In the heyday of CRT picture tube technology, owning a 29" TV set was a status symbol in itself. These bulky displays sported surprisingly well-made inbuilt speakers, while some even featured onboard subwoofers. Unfortunately, sound in TV sets was never the same after CRTs went on a crash diet and morphed into logistic-friendly darlings of the consumer industry—flat-panel displays. As things stand now, it doesn't matter if you cough up Rs 30,000 or three lakh for a TV, you can still be sure that they both will sound equally terrible. It's a pity then that the average consumer has neither the time and patience, nor the knowhow to wire up a complicated outboard speaker and amplifier system.
The solution to this problem arrived circa 2005 with the advent of the soundbar—a single enclosure housing multiple speakers delivering the sort of full-bodied, room-enveloping sound that's lacking in flat panel televisions. Not only are soundbars extremely easy to install and configure, but they also blend in with the décor thanks to a distinct lack of cable clutter associated with traditional speaker solutions. Although physics dictates that it's nigh impossible to achieve acceptable stereo image through a singular enclosure, soundbars get around this limitation by employing advanced DSP (Digital Signal Processing) techniques and multiple speakers placed in a phased array, in order to widen the soundstage as well as improve spatialisation.
There's no denying the fact that it looks great
If that sounds Greek and Latin to you, don't worry, because I'll stop right there. You see, the idea isn't to lull you sleep with a pedantic discourse on the finer aspects of audio engineering, but rather to underscore the fact that it's possible to get decent sound quality out of what otherwise appears to be a terrible design for a speaker system. However, going by its reputation for DSP trickery and a penchant to run afoul with the very laws of physics, Bose should be right at home designing a soundbar. This is just the excuse to try out Bose's modestly-priced (relatively, of course) Solo TV Sound System targeted at style-conscious consumers seeking an upgrade over the terrible stock audio setup on flat-panel TVs—all this, without compromising aesthetics of course.
Speaking of looks, the Bose Solo appears pretty understated and minimalist. The blend of sharp edges and rounded corners define its matte plastic shell, with a similar Spartan design theme running across an unassuming fascia comprised of a wraparound grille dominated by the Bose logo in the centre. The enclosure houses four full-range drivers, while the bass is managed by a pair of bass ports at the rear that flank the I/O panel placed below a handy cable-management loop. On the connectivity front, you have the option of hooking up the Solo through analogue RCA input or industry-standard digital inputs such as coaxial (S/PDIF) and optical (Toslink), with an optical cable thoughtfully included in the package.
This is the best part of the product right here
The power cable is adequately long with a wide array of pin types provided in the box. The slim credit card-sized remote control bears a delightfully rubberised body and houses bare-minimum buttons for Power, Volume and Mute functions. Unfortunately, the lack of any display on the front fascia means that there's no way to tell the volume level apart from a green LED indicating the power status.
Its 3" height affords a slim, low-profile silhouette that blends in with most TV sets. However, a width and depth of 20.75" x 12.25" means the TV has to be placed on top of the soundbar. This restricts the maximum size of the TV set to 42", and you're out of luck if your display weighs more than 18 kg. Alternatively, you can place the soundbar on a different shelf below the TV altogether, but doing this will bring the drivers much lower than the ear height. This can have an undesirable impact on the overall sound quality due to the poor dispersion characteristics of the soundbar along the Y-axis.
If only it were to sound anywhere near as it looks good
The Bose Solo's inadequate off-axis fidelity pretty much sets the tone for the rest of its performance. As explained earlier, while early soundbars just plonked a bunch of speakers in a box, a well-engineered contemporary equivalent leverages clever DSP and a phased array of drivers to widen stereo imaging and offer traditional speaker-like spatialisation and soundstaging. It takes just a few minutes worth of auditioning to tell that the Bose is crippled with a woefully small soundstage. This is particularly confounding because Bose of all manufacturers is considered experienced in this DSP business. The sweet spot, as expected, is surprisingly small and doesn't even cover the width of an average-sized couch. The soundstage is quite limited and cannot effectively resolve instruments and vocals, even when compared to entry-level speakers.