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Tom’s Guide
Lee Dunkley

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Dolby Atmos and AI-enriched TV sound

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar in white placed on a window seat.
Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar: Specifications

Price: $899 / £899 / AU$1,499
Colors: Black, Arctic white
Ports: HDMI eARC; Optical input; Ethernet port; ADAPTiQ port
Speakers: 9 (unspecified)
Audio channels: 5.1.2
Audio formats: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital
Power output: Not specified
 Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; AirPlay 2; Chromecast; Spotify Connect
Smart Assistant: Alexa
Subwoofer: Available separately
Dimensions: 41.1 x 4.2 x  2.3 inches 
Weight: 12.68 pounds
Wall mountable: Yes

Looking for an all-in-one soundbar package that uses AI and Dolby Atmos to create immersive-sounding audio? It's an oddly specific request, but it's one that the new Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is more than happy to fulfill.

The Smart Ultra Soundbar may look identical to the Smart Soundbar 900, but it integrates a wealth of new features aimed to boost the TV viewing experience though machine learning and artificial intelligence to create the best sound experience possible for your TV room. 

The new Smart Ultra Soundbar comes with nine speakers and proprietary TrueSpace technology. It claims to support 5.1.2 channels and is Dolby Atmos spatial audio content compatible, but there's no mention of rival DTS-X format support. 

PhaseGuide technology, according to Bose, creates phantom surround sound channels that “pin” distinct sound to the right and left where there are no speakers. Additionally, Bose's machine learning automatically adjust tonal balance to boost dialogue clarity without impacting on the immersive sound effect.

Despite doing a fairly good job at creating nicely balanced sound with most content, as a standalone soundbar, there's no dedicated subwoofer or surround speakers provided. Add-on options such as the Bose Bass Module 700 ($849) and Bose Surround Speakers 700 ($599) are available though through the Bose website should you wish to grow the system at a later date. Without them, the overdriven bass can muddle the sound, making this a less-than-ideal speaker for music lovers.

To find out whether the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is worth the money and how it compares to its predecessor (as well as its main price rival the Sonos Arc), keep scrolling to read my full review.

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Price and availability

Upward-firing speakers placed either end of the soundbar direct sound above to give the impression of height with Dolby Atmos soundtracks.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Same launch price as Bose Smart Soundbar 900
  • Available in black and Arctic white color options   

The Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar went on sale in October 2023. It's on sale online at the Bose store for $899 (£899 / AU$1,499) as well as via online retailers including Amazon, Best Buy, and Crutchfield

Available in black and Arctic white color options, the new Ultra Soundbar is the same price as the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 originally launched at (right now though the Soundbar 900 can be found in early Black Friday sales for $599 at Amazon or $699 at Best Buy). 

At the full list price, the new Bose Ultra is exactly the same price as the Sonos Arc — one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbars we've tested.

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Design

(Image credit: Future)
  • Same elegant design as Bose Smart Soundbar 900 
  • Ideal for 50-inch screen sizes and above
  • Mirrored surface attracts dust and finger marks

In terms of design, the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar has the same elegant lines as its predecessor. It has a minimalist look that I really like, and a slim profile that doesn't foul the bottom of the screen when placed on my TV stand beneath my 55-inch Samsung TV. 

The top of the soundbar has a glass top and metal grille that wraps around the front and sides. Besides the Bose logo on front, there are two touch-sensitive buttons, one to activate the voice assistant and the other to mute the mic. These controls are actually so discreet that it took me a while to discover them on the top left side of the soundbar. A small LED indicator sits just below the controls and glows white to show that the soundbar is powered up and in use.

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar review: Connectivity and control

Recessed connection panel showing 3.5mm connections for subwoofer, IR, ADAPTiQ room tuning, and data. (Image credit: Future)
  • Strong wireless connectivity
  • Alexa voice control
  • Potential HDMI CEC issues with some TVs 
HDMI CEC issue

While I have experienced issues with other soundbars connected to my Samsung TV via the HDMI ARC port, the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar appears to be more sensitive than most with spontaneous power ups when you least expect them. Despite a comprehensive number of options in the Bose Music app to help prevent such CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) issues, I was unable to overcome them during my testing. 

The most successful way I've discovered to prevent random power ups from waking the entire household in the middle of the night has been to remove the HDMI cable from the port at the back of the soundbar before heading to bed. 

Although I am prepared to believe that this is a particular issue with my TV pairing, it's something I feel inclined to bring to the attention of potential buyers before considering the Bose soundbar.

When it comes to wired connectivity, the Smart Ultra Soundbar has one HDMI port and one optical digital audio input plus an Ethernet port for networking. There is also a connection for the ADAPTiQ microphone (used during room tuning), as well as connections for a Bose subwoofer and IR. There's also support for AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Spotify Connect wireless connectivity, as well as playback sources connected via Bluetooth.

Should you be adverse to using your smart device to control the soundbar via the Bose Music app, the Ultra Soundbar comes supplied with a small remote control. It provides basic control like power on/standby, input select, and volume level adjust.

If you use HDMI ARC from your TV, you can power on and off the soundbar and adjust the volume with your TV's remote. For anything more sophisticated like adjusting the EQ sound balance, increasing the feeling of height for Dolby Atmos soundtracks, activating the room calibration process or enabling AI Dialogue Mode, you're going to need to launch the Bose Music app.

The only voice assistant option available to me was Alexa. Once enabled, this allowed me to adjust the volume and play content from linked streaming services, and was consistently responsive to requests.

Additionally, you can link other Bose speakers in a mutliroom network at home. You can even integrate other Bluetooth speakers, which is really neat. Lastly, Bose SimpleSync lets users connect Bose wireless headphones for private listening and has separate controls to allow independent level control for the soundbar and headphones.

Bose Ultra Smart Soundbar review: Setting up

Accessories supplied includes HDMI eARC cable, optical cable, ADAPTiQ headset, and remote control (battery included). (Image credit: Future)
  • Easy installation and control via Bose Music app
  • Quirky but effective room calibration process

Integrating the Smart Ultra Soundbar is straight forward and one of the smoothest installation procedures I've tried. With the TV soundbar speaker connected to my TV by HDMI and powered on, I launched the Bose Music app on my iPhone and followed the prompts. The soundbar app is the same as I used in my Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones review, and although Bose steers you to signing up to a Bose Music account, the app is free to download and use.

Recessed connection panel 2 for HDMI, Ethernet, and digital optical ports.   (Image credit: Future)

To get the soundbar set for optimum performance in my room, I needed to wear the ADAPTiQ headset while the room calibration process took place. Luckily the rest of the household was out to allow the tuning to happen in total silence, and there was no one to see me looking silly as I hopped from seat to seat wearing the headset to enable the system to optimize its TrueSpace technology for the various viewing positions in the room.

Bose Ultra Smart Soundbar review: Performance

  • Impressively wide and immersive sound
  • Effective AI Dialogue Mode
  • Bass performance lacking on some content
(Image credit: Future)

From the moment I unboxed and powered up the Bose Ultra Smart Soundbar, I've continued to be impressed. From the start it had a much bigger sound than I anticipated, with a greater bass performance and better clarity than several of the top-ranking best soundbars I've encountered straight from the box. The soundstage is wide and dialogue is clear and easy to understand. 

With the soundbar tuned and optimized to my room and seating position, the delivery improved slightly and sounded wider across the front of the TV and more expansive. In terms of a 3D immersive surround sound experience, the Bose Ultra did a good job at creating virtual surround sound effects, and Dolby Atmos effects seemed to have a sense of height when called to action. Bass levels felt surprisingly potent; almost defying belief that they were coming from the slender dimensions of the elegant soundbar sat beneath my TV screen with most regular TV dramas.

Bass reflex ports as the back of the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar help boost low frequency sounds, but are no substitute for a dedicated subwoofer. (Image credit: Future)

The sound tended to struggle with low frequencies in some movie soundtracks, though. The bass speakers sounded overstretched at times and I could hear audible protests with the speaker drivers rattling away when called on to deliver big action movies sound effects.

Although I wasn't always impressed with the boost to dialogue with AI Dialogue Mode enabled  — it seemed to over compensate voices on studio news broadcasts making them sound hard and forced. However, it really did improve voice clarity and intelligibility where dialogue was truly hard to decipher. For example, while watching “God's Creatures,” the mode managed to cut through the heavily accented and hushed voices of the intense movie, making them sound clearer and far easier to follow. 

Although I felt the soundbar had decent bass levels and warmth while watching movies, it didn’t sound nearly as impressive with music over the Spotify and Apple Music streams I tried. Tracks like "Free Yourself" by Jessie Ware sounded confused with instruments and vocals fighting for attention, and the stereo sound lacked the definition to make the Bose soundbar double as an effective music system. 

Bose Ultra Smart Soundbar review: Verdict

As a TV speaker to improve on a screen's built-in speakers, the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is a good option in a compact form with plenty of attractive features including Dolby Atmos support and multiroom capabilities. It's not without its foibles though, and I never did manage to overcome the CEC switching issue. Also, the poorly controlled bass detracted from the overall performance at times. 

That being the case, I can see the attraction of adding a matching subwoofer dedicated to handling bass frequencies to relieve the soundbar from the demands of producing powerful low frequencies, but this will add another $849 to the overall cost and effectively doubles the price.

Even without the separate subwoofer, though, the Bose Smart Ultra offers a nearly complete package and one that's far more good than bad. If vocal clarity is paramount to your movie watching experience and Dolby Atmos is always something you've wanted to experience at home, it's a solid pick.

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