The Sonos Beam may hold court when it comes to budget-friendly, compact soundbars but Bose has emerged with a solid competitor that, in many ways, is one of the best soundbars you can buy right now. That’s no surprise really; Bose has always been impressive when it comes to packing audio prowess into more than just traditional Bluetooth speakers and headphones. As such, I’d say the 300 is a fine choice if you’re in the market for a smaller soundbar that still punches well above its weight.
Why you need a soundbar should be obvious by now. We want to best experience possible when we’re streaming some content, whether that’s the best shows on Netflix or the best movies on Amazon Prime. A good soundbar is always going to make those TV speakers look and sound flimsy and thin in comparison, no matter how good TV manufacturers like Sony, Samsung, and LG get when it comes to native audio.
The Sonos Arc has completely changed the way I view content and pushed my standards up super high. But that’s over $1k. The Bose Smart Soundbar 300 is just under $600 and is a beast of a performer for something so inexpensive (yes, for the soundbar market, that is inexpensive).
The Bose 300 is rather small, which isn’t such a bad thing if you’re keeping your TV standing on a unit. Although the black plastic top is rather thick, the bar can, at 2.25 inches tall, be fitted under most TV’s without issue – as long they don’t have a flat stand. The metal grille wraps around the front and sides to protect the bar’s speakers – 2 class D amps for left and right, and one frequency crossover amp for the tweeter. That technically makes it a 3.0 channel bar, which means it has to downmix denser content into stereo sound and a narrow sound field – not ideal, but still impressive all things considered.
The fantastic build quality feels sturdy but is still lightweight enough to pick up and move around. Not that you’d really need to touch this soundbar once it’s set up, but not having such a chunky device in case you move house, or want to move your TV to another room, is a nice little bonus.
If you want a true surround sound set-up, you’ll need to complete this bar with a Bose Bass Module 400 and some Bose Surround Speakers, which obviously ups the cost considerably.
Manufacturers are clearly trying to offer soundbars that are pretty much plug-and-play because they know the category can be rather overwhelming for people who haven’t played around with one yet. The Bose 300 couldn’t be easier to set up with two input options – HDMI ARC and optical. The former is always going to bring you better functionality, but it’s always good to have the option of using the TV’s optical audio port (and the cable is included). The third way to use the soundbar is via WiFi and Bluetooth, with a strong and reliable connection available for streaming music either directly or via your choice of voice assistant. There is support for Alexa or Google Assistant. Streaming can also be via Apple Airplay 2, rounding out a generous suite of connectivity features.
The best thing about the bar is the clarity and its impressive (considering) sound field. It’s wider than the bar itself, which already places it above plenty of other bars in the same price category. Bose has been generous with the performance here, although there are more than a few compromises.
You shouldn’t be expecting a true Dolby Atmos level of performance here, so the textural depth and sense of spatial audio are lacking. But that’s true for pretty much all 2.0 soundbars, and at least the 300 does a respectable job with clarity and intelligibility.
Dialogue is the strongest point here. Watch a film where the score is more forward and can otherwise obfuscate important bits of dialogue and you’ll clearly hear the difference. Those lower frequency responses are, however, going to need a subwoofer. The bar lacks that all-encompassing rattling quality when it comes to the low-end, but it would be unfair to expect a 2.0 bar to be able to do that. Instead, the strength is focused around the treble, right and vibrant which makes audio performance strong when it comes to streaming jazz, soul, and soft rock.
It’s much the same when it comes to film, as you’d expect. Hit up one of the best streaming services in Australia (preferably Netflix or Disney Plus, where most of the optimised content is) and you’ll get a great performance for the higher frequencies. No object-based audio of course, but enough to at least get a feel for different layers rushing at you when you’re in the front of the soundbar. Sit to the sides, and the weaknesses are obvious.
There’s little in the way of sound enhancement, which is largely disappointing. You’re able to do adjust the treble and bass, which you should definitely be doing, but there are similarly priced competitors which feature more in the way of customisation. You can still fiddle around enough to arrive at something closer to that rich, dynamic sound you’d buy a soundbar for, but there’s a definite ceiling effect and there’s only so much a $600 soundbar can do.
At least Bose was generous with their SimpleSync feature, which works incredibly well and can shift a signal seamlessly to a single pair of Bose Bluetooth headphones. This is very useful for when the rest of the household goes to sleep. But you could always just connect the headphones via your TV’s Bluetooth anyway. This just makes it easier and quicker.
Voice4Video is also a nice feature that could be of a better use for some people than it was for me. I personally don’t use voice assistants all that much, but those who do should be glad to know they can use Alexa or GA to control their TV or any other connected device.
Verdict & Value
Bose has kept it simple for their most affordable soundbar, and those who just want the basics would be satisfied with this choice. Considering the next step up, the Bose Smart Soundbar 500, is $795, you may want to decide how committed you are to your budget before you barrel into this. I haven’t had a chance to test the 500, but it’s well-reviewed across the board, with particular regard given to the bass response. Considering the 300 is rather thin on the low-end, it could be worth forking out the extra $200, given buying a separate subwoofer is going to add up anyway.
But even if you are settling for the 300, you can at least expect great clarity when it comes to dialogue and both mids and highs. That coupled with a simple design that couldn’t be easier to set-up out-of-box makes this a worthwhile purchase.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Excellent vocal clarity, reasonably wide sound field, easy to set up, simple design and very lightweight, able to seamlessly shift to Bose headphones
Lowlights: Thin at the low-end, poor object-based performance, lack of EQ settings.
Product supplied by Bose for review.