Bose has been busy releasing a range of new products in the past few weeks. They have introduced a new smart home speaker with Alexa built in, as well as two new Alexa, enabled soundbars with accompanying sub-woofers.
The other release is the new Bose Lifestyle 550 home entertainment system which fills the gap between the top of the range Soundbar 700 and the much more expensive Lifestyle 600 system.
The Bose Lifestyle 550 downgrades the speakers and uses 5 of the virtually invisible series 2 cube speakers. These are essentially the same as the Virtually Invisible 300 Wireless Rear Surround speakers I reviewed the other month and allows you to have a very discrete 5.1 system.
The Lifestyle 550 costs £2,199 which makes it fit nicely between the Lifestyle 600 which costs £2999, and a fully loaded Soundbar 700 system with the additional sub and surrounds which costs £1800. So, is the extra £400 worth it over an easier to implement soundbar?
With a shipping weight of nearly 30kg, the initial impression of this was that it is massive, especially in comparison to the Bose SoundTouch 300 I currently own. Within the box is a Tetris inspired mix of boxes all perfectly fitting together. The end result is an intimidating setup process, but when it came down to it, it was quite simple, though obviously more involved than setting up a soundbar.
Within the packaging, you get 5 speakers, a wireless subwoofer, and the console. All of which need to be wired up. Bose, have a slightly strange approach to their wiring which annoyed me at first, they use proprietary cable ends for both sides, the console end is pre-terminated with sealed plugs, while on the speaker end you need to terminate them yourself.
While I am not a big fan of proprietary cables, it does make the set up easier, the three front speakers have just one plug to insert into the console, which looks a lot like the modular ends of a PSU you find on a PC.
The bit I found annoying was then having to terminate the ends yourself if they force you to use a proprietary cable the least they can do is have it fully finished. However, upon a bit more thought, I guess it allows you to shorten the wires for a neater installation, though due to the other end of the cable being sealed you had better make sure you cut them to the right length. I opted to leave them as is, and just hide the loose cable. Thankfully screwing the little terminations on is very simple and they even provide you a screwdriver.
The biggest issue you will encounter with the set up of these speakers is the fact that the rears are wired, so you are going to have to route the cable around the room. This is a standard procedure for a traditional AV receiver 5.1 set-up, but Bose uses wireless rears for the optional surround of their soundbars. You can buy the wireless rears if you want, but then you end up with 2 unused speakers. It would be good if Bose offered a wired and wireless option in the future.
I am not sure if there is any plan on allowing you to do this, but one of the appealing prospects of this system over the soundbars is that you should, in theory, be able to upgrade speakers. So it should be possible to swap out the centre speaker for one of the more expensive ones found on the Lifestyle 600/650. To be clear, Bose doesn’t currently sell any of these speakers individually, and they may never allow you to upgrade, but it seems like a sensible thing to do to me.
Depending on your speaker placement, you may also want to invest in wall mounts, table stands or floor stands. The wall mounts cost £25 each. As the speakers are so small they are quite easy to place on a TV cabinet without getting in the way of your TV, however moving them further apart will help with the left and right separation for surround sound.
A significant benefit to this system over the Soundbar options is that you have a wide range of inputs with 5 HDMI, 2 optical, 2 coax and 2 analogues. So, if you have a lot of devices, this is the way to go over a soundbar.
With all the hardware setup you then go through the straightforward setup procedure, you will be guided through everything on screen. This includes adding all the speakers to the system and choosing if you want wired or wireless options (if you paid extra for wireless surrounds).
The system will also guide you through adding the devices to the universal remote, it detected my TV automatically, and I just needed to add my Amazon Fire TV next. Once this is done, it will allow you to control all your devices from the one remote. The remote itself is a vast improvement over the SoundTouch 300 and includes an LCD which will enable you to select the source, and alter various settings.
Finally, you can use the ADAPTiQ audio calibration system, it works the same as most AV receivers, but this one you wear a headband on your head with the microphone in. Unlike other receivers, I have used it guides you through multiple seating positions to maximise the audio for various users.
Along with the remote, you can download the Bose app and can control multiple features from here. If like me, you have multiple Bose products it will allow you to manage them all in one place. Within the app, you can change various speaker settings
Using the remote you can control many more settings than are available on the soundbar. You can tweak the speakers but then apply sound settings which include:
- Direct mode provides optimized playback for music
- Normal mode provides balanced playback for most listening situations
- Enhance Dialogue mode enhances speech clarity
- Night Mode adjusts dialogue and volume during loud scenes
It is also possible to change the audio sync settings if you have issues with latency, via the AV output details and many more. The remote and overall ability to customise the system is far greater than the soundbars.
For such small speakers the performance is exceptional, the system seems to get much louder than the SoundTouch 300 but doesn’t suffer from any noticeable harshness at louder volumes. I don’t think I have pushed the volume past 50 since using it.
Coming away from the Soundbar the largest improvement in sound is from the bass module, with the addition of this to my set up the difference is profound. With the soundbar there was decent bass, but it wasn’t quite the deep room shaking bass you can get in a decent subwoofer. With the bass module on the in the Lifestyle 550 it feels very well balanced for my approximately 35m/2 room. In movies with explosions, you can literally feel the bass, but it is not so loud you have to worry about your hearing or complaints from neighbours. The deep bass is only present when required and during monologues, everything is crisp and clear. In comparison to my 5.1 system based on Tannoy Arena Lites I struggle to find a decent balance with the bass during movies. I’ve done the calibration and manually tweaked the settings, but some explosive scenes inevitably lead me to having to turn the volume down because it is just too loud, and if I manually change the settings to lower the bass I end up with underwhelming bass elsewhere.
Some buyers moaned about the loudness of the Virtually Invisible 300 wireless speakers; it was an easy fix via adjusting the volume in the app. I have experienced no such issues here, and the surrounds perform well out of the box.
Of course, if you do have any imbalance our loudness issues, you can manually change speakers’ settings. You can do this via the remove now, whereas the soundbar required you to use the app.
The system performs equally well across sources, if you are watching a movie, TV or music, it always sounds good. The streaming integration is superb too, you have both Bluetooth and Spotify Connect allowing more flexibility over systems such as Sonos. The app also provides access to Deezer, Internet radio or your stored music library.
The Bose system supports a wide range of audio formats including Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS and Multichannel PCM. So it should be able to use the highest quality audio track on any source you use. Video is well represented with support for 4096/60p with 12 bit however it does not support Dolby Vision. So if you have a TV such as the Sony AF8 you will need to plug the HDMI into the TV and use Arc.
Overall the sound is exceptional, having a proper 5.1 system is a considerable improvement over the soundbar. If you place the speakers further apart, you will get a better surround experience over what is possible with a soundbar.
Having everything run through the media console and using the universal remote control makes life much easier too. The remote detects everything automatically, so there are no laborious setups like other systems. Controlling the speakers, TV and Amazon Fire TV from one remote is fantastic.
There is one omission with this system compared to the new Soundbars, and that is no Amazon Alexa directly integrated into it. However, if you have an Alexa enabled device, such as the Echo Dot or Spot then you can use the Bose skill within Alexa and link the devices up allowing you to use the system as if it had Alexa built in.
At £2,199 the Lifestyle 550 is a massive investment for most people, some people would rightly argue that you can build a 5.1 system with separate for less, and possibly better performance. However, these are not like for like systems; I am not aware of any speaker on the market this small with this much power and quality. Even the popular fashion style speakers are much larger, my Tannoy Arenas are probably more than twice the size of each of the speakers here. Then you have the wireless bass module, something you don’t really see in the separates market, and I have found it works without connection issues. The whole system looks ultra-luxury too the console is way more attractive than your typical AV receiver and the combination of that, and the tiny speakers mean you can have an installation that is far more discrete than any separates solutions (unless you go in wall/ceiling).
Moving away from separates there is not a lot of 5.1 home cinema systems around nowadays, Pioneers, Onkyo and Yamaha have them, they are much cheaper but also use large ugly speakers with performance not on the same level as this.
The best comparison we have is against premium soundbars with additional surround and bass. That comes in the form of the Bose Soundbar 700 which costs £1800 when you add the bass and surround or the Sonos. With the Sonos, the price ranges from around £1700 if you use Sonos Play1 for the surrounds or £2300 if you use the Play5.
The Sonos option is good, but with only optical in it can’t compete with Bose for the audio standards which has Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS and Multichannel PCM.
While I have not used the Soundbar 700 I can’t compare how well it performs compared to the Invisible Speakers, but I will assume the Invisible speakers are going to sound better. With the Lifestyle 550 you are paying around £400 extra for a system with better surround separation compared a soundbar, a huge number of inputs making controlling the system much easier, and an impressive universal control. All of which I think justifies the extra cost.
Overall, if the price doesn’t scare you off and you want a proper 5.1 system that is discrete as possible then this is about the best option on the market.
Bose Lifestyle 550 Home Entertainment System
Product Name: Bose Lifestyle 550 Home Entertainment System Review