Why the Bose Hate?
March 2, 2007 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Audiophile-ter: I'm buying some old Bose 901s for my stepdad (series II) and I'm looking for info about equalizers. However, my searches for "Bose" here revealed lots of "Holy crap, don't ever buy Bose!" So now my question is, why the Bose hate?

I was under the impression that the 901s were simply the bees damn knees. My stepdad certainly thinks so. Is there some sort of Bose/Something Else debate equivalent to the Mac/PC debate? Is the hate reserved for the newer all-in-one mini-stereos?

And while I'm at it, is it worth paying $200 for a set of Series IIs if they don't come with the EQ? From what I've read you don't want to mix and match across series, so will I just have to watch eBay for a series II EQ to come around?
posted by ultraultraboomerang to Technology (40 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What I have always gathered, is that it is a bit of bias from some of the audio-elite out there... for what it's worth, the argument seems to boil down to cost vs performance.. they are good speakers, but are not worth the price that bose assigns to them - you can get better for less.
posted by niteHawk at 8:36 AM on March 2, 2007

I don't think it's really like the Mac/PC debate. The general consensus is simply that Bose presents their products as if they represent some sort of "audiophile" level of quality and performance, and audiophiles & music professionals disagree. Many audiophiles are pretty rigorous about their testing and while I often find 'em to be leaning a bit towards the crazy/obsessive end of the spectrum, they don't seem to be wrong in this case.

I say this as someone who uses a crappy pair of decades-old Fisher speakers that are held together with duct tape, though.
posted by bcwinters at 8:38 AM on March 2, 2007

I'm not sure you'll be able to get all the information out of this, but I certainly found this link revealing.

I'll try to summarize for you.

Bose speakers have a non-linear response. This means that sound gets distorted when going through a Bose sound system, as if it had gone through an equalizer with the settings jammed to emphasize certain frequencies.

Bose has poor response on the high ends of the frequency spectrum.

Bose speakers are very cheaply constructed.

Bose is popular because the brand is well marketed, not because they have the best speakers.

In all the things which serious audiophiles use to gauge and compare speakers, Bose doesn't perform well.
posted by onalark at 8:45 AM on March 2, 2007

buying bose stuff is kinda like buying really expensive designer purses... half of what you're paying is for the name and lifestyle. they're not bad speakers, just not worth the price you pay.
posted by noloveforned at 8:45 AM on March 2, 2007

Audiophilia, being about very subjective impressions, is one big holy war. The only agreement seems to be that Bose is crap.
posted by dhoe at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Bose were hyped in the 70's because of some technological breakthrough. They're good but no better than Polk or KEF's.

I opted for Polks. I still have them. They're 30 years old and sound as good as anything.

The table radios/CD players Bose makes are astoundingly good. Better than the hype-of-the-moment Tivolis. (I bought the Tivoli table radio for myself and a girlfriend the Bose so I am familiar with both).

EQ's are for studios. You will drive yourself crazy adjusting an EQ, because every different recording or source needs a different equalization.

Don't bother with EQ's. Stick with a good amp (like an Onkyo if you are on a budget) and you will never miss an EQ.
posted by wfc123 at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2007

The audiophile adage, in my day, was "no highs, no lows, must be a Bose". That is, Bose speakers accentuated the midrange so much that it muddied out the treble and (to a lesser extent) the bass. In those days that was considered a "consumer oriented" thing to do (much the way Sony now ships its TVs with color settings that will "pop" under showroom lights but look dreadful at home). "Consumer oriented" is evil, in the audiophile book, and in fact as noted above, there were always better speakers available at the same price from other manufacturers. That's probably still true, though consumer taste has moved from midrange to bass-heavy, so now Bose probably overloads the bass. But the point is, who cares? If you like the way they sound and the price is fair (which it generally is -- one could do better, but not hugely so) who cares what the audio snobs think? These people put green magic marker around the edges of their CDs. Do you?
posted by The Bellman at 8:47 AM on March 2, 2007

While I wouldn't put Bose in my house, if you listen to them head to head with other speakers and you like them better, by all means buy them.

Sound is a matter of taste, and some people like it distorted. Others prefer to do their distorting with something other than their loudspeakers. I would take your stepdad to a store with a decent listening setup and buy him whatever he likes. IMO, a pair of cheap Polk Audio speakers will sound as good as any Bose I've heard, but again, it's all a matter of taste when it comes to sound.
posted by wierdo at 8:50 AM on March 2, 2007

Bose spends a lot of money on marketing and not so much on research. This hasn't always been the case, and so their earlier models are better-regarded, but it is now. The company has a lousy reputation among audiophiles, largely because of this. For their mid-level speaker sets, as well as headphones, you can find better stuff at cheaper prices. For speakers, brands like Infinity tend to offer quite a bit better stuff at comparable prices. For headphones, Bose just isn't worth it (and wouldn't be if they slashed their prices in half). Sennheiser headphones are cheaper and much, much better. Their home-theater-in-a-box solutions are overpriced, and they aren't great-sounding either. Certain large retail chains are notorious for using a number of tricks to make Bose speakers sound better than they do in actual in-the-wild conditions.

All of that said, most reasonable audiophiles will tell you that Bose makes decent stuff, just not good enough for the prices they charge. I got a pair of 401s (series IV) for cheap and I'm happy with them. They do what I want them to do. But I didn't pay retail price for them. The Bose 901s have a pretty good reputation but you can buy better stuff at the same price point. $200, though, is cheap and I'd buy them at that price.

But, as with any question like this, you shouldn't make your decision based on what other people think.
posted by smorange at 8:52 AM on March 2, 2007

My husband is one of those audiophile types and his opinion on Bose is as niteHawk describes: that although they are better than average, they are not nearly good enough to justify the price, and that there are better speakers out there for less or the same cost.

I know when he was shopping for speakers he spent a lot of time at audioreview.com and other various sites that he found through mention on the boards there. If you spend a little time online, you should be able to get a very good idea of what would be the best investment for your money. Also, there's usually some little stereophile store tucked away in most areas -- if you spend some time there, you can get a good idea of what you like and what you should be spending.

Hope this helped!
posted by AV at 8:54 AM on March 2, 2007

"No highs, no lows; must be Bose."
posted by owenkun at 9:01 AM on March 2, 2007

These people put green magic marker around the edges of their CDs.

Any sane "audiophile" would never do this. Anyone who does deserves to be ridiculed.
posted by deadfather at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2007

Response by poster: Ahh. Very helpful, thanks folks. So new 901s are $1400 for the same reason designer bags are $1400. Makes sense. And yes, the more I look the more I see that this makes the Mac/PC debate look positively docile.

As far as I can tell, even haters will sometimes say they were good till series III. So wouldn't a $200 pair of series IIs be a better deal than a $200 pair of speakers from Best Buy or something? Especially if we're talking about someone who is patient enough to place them correctly and fart around with the EQ enough to get the right sound (which, again, the more I read, this seems to be the response to a lot of "no highs, no lows" critiques).
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 9:05 AM on March 2, 2007

You may or may not find this anecdotal info useful:

I spend a lot of time mastering audio for various purposes. I have a set of Bose speakers in my studio for the express purpose of checking how my mix will sound on "consumer" speakers with an exaggerated, inaccurate sound. That, plus a cheap shitty boombox with the "bass boost" turned all the way up, tells me pretty well how non-audiophile people will actually hear my mix.
posted by fake at 9:16 AM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

So wouldn't a $200 pair of series IIs be a better deal than a $200 pair of speakers from Best Buy or something?

To my ear, absolutely. For nearly any audio component I could find at Best Buy, I would prefer to use the same amount of money to shop at Audiogon, a marketplace for used mid-range and high-end audio gear.
posted by reeddavid at 9:22 AM on March 2, 2007

Re: question 1, onalark has it. I am not an audio engineer but, as I understand it, Bose designs revolve around their own interpretations of psychoacoustics, and sound as humans perceive it. Bose speakers sound better to some people because they favor certain frequency ranges over others. Audiophiles, of course, respond that their speakers don't accurately reproduce the sound as it was recorded. Bose's retort is that it sounds "better" their way.
posted by clockwork at 9:23 AM on March 2, 2007

So wouldn't a $200 pair of series IIs be a better deal than a $200 pair of speakers from Best Buy or something?

Yes! They're not going to sound as good as, e.g., Yamaha 1000s, which are still, IMO, the best speakers you can get. But for $200, who cares?
posted by smorange at 9:27 AM on March 2, 2007

Personal taste and all that. It does seem that most people can find speakers they like better than Bose for less money but whatever.

Overhyped or no, a lot of people really liked the Series II 901s, and they might be worth $200 -- that's your call. What's important is you're happy. Comments about "not needing EQ" don't apply here, though -- EQ is an integral part of the 901 system design and lacking that they might just sound awful. Don't buy this pair without a good listen. Also, some 901s have problems with foam surround rot (dunno if it applies to Series II -- but look for it.)
posted by Opposite George at 9:36 AM on March 2, 2007

Bose is to Speakers as Monster is to Cables.

All bark, no bite.
posted by afx114 at 9:38 AM on March 2, 2007

I'm going to buck the trend here and say that $200 901's are a good deal, especially if the listener is familiar with them and likes their sound. I have a 15 or so year old pair of 901's and they are much better than other Bose products in terms of both build and sound quality. I am not sure about your EQ question, but a check with Bose customer service may help.

I tend to take anything self-described audiophiles say with some skepticism. While speakers costing tens of thousands of dollars like these are very cool if you can afford them, but I also see high-end stereo geeks going on about things like exotic speaker wire that costs tens of dollars or more a foot, like this stuff.
posted by TedW at 9:55 AM on March 2, 2007

A Series II is old enough that the material around the driver cones will be rotting apart in another few years. Stuffing the cabinets with modern 4.5" drivers would be interesting, and also very expensive.
posted by buzzman at 10:11 AM on March 2, 2007

What Stereophile has to say on the subject.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:29 AM on March 2, 2007

As far as I can tell, even haters will sometimes say they were good till series III. So wouldn't a $200 pair of series IIs be a better deal than a $200 pair of speakers from Best Buy or something?

If those are the speakers he likes then go for it. My own impression of Bose is that it's consumer grade high end, not really high end stuff for the price. But I've not listened to any Bose speakers for significant periods of time.

But you can find better deals out there. I got a 70s ONKYO receiver with 70s AVID speakers off craigslist for $70 and it's the best sounding setup I've ever had. My dad actually found the stuff, he was on a kick for awhile and bought quite a few receivers and 5-10 pairs of speakers off craigslist. The AVIDs were by far the best sounding of the bunch, but it's time consuming to do the work he did. Most people you buy used from don't have the speakers set up, especially not with a decent receiver, so you can't really tell how they will sound. If you go this route take off the grills and check that the surrounds aren't rotted out foam. This is a very common problem with vintage speakers.
posted by 6550 at 10:33 AM on March 2, 2007

These people put green magic marker around the edges of their CDs.

Deserves to be ridiculed, indeed.
posted by puddleglum at 10:40 AM on March 2, 2007

I agree Bose is overpriced and overmarketed. But if it's what your stepdad wants, get'em and be done. You might want to take him shopping to a decent stereo shop first (I'm impressed with Magnolia) but it's ultimately up to him.
posted by chairface at 11:42 AM on March 2, 2007

What speakers truly have a linear response?

None of 'em. I think the point was that 901s don't use woofers/tweeters/crossovers - all the drivers in a 901 are identical and basically midrange drivers. Without EQ the response is pretty far from ideal.

The traditional approach is to use different kinds of drivers in conjunction with crossovers and cabinet physics to try to get a flat response without EQ.
posted by Opposite George at 12:10 PM on March 2, 2007

A guy I know used to do professional sound setup for event, and he says that BOSE stands for "Bring Own Stereo Equipment". Very limited lows and highs, mid-range is somewhat flat and lifeless.

I have had great success with my recent purchase from the Sony SS (epinions.com) line of speakers. The 350, and the 550 are great, but they have some for each type of need (towers, bookshelfs, mid-size, etc)

Hook them to a good Onkyo receiver (stereo or home theater) and you are rocking. I bought from the TX-SR line (501-S, older model) and I love it.
posted by wonderwisdom at 12:12 PM on March 2, 2007

But let me add rest of the original "Bose speakers have a non-linear response post" is kind of unfair; it really oversimplifies things and treats all Bose models, current and past, as if they're identical. They're not.

Too, it fails to take into account changes in the company's design and marketing philosophy in the ~30 years since these speakers came out. Specifically, the 901 Series II were of very solid construction, and much more music-friendly than the "jamming the eq" comment implies.
posted by Opposite George at 12:33 PM on March 2, 2007

Response by poster: I believe the series I and II have cloth surrounds, which evidently ages better than foam. And yes, Opposite George, thanks for helping with the distinction - I wouldn't even consider a new system, but the old 901s seem to be sort of a different animal.

They're selling on eBay for $3-400 so I think $200 for the pair is a good price. At the very least they're a nice collector's item and would make really cool end tables.

This has been most illuminating! Thanks to everyone.

And congratulations for making history - the more I google, the more I'm certain this is the only civil discussion of this topic on the entire Web. If we get to the end of the thread without anyone accusing anyone else of having inadequate genitalia I think we can all be very proud.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 12:41 PM on March 2, 2007

Just weighing in quickly... For the price, I think Boston makes the best small speakers.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2007

Bose is overpriced crap, for all the reasons already stated. You could do a lot better, but if this is what your stepdad wants then by all means get them. They are not bad speakers. They did have their own equalizer though. If you get the speakers I would use the Bose equalizer.
posted by caddis at 1:27 PM on March 2, 2007

What speakers truly have a linear response?

Vandersteen 2ce is flat to within 1.5 db from like 40 Hz to 20,000 Hz, which is damn linear. I just sold a pair (unfortunately they need room to breathe and I just don't have it). They are also damn big and heavy compared to Bose 901s.
posted by kindall at 2:59 PM on March 2, 2007

For 'budget' speakers, I hear very good things about Fluance and Paradigm.

(And, as long as I'm looking at my 'speaker' bookmarks, here's a page which discusses, by which I mean dismisses, Bose's Acoustimass/Lifestyle speakers.
posted by box at 3:25 PM on March 2, 2007

I remember reading about this in The Absolute Sound. The first 901s were advertised as being "tuned" to replicate lifelike images from some famous venue. Carnegie Hall or something similar. The ads claimed that you couldn't tell the difference if you were in the third row and had your eyes closed. So of course most audio writers rolled their eyes. And many also pointed out the fact that many recordings were from other venues. And basically this is where the whole bose hate began. But for 200 dollars, I dont think you will find anything better. And I agree that their radios are better than the Tivoli's. (I sent mine back!) And that Boston, Polk, and PSB are good low price brands. I have a pair of Sound Dynamics 300 ti's that I got for $400, including stands, (after reading Harry Pearson's rave) and they still sound mind blowingly good. They aren't made anymore, but used ones may be around, but I bet they fetch a premium.
posted by vronsky at 3:37 PM on March 2, 2007

Bose isn't an audio company. They're a research company who happens to put their name on some speakers. But they also put their name on transmissions, aircraft parts, and a few other random things. At least, that's the reason the guy at the local sound store gave me....
posted by fvox13 at 7:30 PM on March 2, 2007

I highly recommend Acoustic Energy speakers. I replaced Bose with them and there is no comparison: they cost less and sound WAY better, with everything from classical music to very frequency-demanding contemporary electronic improvisation.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:18 PM on March 2, 2007

to derail... kindall: linearity has little or nothing to do with flatness of response, it has to do with harmonic and intermodulation distortion.

If your speaker response is non-linear (2nd, 3rd order, whatever), you will get frequencies appearing at multiples of the input frequecy - harmonic distortion. If the input is not a monotone, i.e. is real music, intermodulation distortion is the result of interactions between the different frequencies in the source, resulting in frequencies related to the sum and difference of the input frequencies. All of that sounds bad.

Not being an audiophile but rather one who merely likes good loud music and builds their own speakers and amps (I'm an EE, that counts as fun for me), I've never met a Bose 901. But the description in here (and a quick google) of it having loads of 4.5" drivers and using EQ to produce highs and lows doesn't sound like a particularly good idea to me at all.

Producing a given level (air compression) at lower frequencies requires either larger cone area or more cone excursion. EQ (frequency-selective electronic filter) gives gain at the required frequencies and therefore more cone excursion... problem is that the coils will leave the magnet gap and not operate correctly at all as soon as you bring the level up past "quiet". Coils leaving the gap results in NO magnetic force being produced, which means the cones are in free-fall, which means their motion is entirely just the resonant response of the cabinet and has little or nothing to do with what you're listening to.

The second problem is that waves (like in water, not sound) travel across the cone from centre to outside and they do so at about 3-4x the speed of sound in air. So for a 4.5" cone, the radius of the cone represents a quarter-wave at about 5.5kHz - referred to as cone-breakup. That means that as soon as you get anywhere near 3kHz or so, the speaker cone is no longer acting as a piston, it's flapping in the breeze - imagine a bedsheet that you're raising and lowering the middle of. This flapping motion means that the sound is radiating from a bunch of expanding rings and in a very strange fashion... nothing like the point-source you really want.

In summary: woofers should be big so that they don't have to move far. Tweeters should be small so that they don't get near breakup. Speakers shouldn't be driven at frequencies they can't reproduce properly; turning the volume up at those frequencies (EQ) is no solution to fixing the fact that the speakers don't work properly at those frequencies.

Spend your money on something better, I say. There are good technical reasons not to buy the 901s and having looked at what they are, I'm not surprised at the "no highs, no lows" jibe.
posted by polyglot at 8:52 PM on March 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

The best sound, and especially the best sound for the money, comes from big ugly boxes placed prominently in a room. Some people don't like to make speakers the focal point of their living room, but those people obviously don't care about sound.

I have a pair of Sound Dynamics 300 ti's that I got for $400, including stands, (after reading Harry Pearson's rave) and they still sound mind blowingly good. They aren't made anymore, but used ones may be around, but I bet they fetch a premium.

Actually, I've seen a few go cheap.. A little over $200. I think it is because there are too few available to maintain interest, and the buzz about them is getting old.
posted by Chuckles at 3:45 AM on March 3, 2007

A lot of the Bose hate really started when they came out with their Acoustimass system (and subsequent satellite systems) back in the 80's. You should note that this is the subject of the article onanlark links to. And, for what it's worth, the article is correct, as far as Bose's satellite (and other "consumer") systems go. It's really unfair to paint the entire Bose line with that brush, though.

The 901s are a good speaker system. There are definitely better ones, as well as much worse ones for the same money.

In the end, it's what sounds right to you. I went through my "audiophile" period and anguished over charts and graphs plotting the linearity of speakers and the like. In the end, it seemed, you would end up with a system that measured great but never really pleased your ears. It was a silly way to burn money. Ultimately, I listened carefully to every component and built a system that sounded great to my ears. Afterall, that's why you bother to listen to music...for pleasure, not numbers.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:26 AM on March 3, 2007

Yeah, I didn't go into the other things that make up neutral sound -- the Vandersteens are designed to get close on most of those as well. They were the best speakers I've ever owned. Of course for the price ($1500) they ought to be. :)
posted by kindall at 6:21 PM on March 4, 2007

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