Not content with bringing Dolby Atmos into our living rooms, audio brands are now fighting over who can squeeze the tech into the most compact soundbar possible. That’s absolutely Bose’s concern with the Smart Soundbar 600.
It might have a remarkably boring name, but the Smart Soundbar 600 is an impressive piece of tech, with upward-firing drivers that are capable of genuine height. The second-gen Sonos Beam, which has been very difficult to budge from under our telly since the back end of 2021, has to trick you into thinking there’s sound above your head.
Atmos audio in a small package isn’t all the Smart Soundbar 600 has going for it, either. It’s also extremely easy to add to a Bose multiroom setup, plays nice with voice assistants and only asks you to add one more cable to your existing tangle. But is all this enough to dethrone our beloved Beam 2?
Design & build: small yet mighty
The Smart Soundbar 600 isn’t small small, but at just over 5cm tall it’s unlikely squeezing one under a telly of any size will present much of a problem. You could comfortably fit a finger between the top of the soundbar and the bottom of our 55in Panasonic OLED. Or you could mount it on the wall if you’d prefer.
It feels hefty in the hands, but in a good way, assuring you it’s a well made piece of kit. Bose has wisely opted for minimalism with the 600’s design, pairing matte finished plastic with a perforated metal grille that wraps around the sides and occupies a portion of the top. It looks great, but sadly dust seemed to think so too: we already had a fair bit visibly resting on it after a few weeks of testing.
The back is where you’ll plug in the power lead and an HDMI cable, which needs your TV’s eARC port to pass through all that Atmos goodness. There’s also an optical cable in the box, although you’ll forego Atmos audio if you use it, and a compact remote.
You’re going to be using the latter a lot, as there are no power, volume, input or playback controls on the soundbar itself. The only two are touch-sensitive areas for muting the mic or activating it for voice control.
Features: get connected
Away from all the Atmos wizardry, the 600 makes it as easy as possible to wirelessly stream audio. Chromecast, Spotifty Connect and Apple AirPlay 2 are all supported over Wi-Fi, and you’ve got Bluetooth on board to boot.
Alexa is built-in and easy to set up for hands-free voice control, which includes commands for turning your TV on, switching inputs and changing the channel. If you’ve got a Google speaker on your home network you can also use Google Assistant.
General setup is remarkably easy to do given the minimal selection of outputs. You’ll connect it to the Bose Music app, from which you can download updates, manage your smart services, pair other Bose speakers and headphones and link to supported music streaming apps such as Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer. You can also toggle a Dialogue mode here if you’re struggling to hear what people are saying on screen, and mess about with an EQ. Annoyingly, you’ll need to create an account with Bose if you want to use any of the app’s extra features.
Performance: so much space
Five transducers are employed to produce the surround sound experience that Bose promises to deliver, regardless of what you’re watching. You’ve got two racetrack-shaped drivers firing out sound from each side of the soundbar, supported by a 32mm tweeter in the middle. The final two drivers are mounted to the top, firing sound upwards for the all-important overhead effects that define Atmos spatial audio. Which probably leaves you wondering, is it any good?
The Smart Smart soundbar 600 obviously can’t imitate a true 5.1.2 Atmos setup, but it isn’t supposed to. This soundbar is instead a rival to the likes of the Sonos Beam 2, which attempts to simulate Atmos by essentially playing a trick on your ears. And there’s no doubt that there’s a sense of height to an Atmos mix being handled by the Bose that Sonos’ bar can’t match.
A long overdue rewatch of 2021’s Dune was made decidedly more epic with the added overhead effects, which are easier to identify in the mix thanks to the 600’s up-firing drivers. Load up any action-heavy flick with lots of flying bullets and soaring aircrafts and you’ll be struck by how tall the soundstage can be given you’re only working with a single soundbar. While it naturally can’t replicate the overall Atmos presentation made possible by dedicated ceiling speakers, there’s a sense of verticality that soundbars lacking upward-firing speakers will struggle to match.
Of course, a soundbar needs more than convincing height channels to get a big tick from us, so it’s a good thing that the Soundbar 600’s soundstage is horizontally expansive too, and well balanced across the frequency range, even if we longed for a bit of extra low end heft in some scenes. When it comes to dialogue, the 600 really excels, meaning we never needed to make use of the mode that boosts it in the mix.
A lot of what you watch with the soundbar isn’t going to be mixed for Dolby Atmos, and when this is the case, Bose’s TrueSpace tech is on hand to give it some extra spaciousness. It works pretty well on the whole, but doesn’t appear to be something you can disable for the purpose of comparing, which disappointed us a bit. Still, given the price and size of the Soundbar 600, we were impressed by its versatility, and if you want even grander surround sound you can add more Bose speakers to your setup.
Bose Smart Soundbar 600 verdict
If you’re after big-sounding Dolby Atmos soundbar that isn’t physically enormous and won’t break the bank, Bose’s latest should be a strong contender for your cash. The presence of actual upfiring drivers means spatial audio soundtracks are just more immersive here than through a soundbar that has to handle it virtually. The 600 has a wide and tall soundstage that lacks a bit of bass oomph but otherwise impressed us at every turn.
As a smart speaker it’s also a winner, as long as you favour Alexa, and while Bose’s multiroom ecosystem isn’t as accomplished as Sonos’, it’ll be easy to, say, add a subwoofer to the mix if you’re all in on Bose products.
If you’re not planning to watch a lot of Atmos content, or your current TV can’t process it anyway (remember you only have the one HDMI ARC/eARC to play with, so an Atmos-certified telly is essential), you aren’t going to benefit from its best features. In which case a Sonos Beam 2 remains a solid bet, with more audio formats supported and superior non-Atmos sound.
But if you’ve been asking you built-in TV speakers to fill a mid-sized living room up to this point, the 600 will make for a major upgrade.
With its (real) Dolby Atmos audio credentials, this is one of the best small soundbars around
Up-firing speakers add genuine height to TV and movies
Upscales non-Atmos content
Impressive Alexa compatibility
Bass is a little lacking
Not all non-Atmos content sounds convincing with TrueSpace
No built-in Google Assistant
Forces you to create a Bose account to use app features
Bose Smart Soundbar 600 technical specifications
|2x 57mm, 2x 44x102mm racetrack, 32mm tweeter, 2x bass reflex ports
|HDMI, digital optical
|Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2