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Bose Solo review: Great-looking sound bar with decent sound

Although its sonic talents are comparatively modest, the Bose Solo is an exceedingly handsome and easy-to-use sound bar.

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Matthew Moskovciak Steve Guttenberg
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Matthew Moskovciak

Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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5 min read

Bose basically created the "lifestyle" home audio category, so it's surprising the company has been slow to embrace sound bars. Nevertheless, the Bose Solo ($400 street) is a strong offering in the booming sound bar market. It utilizes a pedestal design where the TV sits directly on top, which reduces clutter and just plain looks better. The Solo plays to all of Bose's strengths, with a refined design, simple setup, and a fantastic remote.

Bose Solo TV sound system
7.7

Bose Solo

The Good

The <b>Bose Solo</b> is among the best-looking sound bars available, with a clutter-free pedestal design. The included remote is excellent and dead simple to use. Its sound quality is unambiguously better than a TV's built-in speakers, especially for movies and TV shows. And while it's a little more expensive than some competitors, it's still reasonably priced, especially for Bose.

The Bad

The Solo falls short of the sound quality of both other pedestal sound bars and traditional sound bars that include a wireless subwoofer. It lacks a front-panel display, so you won't know if its volume level is maxed out or not. And the Solo's small size only supports smaller TVs up to 40 pounds.

The Bottom Line

Although its sonic talents are comparatively modest, the Bose Solo is an exceedingly handsome and easy-to-use sound bar.

The compromise is sound quality. While the Bose Solo definitely sounds better than your TV's built-in speakers, the competing Zvox Z-Base 420 ($300 street) sounds better for less money, although it doesn't look as nice. And more-traditional sound bars like the Haier SBEV40-Slim sound better than both, with their sound quality typically buttressed by a separate, wireless subwoofer.

But that shouldn't turn off lifestyle-centric buyers who aren't necessarily focused on getting the best sound for their buck. If you're simply looking for a boost over your TV's speakers that looks great in your living room, the Bose Solo is an easy pick.

Design and features: Refined and minimalistic
Zvox pioneered the pedestal sound bar design, with what's essentially a big, black MDF box that sits under your TV. The Zvox looks OK in person, but its sharp edges and hollow feel still render its design a bit coarse.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Bose Solo has a decidedly different style. There's a higher-quality feel as soon as you pull it out of the box, even though its cabinet is made of plastic. The Solo feels solid, and its curved edges and matte-gray finish give it an aesthetic edge over the Zvox 420 and SpeakerCraft CS3. Say what you will about Bose, but the company knows how to design attractive products.

Like other pedestal-style sound bars, the Bose Solo is designed to sit under your TV, rather than in front of it, like more-traditional sound bars. I've long been a fan of the uncluttered look of pedestal sound bars, which also avoid the pesky issue of blocking your TV's remote sensor. The downside? Bose says the Solo can handle TVs up to just 40 pounds, and only recommends using it with TVs up to 37 inches and some lighter 42-inch TVs. It's a perfect fit for most 32-inchers, but too small to support increasingly popular 46-inch and larger sets.

The sole design misstep is the lack of a front-panel display, which is included on the competing Zvox Z-Base 420. It's definitely not essential, but it's nice to have some visual feedback so you know whether you're close to maximum volume or you still have some headroom.

Bose Solo remote compared to others
The Bose Solo remote (middle), compared with the considerably busier remotes from Zvox (left) and SpeakerCraft (right). Sarah Tew/CNET

I've often complained about the chintzy, credit-card-style remotes usually included with sound bars, but Bose's remote is fantastic. There are no tone controls or other adjustments; Bose's minimalist approach results in a four-button design -- Power, Volume (up and down), and Mute -- that's plenty for most users. Despite the simplicity, it doesn't feel cheap, with a pleasant rubberized texture and reassuring heft.

Sarah Tew/CNET

All of the Bose Solo's ports are on the back. Connectivity is limited, but again you don't need much in a sound bar. There are two digital audio inputs (optical and coaxial) and a stereo analog input. Bose is counting on you to use your TV as a switcher, so you're only limited by how many inputs your TV has. (The Bose also accepts Dolby Digital audio, so it can handle audio from your TV's internal over-the-air TV tuner.) If you're looking for extra features like built-in Bluetooth or even a minijack input, you won't find it on the Solo.

Setup, or lack thereof
The setup routine is straightforward. Place the Solo on your TV stand, then place your TV on top of it. All your home theater gear connects directly to your TV (likely via HDMI), then you connect your TV's audio output to the Solo. Plug in the Solo's power cord and that's it. Note that the Solo has two bass ports in the back, so you'll want to make sure it's a few inches away from the wall.

Bose includes an optical and analog cable for connecting to your TV's audio output. Sarah Tew/CNET

The only other step you may want to take is disabling your TV's internal speakers, so you're assured you're only getting sound from the Solo. Not all TVs offer this option, but it's generally easy to access in the setup menu; check your TV's manual for more information.

Sound quality: Good enough for most users
The Solo is smaller than most pedestal-type sound bar speakers, but the sound is neutrally balanced. The bass, midrange, and treble are clear, and dialogue sounds good, so the Solo certainly produces better sound than the Sony KDL-40EX640's internal speakers we used for this review.

The Bose Solo (top) is considerably smaller than the Zvox Z-Base 420 (middle) and SpeakerCraft CS3 (bottom), but it sounds smaller, too. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Bose Solo has no sound adjustment features, so you're stuck with the out-of-the-box sound quality. There are no bass or treble controls, nor is there a dialogue enhancement feature. That may irk tweakers, but it's clear that Bose thinks the simple approach is better for the majority of its buyers.

The Solo sounds fine playing dramas and comedies at soft to medium volume level, but does it have the right stuff for action movies? To find out we played "The Flight of the Phoenix" and watched the scene where the transport plane crashes in the desert. The Solo lacked the bass gravitas and dynamic punch we got from the larger, but less expensive Zvox Z-Base 420. The plane's impact wasn't as exciting over the Solo, and the Solo's sound strained as the doomed plane hurtled toward the crash site.

That's not to say the Solo's bass was overly lightweight, or we wished it had a subwoofer; the Solo sounds reasonably full range without the assistance of a sub. But larger sound bars definitely have the advantage when it comes to making more bass and producing wider dynamic range. Judged on its own, however, the Solo's bass is at least clear, and the stereo soundstage is fairly wide and spacious, so the speaker sounds bigger than its physical dimensions.

Music wasn't as enjoyable over the Solo. Diana Krall's "Live in Rio" concert DVD sounded a tad sibilant and tonally thin, while Dave Matthew's "Live at Radio City" Blu-ray confirmed the Solo's inadequacies with music. Again, the Zvox Z-Base 420's fuller sound was preferable to the Solo's.

The Solo also sounded a lot smaller than the Haier SBEV40-Slim sound bar. The Haier sound bar is just 1.1 inches thick, but it has a separate subwoofer, which really helps smaller systems like these. The SBEV40-Slim not only sounded bigger and made more bass, it sounded clearer and more detailed than the Solo.

To be fair, the Haier SBEV40-Slim also bested the Zvox Z-Base 420. The main takeaway is that unless you're willing to spend $700 for the SpeakerCraft CS3, pedestal sound bars generally don't sound as good as traditional sound bars that include a separate, wireless subwoofer. You're sacrificing some sound quality for the improved aesthetics.

Conclusion: The most lifestyle-friendly sound bar yet
If your goal is to get better sound quality than your TV's speakers with the least amount of aesthetic impact on your living room, the Bose Solo is an excellent home audio system. Better-sounding pedestal sound bars are available for both less (Zvox Z-Base 420) and more (SpeakerCraft CS3), but neither has the handsome looks of the Bose. As long as you're not expecting dramatically better sound, the Bose Solo is a winner.

Bose Solo TV sound system
7.7

Bose Solo

Score Breakdown

Design 10Features 6Performance 6
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