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Bose: Why Audiophiles Should Stop the Hate

by May 17, 2011

Yes, it’s true that Bose has been the punch-line of jokes about over-priced speakers with paper cones, patented so-called revolutionary technology that no serious speaker manufacturer has ever attempted to pursue for its own products. But to be fair, the worst criticism that can be levied against Bose products is that they’re terribly… ordinary. They’re arguably overpriced and might fail to live up to the truly revolutionary reputation Bose Corporation has attempted to carve for itself. However, Bose products sell and have a proven, persistent demand that has lasted through the decades. In fact, some areas of Bose research have been truly groundbreaking and might even surprise you.

Last week we learned that Dr. Amar Bose, founder of Bose Corporation, made a significant donation to the institution from which he earned his Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Bose donated a majority of the stock of Bose Corporation in the form of non-voting shares.

The returns will be in the form of annual cash dividends on those shares, paid out by Bose Corporation. TheDr. Amar Bose dividends will be used to by MIT to advance its education and research initiatives.

Susan Hockfield, President of MIT, had this to say on Dr. Bose’s generosity and humility: “Amar Bose gives us a great gift today, but he also serves as a superb example for MIT graduates who yearn to cut their own path. Dr. Bose set the highest teaching standards, for which he is still admired and loved by his faculty colleagues and the many students he taught. His insatiable curiosity propelled remarkable research, both at MIT and within the company he founded. Dr. Bose has always been more concerned about the next two decades than about the next two quarters.”

“Dr. Bose,” Hockfield continued, “has asked us not to shine too bright a spotlight on him today. So to honor that wish, let us simply celebrate Dr. Bose’s profound belief in the transformative power of an MIT education.”

Why Do Audiophiles Hate Bose? YouTube Discussion

Bose - Achievement and Controversy

The story of 1950s MIT grad student Amar Bose being utterly disappointed at the current state of hi-fi audio is the stuff of legend. Bose decided to research the subject of high-fidelity audio for himself, and through his research he went on to imprint ideas like psychoacoustics and direct/reflected sound onto the collective conscious of audiophiles. Dr. Amar Bose would go on to form Bose Corporation with the motto “Better Sound Through Research” - an adage maintained by the company to this day.

But with one of his primary areas of research being psychoacoustics, the study of our perception of audio, Bose has already sown seeds as a polarizing figure in hi-fi.

We Audioholics generally think of ourselves as an objective bunch. We want hard numbers! We demand to know if (Gene’s) measurements bear out the claims of corporate specifications and marketing material.

To audiophiles, the very concept of psychoacoustics shows a disdain for fact. Its implication that audio fidelity is a condition that exists in our head is about as popular as a piranha in a hot-tub.

Bose Corporation takes its psychoacoustics outlook right down to its controversial methods of published specifications, in that it does not publish specs by standard measured electrical and objective acoustic performance. The philosophy in this process stems from Amar Bose defining himself as an audio subjectivist who rejects most specs, preferring instead to measure audio performance by what he calls the human experience.

Dr. Bose’s thoughts on audio-subjectivism are detailed in his 1968 paper to the Audio Engineering Society entitled ‘On The Design, Measurement, and Evaluation of Loudspeakers’. 

Bose InspirationHeadset

Bose research into psychoacoustics has gone so far beyond just the inaudible context of the perception of sound. Bose believed he was researching and building audio equipment that produced the kind of sound that people wanted to hear, and there’s no denying that the company has been successful. According to NPD research, Bose was once the most popular speaker manufacturer in the United States, today the company still ranks in the top three for home and portable audio sales

There’s no denying that Bose research has taken audio in some unexpected directions. The company produced the first commercial sound-canceling headphones. Sound-canceling technology was first developed by Bose to protect the hearing of pilots participating in the first non-stop around-the-world-flight.

Today, Bose Acoustic Noise Canceling headsets are used by tank crews and Air Force pilots in the US military. Bose's line of QuietComfort headphones was also the first line of noise-canceling headphones, introduced to the general public in the year 2000.

Outside the acoustic science, Bose also conducted research that debunked cold fusion in 1991. Bose Corporation engineers built a calorimeter to replicate cold fusion experiments that resulted in a zero net energy gain.

Another unusual direction of research was in an electromagnetic automotive suspension system developed from its own two-state, non-linear power processing and conditioning. In 2004, Bose disclosed that it sank over $100 million into its automobile suspension, which used electromagnetism rather than hydraulics.

Such an eclectic range of study and investment is the result of overactive genius with an enthusiasm for engineering - not a charlatan concerned only with profit. Sadly, Bose is the last of a dying breed.

Still, it’s true that early concepts like the direct/reflected speakers that attempted to recreate a “live” listening experience failed to set the audiophile world on fire. And while commercially successful, Bose products such as its flagship 901 speakers have famously received unflattering reviews from Stereophile and Consumer Reports.

It’s also not difficult to find anti-Bose sentiment across the web that wrongly dismisses Bose research as insidiously purposed to produce subpar, overhyped goods intended to maximize profit. The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth - Bose has carried on costly research with little or no financial incentive.

Consumer Electronics Outrage!

The jaded, modern consumer that wants to point a finger at an electronics manufacturing villain will quickly discover - Bose ain't it!

The real rip-offs are the fly-by-night, no-brand consumer electronics that hurt more than just the buyer who wastes money on them. Tiny enterprises can pop up out of nowhere, with overflow material and a sweat-shop manufacturing contract out of South China, to slap together a single run of DVD players. They produce the kind of consumer electronics garbage that ends up on the shelves of Wal-mart and carry obscure brand names like Apex.

The $30 DVD player is an all-too common aberration found at the check-out aisle of a drug store. No-brand LCD panels may tantalize consumers with their shockingly low prices – but these are the garbage electronics destined to seep PVCs, CFRs and BFRs into our landfills within two years of purchase. Your consumer electronics outrage should be aimed at the purveyors of e-waste, not wasted on a high-minded acoustic-philosophical difference you have with Dr. Amar Bose.

Regardless of where and how you categorize Bose equipment and the subjective, psychoacoustic philosophy of Bose, one thing is for sure – Dr. Bose is a credit to his profession and his charity and generosity makes him the kind of good citizen from whom we can all learn.


About the author:
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Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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