THE HISTORY OF BOSE
Bose was founded in 1964 by Amar G. Bose. Eight years earlier, Bose, then a graduate student at MIT, had purchased a stereo system and was disappointed with its performance. This led him to research the importance of reverberant (indirect) sound on perceived audio quality.
Bose began extensive research aimed at clarifying factors that he saw as fundamental weaknesses plaguing high-end audio systems. The principal weaknesses, in his view, were that the overall design of the electronics and speaker failed to account for the spatial properties of the radiated sound in typical listening spaces (homes and apartments) and the implications of spatiality for psychoacoustics, i.e. the listener’s head as a sonic diffraction object as part of the system. Eight years later, he started the company, charging it with a mission to achieve “Better Sound Through Research”, now the company slogan.
In an interview in 2007 Bose talked about an early review that kept the company alive.
One magazine in the United States, a really credible magazine, had one reviewer named Norman Eisenburg who really knew his music. In those days I used to take the loudspeaker to the reviewer. I packed my son and loudspeaker in the car and went off. I put this little thing on top of the big speakers he had, turned it on, and within five minutes he said: ‘I don’t care if this is made of green cheese, it’s the best sound, most accurate sound, I’ve ever heard.’ He came out with a review titled ‘Surround and Conquer’. He was not known to do things like that. Everybody in the press knew he knew music, and it resulted in rave reviews one after another, and we were able to survive.
Bose’s first loudspeaker product, the model 2201, dispersed 22 small mid-range speakers over an eighth of a sphere. It was designed to be located in the corner of a room, using reflections off the walls to increase the apparent size of the room. An electronic equalizer was used to flatten the frequency spectrum of this system. The results of listening tests were disappointing.
After this research Bose came to the conclusion that imperfect knowledge of psychoacoustics limits the ability to adequately characterize quantitatively any two arbitrary sounds that are perceived differently, and to adequately characterize and quantify all aspects of perceived quality. He believes, for example, that distortion is much overrated as a factor in perceived quality in the complex sounds that comprise music. Similarly, he does not find measurable relevance to perceived quality in other easily measured parameters of loudspeakers and electronics, and therefore does not publish those specifications for Bose products. The ultimate test, Bose insists, is the listener’s perception of audible quality (or lack of it) and his or her own preferences. This reluctance to publish information is due to Bose’s rejection of these measurements in favor of “more meaningful measurement and evaluation procedures”.
Bose conducted further research into psychoacoustics that eventually clarified the importance of a dominance of reflected sound arriving at the head of the listener, a listening condition that is characteristic of live performances. This led to a speaker design in which eight identical mid-range drivers (with electronic equalization) were aimed at the wall behind the speaker while the ninth driver was aimed towards the listener. The purpose of this design was to achieve a dominance of reflected over direct sound in home listening spaces. The pentagonal design used in the Model 901 was, and remains, unconventional compared with most systems where the mid-range and high-frequency speakers directly face the listener.
The Model 901 premiered in 1968 and was an immediate commercial success, and Bose Corporation grew rapidly during the 1970s. Also of interest, the Bose 901 has been in continuous production since 1968 second only to the Klipsch Klipschorn speaker in longevity of continuous production. In 2018, the 901’s will celebrate 50 years of continuous production.