September 7, 2018

Sonos Beam vs. Bose Solo 5

Sonos made a name for themselves as a company of tech and audio geeks looking to upend the modern speaker industry. They’ve largely succeeded through their high-quality and streamlined collection of speakers that cut the wires out of the entertainment center, create a modular approach where speakers anywhere can be connected on WiFi, and making a wealth of streaming services all throughout the house.

Bose is a legend in the audio technology industry. With over five decades of experience under their belt, they’ve built a solid reputation for themselves as one of the definitive names in quality sound design. These two philosophies come to a head with the two companies’ latest soundbars. It’s no small irony that the two companies would intersect on a device designed for modestly sized TVs rather than in the realm of high-end speakers, but here we are. While both could serve as admirable choices for a bedroom or living room television, each comes with their strengths and weaknesses. Here’s the rundown on the Sonos Beam and the Bose Solo 5.

Pricing

There’s nothing less subjective than pricing, and the story here is clear. The Sonos Beam clocks in at a retail price of $399, while the Bose Solo 5 is close to half that price at $249.99. Of course, price is only one component of the bigger picture, as value and cost are two different things. But if you’re working on a very tight budget, this could make all the difference in the world.
Winner: Bose Solo 5

Design

In terms of size, the two soundbars are more or less comparable. The Beam is a few inches wider than the Solo 5, but even then it measures in at just over two feet. Both are modestly sized and fall comfortably within the range you could expect from a soundbar. And while speakers like these are so unobtrusive that design sensibilities may not make a whole lot of difference, the Beam just looks better. That may come as no surprise given the overall attention that Sonos puts towards aesthetics, but the sleek, curved corners, flat surface, and availability in both black and white give it the look of high end Apple product. While the Solo 5 is a nice enough looking device, it would be hard to identify in a lineup of other soundbars. The Beam just stands out from the rest, and that gives it the edge. One advantage the Solo 5 does offer is the inclusion of a remote control, a convenience if you’d rather not use your phone, computer, or other device to manage the volume on your TV.
Winner: Sonos Beam

Features

This is where the distinction between the two devices become crystal clear. The Solo 5 is an analog soundbar built off of Bose’s proven principles and designed to accommodate the needs of users who just want something that’s functional. The Beam, on the other hand, has positioned itself as the soundbar of the future. Even if it didn’t manage to surpass that hurdle, it would be hard to imagine the features of these two looking very similar.

The Beam comes with all the features consumers have come to expect from Sonos products, but it’s also tacked on a lot of promising new components that we can expect to become a greater part of the Sonos ecosystem in the coming years. Of course the Beam coordinates with all the other Sonos products in your house. This may be an unnecessary extravagance if you’re simply using it to watch TV in bed, but it’s a sensible feature to have if you want to make the Beam the tether for your home entertainment center or basement theater, and it’s also compatible with the new Sonos Amp. Also standard is the ability to stream any number of online music services directly to your device using a computer or mobile device and to play music from your existing servers or drives. Where the Beam distinguishes itself from its brethren is in its integration with virtual assistants. Alexa speakers and microphones are built in, but it also has functionality with Siri and Google Assistant, and voice recognition is clear even over booming action sequences or loud dialogue. It can also interface with video streaming services, but this requires a third party device like an Amazon FireStick.

The Solo 5 is a much more simplified affair. It can work with your TV remote, and it has Bluetooth compatibility in lieu of the WiFi available through your Beam. This allows you to get control of the speaker directly through your phone, and it’s a feature that the Beam simply doesn’t have. While that makes it easier for the Solo 5 to stream some services like YouTube, it simply isn’t as smooth and seamless as the Beam, especially once you take the Alexa functionality of the Beam into consideration. Despite this being a case of two bars being targeted to distinct markets and price models it’s hard to argue against the advantage of the Beam in terms of features.
Winner: Sonos Beam

Audio Performance

While reach feature sets and stylish designs are all well and good, it won’t mean much if a soundbar can’t put out high-quality sound performance. The Solo 5 sits around average in terms of performance for its pricing. It manages to get a surprising amount of bass out of such a small package, but the results can sometimes sound muffled. It’s also lacking in terms of dynamic range, making it a better choice than the factory models of most TVs, but not by a long shot.

That’s not to say that the Beam is perfect, but it more or less earns its pricing with its sound performance. While it won’t go head to head with the most high-range speakers available, it does a little with a little. Three passive radiators, four full-range woofers, and a domed tweeter provide deeper layers of sound quality than you’ll find with the Bose model.
Winner: Sonos Beam

Verdict

It may be a little unfair to compare these two speakers. Given their price range, the Sonos Beam sits comfortably within the mid-range market for soundbars while the Base Solo 5 is intended as a budget alternative. And it shows in the final results. The only advantage the Solo has here is the pricing, as it’s lapped all around in terms of everything from design to versatility to features to performance. If you’re looking to add a little oomph to your bedroom’s TV without worrying about fidelity or additional streaming features, the Solo 5 is right up your alley. But if you want a top of the line soundbar that you won’t have to take out a second mortgage for, the Beam fits the bill in practically every way.
Winner: Sonos Beam

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