I was pleasantly surprised at how loud and clear music on the Home Speaker 500 was... the directional mics picking up voice commands over music cranked all the way to the max was also impressive.
- Alexa and Spotify support, AirPlay support in the pipeline
- Multiple mics mean Alexa will hear you loud and clear
- Colour screen displays Spotify album art
- Won’t work with SoundTouch products
- Expensive compared to rival products
- Review Price: £399.95
- Review price £399.95
- Twin drivers
- Eight directional mics
- Bluetooth, aux, micro USB (for OTA updates)
Trusted Reviews went ears-on with the Home Speaker 500, the new smart Alexa-enabled speaker from Bose, at a cosy press launch at the AV manufacturer’s recently refurbished flagship store on London’s Regent Street. In lieu of our full review, here’s how we got on.
Bose Home Speaker 500 – Design and features
The Bose Home Speaker 500’s body is an anodised aluminium oblate cylinder which measures 203 x 169 x 109mm. There are two colour versions, black and white, with the white version showing off more of that metal body underneath.
There’s also a small colour screen which typically displays the time and, whenever you’re playing something on Spotify, the album art. There’s also a KITT from Knight Rider-style flashing RGB strip at the top which kicks into gear whenever you’re chatting to Alexa, which is a cute touch. We also saw this light flashing blue whenever Bluetooth was turned on, but we didn’t get to see if the RGB strip turned any other colours.
Hidden inside that anodised shell are two drivers pointing laterally. These are designed to fire out audio so that it bounces off of surrounding walls, something which is intended to provide clear separation between instruments, which are thrown out to the left and to the right, and vocals, which are nudged towards the centre. How this will work out with songs which have been mixed so that the singer’s voice is panned towards a left or right channel – ‘Theme’ by Public Image Limited springs to mind – remains to be heard.
Bose has fitted eight mics into the Home Speaker 500, four dedicated to picking up far away sounds, and the other four trained to detect closer voice commands. Bose says that if you’re playing music in the kitchen while you’ve got the cooking going and kids running around, the Home Speaker 500’s mics mean that Alexa should be able to hear you over all that noise.
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On top of the Home Speaker 500 is a number of media controls, as well as soft touch buttons for Bluetooth, mute, aux and standby. At the front, there are also six programmable buttons which can act as shortcuts to specific Spotify songs, albums, playlists or stations.
You don’t configure this on the device itself – you’ll use a forthcoming Bose Music App to arrange everything. At the event, we saw Bose staff use an iPhone to control everything, and we expect that an Android version will be available in due course.
What Bose did say was that the app is not the same as the SoundTouch app that’s currently available. Frustratingly, for anyone who has already shelled out for a SoundTouch speaker or soundbar, you won’t be able to pair the new Home Speaker 500 with these for any wireless stereo fun, but the recently announced Bose Soundbar 500 and 700 along with the Bose Bass Module 500 and 700 will work with the new Home Speaker.
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Bose Home Speaker 500 – Performance
Bose claims that the Home Speaker 500 ‘has the widest soundstage of any smart speaker available today’ and to demonstrate this, it threw a press event at its flagship store on Regent Street, a ‘lighthouse venue’ which re-opened this August. The store features several small, isolated booths with anechoic wedges stuffed in the corners.
Demo areas currently include one with a motorized curtain which swung round to enclose whoever is sitting in that demo area in a sound-absorbing semicircle. Fun factoid: the curtain in Bose’s main demo area is actually made of three layers, an outer layer of black velvet, a thick rubber/rubberised material in the middle, and an inner velvet sleeve. The whole thing felt incredibly dense and it did do a good job of shutting out outside noises.
Each area was primed to demonstrate how good Bose’s gear is, but the small space where we saw the Home Speaker 500 didn’t feel particularly representative of any real-world location, but when the music was playing, I was able to briefly hear how music sounded on this.
During the press demo, Bose reps played Billy Joel’s ‘The River Of Dreams’, to demonstrate the range of sounds the speaker was capable of producing. The thick gauze of synthesized sounds, voices and drum racket did sound impressive. It’s not a track I’m familiar with at all, so I didn’t know which instruments and vocal lines to listen out for, so whether the Bose Home Speaker 500 is any good for listening to Billy Joel… yeah, I guess?
There was some slight distortion at the lowest and highest ends of the mix, but considering that the Home Speaker 500 is a small thing designed to be easily picked up and moved around, that’s hardly a cardinal sin. Furthermore, the main reason the music was pushed all the way up was to demonstrate how, even with Mr. Joel & Co clattering away at full pelt, those eight mics meant that Alexa would be able to easily hear your commands.
At volume levels closer to the 60-70% mark, music sounded much, much clearer and still loud enough in that small demo booth. For what it’s worth, the hearing in my left ear is kind of shot at the moment, so I’m perhaps not a great objective judge of what constitutes a good sonic balance, nor did I have a decibel monitor on me. But when ‘The River Of Dreams’ was fully cranked, I could hold my hand about six inches away from the Home Speaker 500 and feel the air pushed out by the low notes on my hand.
In other words, it’s loud.
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To better demonstrate the low-end prowess, a Bose rep queued up ‘The Calling’ by Rene Lavice and Ivy Mairi, which, if you’ve not heard it, is a drum and bass track. A sampled bass guitar starts plugging away at around 0:20 and the track builds on this up until 1:32, when very prominent synth bass hits accentuate the main rhythm. I’d not heard this before either, but on the Home Speaker 500, those bass hits were absurdly loud. They practically leapt up at me. Whether the mix is supposed to sound like that or not, I don’t know.
Personally, I’d have liked to have heard something with a bit more space in the mix, like What’s Goin’ On or Take Five (or literally anything with Steve Albini or Steven Wilson’s names next to the bit marked ‘recorded/mixed by’) to see how the Home Speaker 500 fared, but we’ll have to wait until a review sample arrives to explore this further.
Equally, there was no time to deep dive on how the Home Speaker 500 paired with any of the bass modules and soundbars Bose had on display in its shop.
You won’t also be able to connect to the Home Speaker 500 via AirPlay 2, but support for that will be coming via a future OTA update, which you’ll be able to get onto the speaker by way of the dedicated micro USB port ‘round the back.
Bose Home Speaker 500 – Price
The Bose Home Speaker 500 costs £399.95.
Bose Home Speaker 500 – Availability
The Home Speaker 500 is available to buy directly from Bose now.
Bose Home Speaker 500 – First impressions
I’m generally pretty sceptical of how good small speakers will sound, so I was pleasantly surprised at how loud and clear music on the Home Speaker 500 was. Not possessing a decibel meter, I can’t tell you exactly how loud it is, but I think it’s safe to say that this will be plenty loud enough for home use. The directional mics picking up voice commands was also impressive. That said, I’d like to hear this blasting music outside of Bose’s environment and in an office or home context.
And while the Home Speaker 500 is undeniably a high quality product, that £400 price tag might put some people off, who may instead opt for a slightly cheaper Apple Homepod or Sonos One, or a much, much cheaper Amazon Echo.