Bose Smart Home vs SoundTouch: Which Sounds Better, and What’s Alexa Doing Here?

We’ve been reviewing and analyzing Bose speakers for years, and were thus curious to get hands-on with the newer Bose smart home speakers and compare them head-to-head with the classic Bose SoundTouch speakers.

Note that there is not cross-compatibility between the systems (boo, Bose! booooo!), so it’s worthwhile to have either all Bose smart speakers or else all Bose SoundTouch speakers in your home. Each family of speakers can connect with each other to provide music across the house if desired.

And before deciding which way to go, you need to ask yourself: What are you really looking for in a speaker system? Do you want to simply pop on music while you’re cooking or gardening? Or are you looking for a soundbar for a home theatre system? Also, are you OK with controlling the speakers via your phone or tablet apps, or do you want to ask your girl Alexa to play the latest hits?

Note that these are speakers strictly for home use; if you’re looking for Bose sound on the go you’ll want to consider the Bose Revolve or Revolve+ instead.

Update History of This Article

This article was originally published on November 9, 2018. Updated on April 20, 2019 concerning Airplay support.

Side-by-side comparison: Bose Smart speakers vs SoundTouch

Bose Smart Speaker Products Overview

There are three speakers in the “Bose smart” family: the Bose Home Speaker 500, Soundbar 500 and Soundbar 700. All have full integration with Alexa and streaming services and voice control, plus more normal inputs and controls (via buttons, their apps…).

Bose SoundTouch Speaker Products Overview

These speakers can be controlled by Alexa, or through the Bose SoundTouch app, and have simple 3.5mm audio inputs. There are three classic speakers in these series:

There is also the Soundbar 300, which is apparently on its way out, but still supported.

There are also two outdoor SoundTouch speakers, the SoundTouch 251 and SoundTouch 151 SE, which are designed to withstand rain, snow, sun, salt, and fog.

The Differences in Features in Bose Smart vs. SoundTouch

Both of these families are supposedly smart, and offer speakers of about the same sizes and shapes, and at first glance the descriptions can be unsettlingly similar. But there are some strong differences to be aware of.

What does Bose mean by “Alexa compatible” vs. “Alexa built-in”?

The Bose SoundTouch speakers are “Alexa compatible”, which means that the speakers can be controlled by other Amazon Alexa devices.

Bose smart speakers, on the other hand, have “Alexa built in”, so you have no need to talk to anything else. You can give orders directly to your Bose smart speakers and have them do any Alexa tasks, like shopping, asking for the weather/news/info, or of course play your music, radio programs, and podcasts.

Bose’s smart speakers have microphone arrays that are better at picking up your voice than Amazon’s smart speakers themselves, and they certainly sound better.

So yeah, the Bose smart speakers are “better”. But we think there’s still a certain logic to just buying a separate Amazon Alexa product and using it to control your Bose speakers. For one thing, the Echo Show and Spot have the added advantages of having built-in screens, which really increase your ability to communicate with and understand your smart assistants.

Also, smart assistants are a new and rapidly evolving technology, so you may not necessarily want to invest a lot of money into Bose’s smarter speakers until you see where the technology is headed, and rather just stick with perfectly fine speakers like the SoundTouch that can be easily controlled through other Alexa products, which will continue to evolve.

Airplay 2 Support in Bose Smart Home Speakers

As of April 2019, Bose Smart Home Speakers now support Apple Airplay 2, for easy control of your music and podcasts throughout your home via Apple devices. The SoundTouch speakers do not currently support Airplay.

My Sound Comparison: The Bose SoundTouch 20 vs the Bose Smart Home Speaker 500

The SoundTouch 20 and the Home Speaker 500 are the most directly comparable speakers in these two Bose lines, so these are the two that I choose to listen to side-by-side.

They both have Bose’s trademark careful, even mix and sweetness, with an excellent ability to render detail.

But in careful listening, the Home Speaker 500 blows the SoundTouch 20 out of the water. The Home Speaker 500 delivers 360-degree sound, and while you’re not going to place it smack in the middle of your living room, what that does is create a sense of depth, space, and soundstage by bouncing sound off of the wall behind the speaker. The bass end is full and surprisingly detailed for such a small unit.

I also found much more sweetness in the treble end with the Home Speaker 500. I’m a forró nut, and the tinkle of the triangle in this Brazilian rhythm was much sweeter here than it was in the SoundTouch 20. I felt like I could flow through the music and listen to any instrument that I choose, whereas in the SoundTouch 20 the sound was somewhat more crowded and constrained.

What Other Critics Think of These Families’ Sound

While I might have sounded a bit critical of the SoundTouch 20 above, do note that it’s a lovely feat of engineering in itself and a great speaker for getting across the warmth and detail of classical, jazz, pop, hip hop, and anything else. Other critics have been appreciative of the SoundTouch 10, 20, and 30 as well, commenting positively on their punchiness, dynamism, evenness, and impressive bass for their sizes. As of this writing, their has not been quality commentary on the Bose Smart Home speakers, but given my initial listen I do expect them to be a huge hit (although some critics are already complaining ahead of listening about their prices).

Final verdict: The Bose All-In-One Bose Speaker to Pick

Before this test we were rather skeptical of the Bose Smart Speakers, and we remain a bit so; I’m personally not so sure that I care that much about being able to talk to a speaker rather than controlling it via a tablet or phone.

But the Bose Smart Home Speaker 500 has definitely won me over for its sound, regardless of my feelings about smart speaker tech.

Bose Home Speaker 500
A small, very stylish small flattened cylinder that bounces out impressive stereo with plenty of lush detail and expands to fill even a large room; fully built-in Alexa and integrated with plenty of services

We do think the SoundTouch 10, SoundTouch 20, and SoundTouch 30 are also fine speakers, and are generally available for cheaper and can be controlled by your other Alexa products, if you have them.

And If You’re Looking for a Smart Soundbar…

The Bose Soundbar 300 is being discontinued, so while you can check that Bose link for deals on it, the newer models with full built-in Alexa are the future.

Bose Soundbar 500
Offers the same Alexa experience but in a high-quality soundbar that for integration with a home theatre system
Bose Soundbar 700
Bose’s slightly larger and premier soundbar for your home theatre, also controlled via voice by yapping with Alexa

These work great on their own, but you might also consider adding bass oomph and depth with the Bose Bass Module 500 or Bose Bass Module 700, plus, for truly immersive sound, the Bose Surround Speakers.