Amar G. Bose wore two very distinct hats, he founded the Bose Corporation in 1964, and was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor until 2001. He died on Friday at age 83. Bose was a visionary, an electrical and sound engineer, and he devoted his life to investigating our psychological and physiological responses to sound.
I remember when I heard the first Bose speaker, the 901. It was a revelation. Instead of just projecting sound forward, the 901 was designed to re-create the sound of instruments in a concert hall, where some of the instruments' sound is heard directly, but most of the sound is reflected off the floor, walls, and ceiling. The 901 did just that, so it sounded very different and more lifelike than other box speakers of the time. I would have bought the pair on the spot, but they were much too expensive for me. I was a Bose convert, and when Bose introduced the more affordable 501 speaker, I was ready. That was in 1975. My love affair with the 501s didn't last all that long, the more detailed sound of British high-end speakers soon grabbed my attention. That was in 1978, when I became an audiophile. The 501s were replaced with Rogers LS3/5A speakers, and I never looked back.
The Bose company went on to create a wide range of innovative products that changed the way we listen to music. In 1993 the Bose Wave Radio radically improved the sound of table radios, and starting in 1998 Bose was in the vanguard of noise-canceling headphones, originally designed for pilots. The Bose Automotive Systems Division was the first to develop car-specific audio systems, optimized for the acoustic environment of each car's interior to produce the best possible sound quality.
Looking back, it's easy to see why audiophiles didn't appreciate Bose's sound. It was too broad, too unfocused. The bass wasn't as clear as it was with the better audiophile speakers of the day. Bose created its own ecosystem, one designed to appeal to mainstream, not audiophile, tastes. Back in the day Bose speakers were never reviewed in audiophile magazines, and Bose did not participate in high-end audio shows. None of that stopped Bose, it's a hugely successful company. The Bose "sound" is loved by millions, but I can't say I've been all that impressed by too many Bose products over the last few decades. There was one exception: the Bose QuietComfort 15 noise-canceling headphones. They are, by far, the quietest headphone I've ever tested.
The Bose 901 speaker, the one that was originally introduced in 1968, is still in production as the $1,400 a pair Series VI model. Incredibly enough, it was favorably reviewed in an audiophile magazine, Tone Audio, last year.