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.
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.
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.
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.
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.