Bose has a long history of producing high-quality wireless speakers - like, for example, the Bose SoundLink Revolve+ - and with the launch of its latest, the Bose Home Speaker 500, the company shows no signs of slowing down.
So what do you get for your money? The main thing that sets the Bose Speaker 500 apart from its competitors is its utilization of Bose's pioneering audio technology, which should make it a smart speaker for audiophiles. While Google and Amazon's speakers are certainly smart, the vast majority of their smart speaker catalog leaves something to be desired in the audio performance category.
This Bose speaker, however, does not.
Whether you feel this is good value for money really depends on how much you're willing to pay for the high sound quality that has come to be associated with Bose, combined with Amazon Alexa’s voice assistant smarts.
All in all, the Home Speaker 500 looks very impressive, with a seamless elliptical shape and an anodized aluminum casing that, if you opt for the silver model, reflects the light in your room beautifully.
We tried out the glossy black version, which looks just as elegant, and may be a better option for those who want a more unobtrusive design.
On the front of the speaker is a small full color screen that displays album artwork as you play music – the screen also has auto-dimming so you won't be blinded when you're using it in low light conditions.
The screen can also display the time, which is a nice feature, however smart displays like the Google Home Hub and the Amazon Echo Show, not only display the time but artwork, news and so much else. That makes Bose's simpler display feel ever-so-slightly obsolete.
The speaker's grille is precision drilled for both audio accuracy and a high quality finish, and overall, it looks really attractive.
Although the Home Speaker 500 has been optimized for voice control via Amazon Alexa, there are buttons for basic functionality on the top of the speaker, as well as six preset buttons that you can program to play your favorite playlist, radio station, or album after one touch.
You can store presets using the Bose app, although next year Bose says it will be updating the speaker to allow you to create presets using your voice.
The speaker also features a light bar, which glows as you interact with Alexa, and also changes color depending on the type of audio input you are using to play your music (for example, blue for Bluetooth). It needs to be plugged in, so you won't be able to use it as a portable speaker.
It's really aesthetically pleasing, and looks good enough to be a design focal point in the home without clashing with your style of decor.
Features and performance
One of the main selling points of the Home Speaker 500 is its utilization of the company's proprietary mic technology, which allows the speaker to pick up commands even when music is playing loudly – it contains an eight microphone array designed for near and far field listening.
We found the microphones were really adept at picking up our voices from quite far away, so you can comfortably interact with the speaker from the other side of the room.
Right now, the Home Speaker 500 only supports Alexa, but Bose plans to update the new range to support Google Assistant this year. (Don't worry, if you have a lot of different Alexa-enabled devices in your home, you don't have to worry about all of them going off at once when you make a command - only the closest speaker to you will respond.)
In terms of audio, the Home Speaker 500 sounds really impressive. This is partly thanks to it's two custom drivers that point left and right – Bose says that this allows true stereo separation without needing to buy a second speaker.
Audiophiles probably won’t be convinced by the stereo separation; it just doesn’t quite measure up to a two-speaker stereo setup, and it didn’t feel like we had multiple speakers playing in the room while we were testing it.
Even so, the soundstage still feels remarkably wide, which makes for a truly room-filling sound – impressive, particularly when you consider it’s diminutive size..
Firstly we tested the audio on The Strokes’ ‘One Way Trigger’, and even though the vocals sit low down in the mix in this particular track, they didn’t feel subdued at all while being blasted through the Home Speaker 500.
Similarly impressive were the retro arpeggiated synths and distorted guitars, which sounded smooth and well-rounded, while meandering bass lines were thumpy and powerful.
Percussion comes across fairly well, although we felt a little more clarity in the higher frequencies wouldn’t go amiss; the speaker has a generally warm, analogue-style sound, which may not appeal to everyone’s tastes. There’s no denying that it sounds fantastic, though.
We also listened to Hot Chip’s ‘Boy From School’. The close vocal harmony sounded snug and velvety, while pulsating synths and clattering beats were defined and crisp.
Once again, bass lines sounded vigorous and forceful; however, the lowest frequencies never bled into the mids and trebles, which is a testament to how well balanced the overall sound of the Home Speaker 500 is.
It actually sounds pretty similar to the Apple HomePod, but with a subtler sound that will probably appeal to audiophiles more than Apple’s bassier offering.
When it comes to music playback you have a few different options; you can connect your device to the speaker via an AUX cable, wirelessly connect via Bluetooth, or set the speaker up on your home’s WiFi network.
Initially, we had a little trouble setting the speaker up on our WiFi network using the Bose Music app, and we found that the app didn’t always work depending on which phone model we were using; the app wouldn’t recognize the speaker when we were using an older iPhone, but worked fine when we switched to an iPhone 7.
Through the app you can connect to a number of different streaming services, including Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, TuneIn, and SiriusXM, giving you lots of choice between podcasts, music, and radio stations.
If you like to start your morning with a particular radio station, or you've curated the perfect workout playlist on Spotify, being able to store presets via the app is a handy feature. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to select from up to six presets using the buttons on top of the speaker.
There’s a lot to like about the Home Speaker 500: It sports a sleek, sophisticated design, a nifty display, and it sounds fantastic. Its room-filling sound will likely impress audiophiles and casual listeners alike, although we don’t think it quite delivers true stereo separation like Bose claims it does.
That being said, it’s a shame that the speaker is currently limited to Alexa, but Google Assistant functionality should be coming to the Home Speaker 500 soon if Bose is true to its word. Worse, for nearly $400, it would be fair to expect the setup process to be entirely seamless, so this is one area that we feel Bose needs to improve upon before we can confidently say the Home Speaker 500 provides true value for money.
So, is this the smart speaker worth investing in? While you'll find it's generally comparable to Apple’s HomePod, the Home Speaker 500 does feel more subtle, especially when it comes to bass frequencies. The Home Speaker is a bit cheaper than the HomePod, too. (For comparison, the HomePod costs $349 / £319 / AU$499, around $50 cheaper than the Home Speaker 500.)
Overall, the speaker is on par with Apple's smart speaker and sounds a lot better than the vast majority of smart speakers on the market. If you don't mind a potentially tricky setup process and a steep price point, it's well worth considering.
- Interested in the competition? Check out the best smart speakers you can buy