Both Bose and Sonos have a reputation for delivering top-quality speaker systems but for both, their play in the soundbar arena is fairly new. Then again, that could be said of almost every manufacturer in this niche. The question with these two is, which has made the transition to this new format most effectively. We’ll try to answer that in this article.
Both of these soundbars are basic in comparison to many others, including some that are less expensive. However, as you read through this review you’re likely to be reminded of the old adage “good things come in small packages”. There are some remarkably good things to be found in at least one of these small packages.
I’ve looked at the Bose Soundbar 500 recently, comparing it to it’s bigger brother, the Bose Soundbar 700 so I’m coming to this review with some well developed ideas. The opposite is true for the Sonos Beam (Gen2). It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to review any Sonos products. The last was a comparison of the JBL 9.1 and the Sonos Arc. In that review, Sonos missed the mark on price alone but on balance, it was very close and very positive. This time it isn’t quite as close though both do have strong pluses.
The Bose Soundbar 500 is a bit dated and hasn’t had any major upgrade since last year, and there was nothing groundbreaking in that update. The Sonos Beam did have a significant upgrade (advantage #1), in that same period and as you read through this review you’ll get a sense of how much better this soundbar got. The Gen 2 truly is a generational change for the better.
The average market price for both of these soundbars are just about the same
The Bose Soundbar 500 isn’t listed on Amazon or Walmart, in any configuration. On eBay, you’ll find it packaged with a subwoofer for $649 but nothing as a standalone offering. There are many pre-owned and refurbished units, with prices that drop as low as $175. What’s interesting is the numerous offers for the Bose Soundbar 300, a smaller version of the Soundbar 500, and decidedly more popular.
The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is widely available on all of the major platforms. Amazon has it at $599. You’ll find the same unit, in either black or white, on eBay for $554 and on Walmart, it comes in at $449, again in both black and white. This is the second big advantage the Sonos Beam enjoys in this matchup.
On style points, I think they both look good. There’s nothing with either of them that will blow you away but there is also nothing that stands out and screams “cheap” or “inferior”. Personally, I find the Sonos Beam, with its rounded ends, to be a bit more aesthetically pleasing but not so much so as to make this an advantage.
On to the details – Bose Soundbar 500 and. Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
Bose Soundbar 500
Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
|3.0 Channels||5.0 Channels|
|No satellite speakers||Satellites can be added|
|No subwoofer||A subwoofer can be added|
|No charging||No charging|
|No playback time||No playback time|
|Dolby Digital||Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS, Dolby TrueHD, 5.1 PCM|
|1 Digital optical input||1 Digital optical input|
|No HDMI in||1 HDMI in|
|No HDMI Out||No HDMI Out|
|ARC, Ethernet||HDMI ARC, eARC, Ethernet|
|Alexa, Chromecast, Google Assistant||Alexa|
|AirPlay 2 Support||AirPlay 2 Support|
Bose Soundbar 500
Well presented in a single box, the packaging does nothing to dilute the story they are telling about a premium soundbar system, except maybe the size itself. The package includes everything you’ll need to get up and running, and that includes all of the cables so unpack it, plug it in and you are pretty much good to go.
There is one important additional setup step you’ll want to work through and that relates to enhancing the sound profile of this soundbar to match the specific acoustic characteristics of your listening space.
This is done by plugging in an included headset that is designed to “listen” to the sound the soundbar is delivering at various points around your room. You’ll be guided to specific listing points and as the soundbar “hears” various test tones it will adjust the output levels so you get a balanced listening experience. They call this the ADAPTiQ approach to room calibration. This calibration process is much different from most other soundbars that have built-in microphones that do the “hearing” but the results of this approach get the job done and done reasonably well.
While this is intended as a soundbar for your TV the truth is that it does a better job with music than it does with movie and TV soundtracks. This is particularly true when the movies or TV shows you’re watching have a lot of dialog that’s mixed with background music and more. Voices tend to get a bit muddy. In my test, I countered that by turning up the internal TV volume but that’s little more than a bandaid.
You aren’t going to risk disturbing your neighbors much with the Bose Soundbar 500. It doesn’t get loud and when you do turn it up it gets a bit distorted. You’ll still get plenty out of this small package but if you’re looking for something that envelops you with crisp clear sound, and at the highest volume levels, this isn’t the Soundbar 500 isn’t the right choice for you.
I find the bottom end, the baseline, lacking the most with the Bose Soundbar 500, and with the lack of a paring subwoofer, there is no fixing this. The package is simply too small and the power is too restrained to anywhere near to wrapping you up in a great baseline or a wild action adventure. Think restrained and your expectations will be met.
The one major enhancement that came with the last upgrade to the Bose Soundbar 500 was the addition of AirPlay 2 support and this feature is my favorite on this or almost any soundbar. I love being able to seamlessly stream my tunes from my iPhone and surprisingly, there are many soundbars out there that still don’t support this service.
Like the products from Sonos, the Bose Soundbars don’t have the tight integration with advanced TVs that you find from products offered by the likes of Samsung and Sony. They have argued that this gives them an advantage since they aren’t tied to design choices that could be limited by the TV’s design. In my experience, I find that claim to be a bit hollow. This is especially true at the more basic end of the soundbar ecosystem where the Soundbar 500 lives.
For a slightly different take on this product and a video review that will give you a better sense of the look and feel of the Bose Soundbar 500, watch the Digital Trends video that covers the Bose Soundbar 500.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
Sonos always does a great job of packing their products. They clearly understand that first impressions count. Even the 6.2 lbs weight adds to this sense of great substance. Add the fact that it comes in either black or white and now with that sense of quality you also have style choices that aren’t offered with many other higher-priced soundbar systems.
Where the Bose Soundbar 500 has 3 drivers the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) has four, plus a dedicated tweeter. This is the first sign that there’s something very different happening here but wait. There’s more to see in this package and what I thought would make the biggest difference in my final conclusions had far less impact than I imagined.
Alone, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) doesn’t deliver as much punch as I’d like. The neutral profile does little to create any “Wow” moments. It’s all just smooth and comfortable, with a bit more power and clarity at the high end but not much else.
It does deliver better performance when you kick up the volume and it does have better balance with soundtracks and music. Still, the dialog does get lost at times, especially when there almost any kind of music track in the background.
Like the Bose Soundbar 500 and the ADAPTiQ technology that adjusts for the room, you can do this with the Sonos Beam but there’s a twist. This only works when using a supporting iOS device. Sorry Android users. You’re left out in the cold on this one. Without the adjustments, you may experience gaps in the listening space that simply shouldn’t be there.
The design, specifically with the curved ends of the Beam, creates a soundstage that is wider than what is delivered by the Soundbar 500. For surround sound, this is a very real advantage. Make that advantage number 3. But that isn’t its greatest advantage. As with all Sonos products, this bar is extensible. You’ll find a range of satellite speakers and subwoofers that allow you to convert this humble soundbar into a whole-house entertainment system. Just add satellite speakers throughout the house or just around your room and the Sonos Beam starts looking like a real entertainment system.
The combinations are endless and while it can all get a bit expensive, this capability means your system can grow as your budget grows. You won’t have to replace anything and that means you won’t be wasting anything.
For a deep dive into the Sonos Beam Gen2, go over to Smart Homes Sound’s Youtube channel and spend 30 minutes with their review of the Sonos Beam Gen2 compared to the Gen1 and some of the other Sonos products.
The Final Verdict
Both the Bose Soundbar 500 and Sonos Beam Gen2 are at the smallish end of the soundbar ecosystem. However, that smallness is an actual advantage with the Beam since it can become the seed from which an entire entertainment system can grow. The Bose Soundbar 500 is quite the opposite. As your tastes and budget grow you’ll be swapping this for something else and that means your investment disappears or is at least diminished as you try to resell it on platforms like eBay.
The Sonos Beam also brings Dolby Atmos support into your listening area and this alone should be the deciding factor. Atmos creates a true surround sound listening experience the Bose Soundbar 500 simply cannot match. It is flat by comparison. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other soundbar systems that do this better but in the limited scope of this review, there is no comparison at all.
Broadly speaking, Bose is probably to better-known name in audio speakers but Sonos is no slouch in this area. They both bring a rich and well-respected history to audio innovation but when it comes to packing performance into a small package, Bose is commonly believed to be one of the best. This time though it seems that Sonos has done a much better job of delivering performance.
My final verdict is exceptionally clear. The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) does a much better job of delivering solidly right out of the box and its ability to grow makes it the clear winner.
This is not to say that the Bose Soundbar 500 doesn’t have merit. It does and this is especially true when it comes to delivering room-enhancement performance. I am, and always have been, brand agnostic. When any product gets too tightly linked with a single brand or product I’m put off. With its dependence on iOS devices for room enhancement, Sonos has positioned itself poorly.
Unlike my previous review of the Bose Soundbar 500 and the Bose Soundbar 700 where prices were a bit of an issue, these two a nearly equal. If you have the budget either will fit equally well. Still, there are much better soundbar solutions that sit in the price range as well that would be worth considering.
So on balance, lean toward the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) but while you’re looking you may also want to consider products from LG and Visio that sit at about the same price but can deliver better overall performance.