Bose 500 Smart Speaker and New Soundbars Offer Alexa Today and More Voice Assistants in 2019
- Bose 500 is a new Alexa-enable smart speaker priced at $400 and will ship in October
- Bose 500 and 700 sound bars also include Alexa access and are priced respectively at $550 and $800
- Bose says that additional voice assistants will be added in the future
The IFA conference in Berlin starts Friday and the premium smart speaker announcements are quickly mounting. Earlier this month Bang and Olufsen announced the $2,250 Besound 2 and Harman Kardon leaked details about the forthcoming $700 Citation 500. At a list price of $400, the new Bose 500 could be viewed as affordable. It is the first Bose speaker with an embedded voice assistant although the company has previously announced Google Assistant and Alexa support for the Quiet Comfort II noise canceling headphones and Google Assistant and Siri access through the Soundsport Free wireless earbuds.
Audio Quality First and Alexa Second
Bose plays up the presence of Alexa in the new smart speaker, but audio features are a clear focus. Doug Cunningham, category manager in the Bose consumer electronics division commented in the prepared announcement:
“Voice-controlled speakers aren’t new, and there are plenty of great options to choose from. But we had a different vision for ours, inspired by what we could uniquely do to make the experience better. All of our new smart speakers double up on functionality. It takes just one Home Speaker 500 to deliver true stereo separation — there’s no need to pair two.”
The 500 and 700 model soundbars include Bose ADAPTiQ technology which adjusts sound based on room dimensions. The 500 soundbar is 31″ long with a profile of 1.75″ x 4″ compared to 38″ for the 700 model. The 500 smart speaker is a compact 8″ x 6″ x 4″. The speaker also has controls on the top, including six programmable present buttons and a display screen on the side.
Alexa Now and More Voice Assistants Later
Alexa is supported by an eight-microphone array designed to support both near-field and far-field voice interaction. Bose claims the products all include advanced microphone technology for precise, “voice pickup — when it’s quiet, noisy, or your music is playing loudly.” This is an issue with most smart speakers. The voice wake up doesn’t work as well when there is background noise, especially when the speaker is playing music. For a music listening device like Bose 500, to be able to pick up voice commands reliably even while playing music is an important feature.
Maybe the most noticeable comment by Bose is that Alexa won’t be the sole voice assistant supported by the 500 smart speaker and sound bars for long. “The power of Amazon Alexa now, other voice assistants to follow, and AirPlay 2 for simple streaming from Apple devices added in early 2019.” It is a good bet that Google Assistant will be the first join Alexa on the device given that it is already supported in two other Bose products. The open question is whether the company can engineer the device to support both voice assistants simultaneously or you will need to choose a default (N.B. I outlined in a earlier article why dual voice assistant support is deceptively complex).
What About Sonos
In spite of all of the these premium smart speaker announcements, Sonos looks like it remains well positioned for success. At a $200 entry price, Sonos One is the lowest cost of the premium smart speakers. In fact, you can buy two for the price of a single Bose 500. Bose will say you don’t need two of its devices because it provides full stereo from a single device, but Sonos still provides more flexibility and a much lower entry-level price point.
Phase one of the smart speaker market was dominated by low-priced devices focused on access to “assistant” features more than sound quality. Given that music listening is the number one customer use case for smart speakers, the premium segment which focuses first on sound quality appears ripe for growth. Bose is certain to play an important role in that expansion. You can learn more about the Bose 500 here. It will begin shipping in October.