordinary. And while there being no controls on the bar is a plus if you’re in the minimalist camp, you better not misplace the remote.
The back is also very plain. On the right are all the input ports and on the left is the port of the built-in subwoofer. There are also two holes for wall-mounting, but if wall-mounted it could obstruct the subwoofer port. Plus if you did want to mount it, brackets aren’t included and it will cost you at least an extra $24 on the Bose WB-120 Wall-Mount Kit that you’ll exclusively need. What’s more, if you do choose to wall-mount the Solo 5, you’ll have to toggle the soundbar’s audio output to compensate for the lack of bass this creates.
As for the inputs, the Bose Solo 5’s are limited, so you need to follow a very specific setup when connecting it to the rest of your devices. It has Optical Audio In for surround sound, a Coaxial to connect to older devices, Bluetooth for newer ones, plus an Analog 3.5mm input to connect any other device that doesn’t support Bluetooth. But there’s no HDMI support, so without an ARC port you have to decode Dolby Digital via its optical port, but this will downmix it to 2.0. Dolby Digital. Also, you can’t use this soundbar as a hub for your other devices.
The universal remote is obviously a big plus, but it only works over infrared, and so can’t control a game console. And we found the 60 minutes of inactivity before the auto power-off is overly long. And whereas many other models provide an app for more fine-tuned control, Bose doesn’t, and they aren’t even present on the remote. And of course, there are no controls on the bar itself.
In fact, there’s also not much in the way of different sound modes. Using the remote control, you can turn on a dialogue mode to make speech clearer, but that’s it aside from bass adjustment. A few presets, for let’s say listening to music or watching sports, wouldn’t have gone amiss.
In our testing, we found that Solo 5 produced decent enough, but just not what we’d expect from a Bose speaker. It was all a bit average. It produces reasonably powerful bass considering its small size, but lacking a wireless subwoofer, it often sounded indistinct and muffled; action movie scenes were lacking something because of it. You’ll definitely want to turn up the bass from the default setting. Unfortunately, this is the only frequency that you can modify.
The Bose Solo 5’s stereo dynamics aren’t particularly impressive. It can get decently loud for small and medium-sized rooms only. It won’t do too well in large rooms or crowded environments. And when we pushed it to maximum volume, its sound quality degraded, with pumping and compression artifacts in the bass range, especially on bass-heavy content.
As the Bose Solo 5 only has two internal speakers with no satellites, it uses the left and right speakers for reproducing audio with a 6-channel file with a signal only to the 5th and 6th (Left Surround/Right Surround) channels to create a sound in the center. Therefore, everything is downmixed to a stereo signal in this 2.0 setup and doesn’t have an accurate and clear representation of the surrounding object.
There isn’t a lot of stereo separation and the soundstage is very narrow at about the width of the bar. It also means the sound effects lack directionality when watching films, and is not an especially immersive sound experience as it is coming from the front instead of to your sides or behind you. Sound is more diffused and less clear compared to a discrete center, and you just don’t get the all-enveloping and immersive audio that larger soundbars can provide.
The Bose Solo 5 is more or less just a plug-and-play speaker, without any enhanced features to help you get better overall performance, apart from Dialogue mode. Otherwise, you can’t adjust the EQ levels. It lacks Room Correction, meaning the soundbar sounds differently depending on your room. It also doesn’t support Atmos and height channels, which won’t be great for movies, and doesn’t even support DTS, which is common on Blu-ray discs.
- Sound is very crisp and precise
- It improves the clarity of dialogue. Speech is very clear
- Volume is more than adequate
- No floor-thumping bass
- Great upgrade over built-in TV speakers
- Doesn’t sound like a Bose
- The optical cable connector is push-in and snapped cover left debris inside
- The universal remote control setup is a nightmare. For a cable source, multiple codes need entry repeatedly. Even the manual states that codes may need to be entered 30 times repeatedly!
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Who Should Buy the Bose Solo 5?
As a budget offering, there may be the preconception that the Bose Solo 5 is purely a soundbar for those who don’t have, or want to spend, too much money. While of course, this may well be the case, we shouldn’t rule out the buyer who already has a number of Bose products and just wants an inexpensive soundbar that will integrate with them.
There’s long been a snobbery, and along with it a reverse snobbery, around the Bose brand and its products. With their Solo 5, it’s certainly likely that brand loyalty might come into play more than pure audio quality. For while the anti-Bose brigade claim that it’s all about style, and usually with it an exorbitant (or aspirational, depending on your point of view) price, over substance. And in the case of the Bose Solo 5, they may well have a case.
Its sound does disappoint a little overall. And even at around the $150 mark you can probably do better. But that’s not to underestimate, that at that low price point you’re also buying into the Bose reputation for reliability, and not solely into their name and with the aspiration that we were talking about.
What’s without question though, is that its diminutive size means that it’s a very good soundbar for your kitchen or bedroom television, if you want one. While not perfect it’s very worthy of your attention and consideration.
As well as the soundbar itself, there’s a universal remote control with batteries, a power cable with brick, a 5ft digital optical cable, and a user manual.
Bose Solo 5 Features
The Bose Solo 5 is a single soundbar that provides better sound quality compared to your TV speakers. It comes with a versatile universal remote control, that can be programmed to control other devices using the database of manufacturer IR codes included in the user manual.
You can only control the soundbar with the remote as there are no controls on the bar’s simple interface. There are only two discrete LEDs behind the grille. One serves as a status light that shows that the soundbar is working, and the other one is for the Bluetooth. Once you change the settings, a small led light behind the grille will flash to indicate the pressing of a button.
The bass frequency is adjustable from the remote. Also, there’s a Dialogue mode to make every word clear and stand out.
As well as Bluetooth connectivity to stream wirelessly from other devices, it has one connection to your TV, Optical Audio input (digital), Coaxial Audio input (digital), and 3.5mm aux input (analog).
Bose Solo 5 Review Summary
The Bose Solo 5 is a compact soundbar, one of the smallest that we’ve ever reviewed, which has decent enough sounding audio reproduction for its size. It doesn’t get as loud as other soundbars and lacks bass as it doesn’t have a subwoofer, so it isn’t the best option for bass-heavy music genres. It also lacks height channels and Atmos support, which makes it a sub-par option for movies.
On the plus side, it has great mid and treble reproduction and with a Dialogue mode, it’s particularly good for dialogue-oriented content like podcasts, audiobooks, and TV shows.
The Bose Solo 5 is a simplistic soundbar with barebones in terms of functionality, not the high caliber we’ve come to expect from Bose. But its low price makes it an inexpensive upgrade on your TV speakers and don’t want anything too complicated. Really, it’s the included universal remote control that sets it apart from other budget soundbars.
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