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Bose Home Speaker 500 Review: Amazon Alexa Has Never Sounded Better, no Arguments

By: Vishal Mathur

Last Updated: March 12, 2019, 15:12 IST

Bose Home Speaker 500 Review: Amazon Alexa Has Never Sounded Better, no Arguments

This carries a significant premium over Amazon’s own Echo Plus, but the audio experience it offers is also significantly elevated. Bose needs to sort out the rough edges, quickly.

“Alexa, play some new Trance music,” a simple call that I make to the Amazon Echo Plus speaker at home every evening. At some point, my wife would chime in with a request for Alexa to play her Zumba playlist, and eventually, the parents would demand some order be restored with some Hindi pop or Bollywood music once dinner is served. This scenario isn’t unique. It surely plays out in a lot of homes which now own smart speakers. Smart speakers, such as the Amazon Echo line-up of speakers powered by the Alexa virtual assistant, have hooked us up even more to the idea of a live soundtrack for our daily lives. That is where the audio connoisseurs amongst us will probably demand even better sound quality from the speakers that claim to be smart. And that is exactly when the likes of the Bose Home Speaker 500 become very relevant. It costs a pretty penny, with a price tag of Rs 39,000 but is ideal for someone who is invested in music, wants instant access to Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant and yet wants a versatile speaker at the same time. The Bose Home Speaker 500 does all that, and more.

The very industrial design of the Bose Home Speaker 500 may divide opinion at first glance, but if we are to consider this polarizing design to itself be an art form, that wouldn’t really be too much to ask for. What you get on the other side of the divided opinion is a build that includes anodized aluminum, a lightly brushed finish and precision drilled holes in the same aluminum from behind which peek out the audio drivers. There are two colour options to choose from—Lux Silver and Triple Black, the latter surely referring to the three different shades of black that share space on the speaker’s body.

On the top panel of the Bose Home Speaker 500 are a whole bunch of control options, all available as soft touch keys. There’s the play and pause key, volume controls, options for enable sources such as aux and Bluetooth, as well as the key to disable the microphone if you don’t intend to use Alexa at some point. Speaking of which, there are 8-microphones in the speaker, which is in line with what the Amazon Echo Plus speakers also have, and at no point did we notice that the Bose speaker want able to hear our voice commands. Even in a slightly noisy environment, it hears us well enough to not stumble with the requests.

There are also six programmable keys on the speaker, for one-touch access to radio stations, music albums, playlists etc., but you cannot program these on the speaker itself—you need to download the Bose Music app (free for Android and iOS) that is now the audio company’s single app for all its current generation Alexa enabled smart speakers, including the Soundbar 500, for instance. Once you have configured these, the convenience is incredible.

At the front is the unique element that makes the Bose Home Speaker 500 stand apart from the sea of wireless speakers, and the ever-burgeoning demographic of smart speakers—an LCD display. What this display is useful for is the album art that accompanies most of the music you play on it (yes, that is true for music on Amazon Music, but we noticed it is not true for tracks that Alexa sources from third party music services such as Saavn). It is a great visual element for volume control, and particularly for radio station playback, wherein you will know the name of the radio station currently playing as well as the details of the program or show active at the time. The rest of the time, this is a convenient clock.

Inside are two large full-range audio drivers which are positioned laterally, for wider sound output. This is also where the curvaceous design of the Bose Home Speaker 500 comes in handy. What you get as a result is extremely powerful sound that also travels around the room better. Place the Home Speaker 500 in one corner of the room and place yourself in another corner, and you won’t necessarily be able to identify the source of sound unless you look around to actually spot the speaker. For a speaker this compact, this does the sound separation quite well too, and the detailing of the instruments as well as vocals on a soundstage adds to the overall listening experience. There are times when you may feel you need a bit more sharpness to the vocals, and that is where the treble controls (as well as controls for bass) in the Bose Music app come in handy. Speaking of which, the bass is quite powerful too, most apparent when you are listening to up-tempo music as well as genres such as trance. You might notice very slight distortions of the lowest and the highest frequencies at very high volume, with some tracks, but then again, this isn’t meant to replace your floor vibrating bookshelf speakers anyway. The sweet spot for the Bose Home Speaker 500 sits somewhere between 50%-70% volumes, and even that could be a stretch for most users and their listening habits, considering this is meant for more personal listening experiences.

The added versatility comes from the fact that the Bose Home Speaker 500 can hook-up to your home Wi-Fi network, and you can then pretty use voice commands to ask it to play music via Amazon Music or radio from TuneIn Radio.

While the Bose Home Speaker 500 is a rather versatile powerhouse in its own right, there are some rough edges that Bose needs to sort out. First up, the Bose Music does not allow you allow access to the Amazon Music library from within its interface. That software update is still awaited, and that is a big miss. At the moment, the workaround for music tracks that you don’t remember by name is to open the Amazon Music app separately, find the song or album there, and then verbally call out to Alexa to play. Secondly, the firmware on the speaker itself tend to trip over its own feet, and sometimes does not actively change the display visuals based on what is playing. We noticed in our time with the speaker that it sometimes remained stuck on the volume slider display despite the music changing regularly, and at other times, it refused to show the clock when we had stopped listening to music—a power cycle sorted each of these issues.

The other niggle is something we noticed when we had set this up—it refused to identify or play any Hindi music tracks from Amazon Music, despite being linked to our Amazon India account. After diving deeper into settings, it was discovered that the language on the Bose Home Speaker 500 was set to English (US) and had to be changed to English (India), post which it understood every music request and complied seamlessly.

All this can be considered quite unrefined for what is an otherwise a fantastic proposition and does cost a lot of money—we hope Bose sorts this out with firmware updates for the Home Speaker 500 as well as the Bose Music app.

It is always going to be hard to justify a price tag of Rs 39,000 for a speaker that also doesn’t make coffee for you. But once you move beyond the “why should I spend so much on this” argument, the Bose Home Speaker 500 is by far the best sounding Amazon Alexa speaker that you can find right now. The sound signature is typical Bose, and the crystal-clear detailing really takes the cake. Agreed that this carries a significant premium over Amazon’s own Echo Plus speaker (Rs 14,999) and the Harman Kardon Allure (around Rs 21,699), but then again, the audio experience it offers is also significantly elevated comparatively. Whether you splurge the cash on this totally depends on how much of a music are you, and whether Amazon’s Alexa is that important in the larger scheme of things. If the answers for both are affirmative, the Bose Home Speaker 500 hits the right notes.