Not long after Bose unveiled its new Ultra range of flagship noise-cancelling headphones, did its soundbar range got a similar shake-up. That meant the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 was replaced (and subsequently massively discounted), with the new Bose Smart Ultra soundbar taking its spot as the flagship option.
As you might expect from a top-of-the-range soundbar from Bose - not to mention a soundbar costing $900/£900 - there is Dolby Atmos support, as well as stacks of style, extensive features and some AI-enhanced wizardry to deliver a super-smart soundbar that takes your TV audio to the next level
Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar
This classy soundbar lives up to its name by looking smart, sounding smart and generally acting very smart indeed. The glass top is very reflective, and there’s no DTS:X support, but otherwise, this model is hard to fault with its automated room calibration and capable - if expensive - expansion options.
- Stylish design and solid build quality
- Effective Dolby Atmos presentation
- ADAPTiQ room calibration
- No DTS:X
- Expansion options are pricey
- Glass top can be an issue
The Bose Smart Ultra is a single-unit system with no separate subwoofer or surround speakers, but you do get a multichannel system built into an elegant and well-constructed cabinet that uses a premium glass top and a metal grille. There's also a choice of Black or Arctic White when it comes to colour.
This soundbar is quite big, measuring 1045 x 58 x 107mm and weighing 5.8kg. As a result, it's primarily aimed at screen sizes of 55in and more significant, but at only 58mm in height, it shouldn't block the TV's picture when mounted in front.
The design remains stylish, but the lack of a proper display requires you to decode a slim LED light at the front to know what is going on. Since you're unlikely to remember all the different colour combinations, this is where the Bose Music app becomes invaluable, but I'll come back to that later.
While the glass top may seem like a suitably stylish flourish, it actually scores something of an aesthetic own-goal. Putting a mirror directly below your TV screen is not exactly a great idea, and you may find the inevitable reflections to be rather distracting, especially at night.
If you'd rather wall mount, you'll have to buy the optional bracket from a Bose dealer, which seems a bit stingy at this price point. At least there's an HDMI cable and optical cable supplied in the box, along with the ADAPTiQ headset (again, more on this later).
Connections and control
Considering its price, the Bose Smart Ultra has a surprisingly basic set of connections, with a single HDMI (eARC) port, an optical digital input, an ethernet port, and a USB port for service only. There are also 3.5mm jacks for a wired subwoofer, an IR blaster, and the ADAPTiQ headset. In terms of wireless connectivity, there's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, Chromecast and AirPlay 2.
Aside from touch-sensitive power and Alexa action buttons, there are plenty of control options, although virtually nothing on the soundbar itself. The latter is built-in, although the Smart Ultra also works with Google Assistant, with both providing voice control, while Bose's Voice4Video tech expands this functionality, allowing you also to control other connected devices like your TV.
The included remote is small but works well in basic control, providing a simplified selection of buttons for power on/off, volume up/down, play/pause, mute, and inputs – TV, Bluetooth, Bose Music App.
The Bose Music app is actually the best control option, not only including all the controls found on the zapper but also a host of other features, such as ADAPTiQ room calibration. It has a slick and responsive interface that takes you through setup, allows fine-tuning of the performance, and provides access to Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, TuneIn, AirPlay and Bluetooth.
The Bose Ultra Smart might be a svelte soundbar, but it manages to cram nine speakers into its cabinet, with a dedicated centre channel flanked by front left and right channels. There are two additional speakers on the far left and right, plus a pair of up-firers to create the height channels for a 5.1.2-channel setup.
The Smart Ultra uses the brand's PhaseGuide technology to beam sounds out to the sides, adding width and bouncing them off the ceiling to create the illusion of overhead channels. It also includes Bose's TrueSpace technology for delivering sounds with more precise directionality.
The soundbar is easy to set up; just use the Bose Music app and follow the instructions as it takes you through connecting the Wi-Fi and choosing a voice assistant. If you're invested in the Bose ecosystem, you can also control and share music across other Bose products in your home using the app.
The app also takes you through the ADAPTiQ room calibration process, which requires you to use the included headset. When instructed, you'll need to plug it into the dedicated jack at the rear, then place it on your head, and sit in the main listening position to begin the calibration process.
The system takes a series of measurements from various positions, allowing the processing to correct for the more egregious sonic characteristics of your room. The resulting correction brings the soundstage together, improving cohesion and tonal balance for a tight and controlled delivery.
In addition to Bose technology like PhaseGuide and TrueSpace, the Smart Ultra also includes an AI-enhanced Dialogue Mode that brings out vocals with greater clarity. This is a handy feature for anyone who struggles to hear what people are saying in today's more complex sound mixes.
Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, AirPlay 2
- 1 x HDMI (eARC), 1 x optical digital input
- 1045 x 58 x 107mm
- Black or Arctic White
The Smart Ultra comes as a single-unit soundbar, but if you want to beef up the bass or add rear channels to create a genuine 5.1 system, Bose offers the optional Bass Module 500 ($499/£499) or 700 ($849/£799), plus Surround Speakers ($399/£349) or Surround Speakers 700 ($599/£549). It's worth pointing out that even the cheapest expansion option results in a full surround system that costs a rather pricey $1,797/£1,747.
Still, you may not feel like you need it. The Bose Smart Ultra offers up quite the performance on its own, but the options to expand - be it immediately or over time - are there if you wish.
Simply put, the Bose Smart Ultra sounds fantastic, with a clean and uncluttered midrange and a treble that's free of sharpness or sibilance. The soundbar is excellent with music, producing a solid two-channel delivery with plenty of separation and good stereo imaging. It also has sufficient amplification to be played at unsociable volumes without becoming strained, harsh or distorted.
When it comes to TV and movies, the dedicated central speaker plays its part, ensuring dialogue is always clear and focused. The same is true of the AI-enhanced Dialogue Mode, which can tease out difficult-to-understand vocals if necessary. With multichannel audio, the Bose gives a good account of itself, too, adding plenty of width to create a wall of sound at the front of the room.
The general placement of effects is often quite precise, moving sounds effectively around the front of the room. With Atmos soundtracks, the up-firing speakers make their presence felt, layering in overhead effects that create a sense of height and scale – although the effectiveness of these speakers depends on the actual height, flatness and reflectivity of your ceiling.
Bose has included its TrueSpace tech to upscale stereo and 5.1 content to a more spatial format, and while effective, it's with Atmos that this soundbar really impresses. A dynamic mix like The Flash sounds fantastic within the limitations of a single-unit soundbar, with Kryptonians flying across the room with precision while explosions pepper spaces directly above the TV. This adds a pleasing sense of realism to the action.
As impressive as the Smart Ultra is with Atmos, the impact is reduced by the lack of a separate subwoofer, which means the bass never hits the depths expected by a modern object-based mix. Bose includes a sub output, so if you have one available, you can plug it into the soundbar to give the low-end a boost, or you can invest in one of Bose's forementioned optional wireless subs.
The other limitation is the lack of rear speakers, which means there's no real surround presence like you might experience on the (admittedly more pricey) Samsung HW-Q990C. You can bounce sounds off as many walls as you like, but nothing can replace an actual speaker behind you. Whenever Supergirl flies from front to rear in The Flash, she essentially disappears into a sonic gap behind you. As I mentioned, optional wireless rears are available, but this adds to the cost.
It's worth noting that while the Smart Ultra supports Dolby Atmos, it can't decode the rival object-based audio format, DTS: X. In reality, this is less of a deal breaker these days due to the utter dominance of Atmos on streaming services and because a lot of TVs are dropping support for the DTS format, too. Still, it's something to be aware of - something like Sennheiser's Ambeo Plus soundbar does offer it in a similarly compact and impressive package.
The Bose Smart Ultra is an elegant and accomplished performer that delivers a solid front soundstage and some excellent smart features. The ADAPTiQ room calibration is useful, the Bose Music app is highly effective, and the overall performance is impressive, given the inherent limitations of a single-unit soundbar. The build quality is top drawer too, but the glass top is a misfire.
If you want proper immersion and deep bass, you're going to have to stump up for extra speakers and a sub, which is costly, but otherwise, this supercharged soundbar certainly lives up to its name.
If you're already invested in the Bose ecosystem, the Smart Ultra makes perfect sense, but there are similarly priced alternatives that perform just as well and sometimes better.