March 30, 2006
So far in part one of our discussion, we’ve explored a little about why Bose is such a dominant brand with consumers and I’ve even shared a bit about my personal experiences with customers who’ve been Bose-Washed ©. Now let’s get into some specifics on why I feel you’d be doing yourself a disservice to buy any audio product, especially Bose, without first auditioning some other brands.
In all honesty I have to admit this part of my post has caused me some apprehension. The overwhelming sense of where do I begin has been gnawing at the back of mind since I first decided to write the article. Ultimately I decided retelling my most recent conversation about Bose would get the ball rolling, so here we go.
Many, if not all, of my friends know I’m in the consumer electronics industry and from time to time they’ll ask me questions like, “What kind of surround system should I get, Bose?” One particular time I was asked this question and I grimaced much like when someone shows you a picture of their newborn and asks isn’t he/she so cute? You’re trying to muster a yes when all you’re thinking is, oh gosh that’s an ugly baby. It’s quite an uncomfortable feeling. This is exactly how I felt recently when a friend was looking for my affirmation on their potential Bose purchase.
After pulling my thoughts together I realized this person is looking to me for advice and not a gloss over, so I began with “It really all depends on what you want out of the system.” My reply seemed to shock him a bit as he said, “Well… I want a great sounding surround system of course.” I replied, “Then Bose may not be for you.”
Now context is very important here. This is someone who has already shown a predisposition for a really good system (I know because I helped him pick out his projector) and not someone who was starting from scratch.
I went on to tell him about how Bose tries to discourage dealers from demonstrating their products head to head with competitors. If you’ve ever seen Bose on display in a retail setting, you may have noticed that the Bose stand or island display is set away from the rest of the sound equipment. Some might argue this is premium product placement but I’m of the opinion this is designed to put the product in a favorable light and in doing so, making it hard to make direct comparisons with the other products.
Lets talk about the product itself. In the interest of brevity for the rest of this post assume that I’m talking about a Bose home theater system. I’ve already mentioned my dislike of their all-in-one approach to electronics so for the remainder of the post, I’ll focus on their home theater speakers. But keep in mind whether you’re looking at a complete Lifestyle system with electronics or a stand alone speaker system, the speakers themselves are relatively consistent throughout the 6.1 packages.
• Frequency Response
Ah, let’s not forget about the diminutive cube speakers. Modern technology is a wonderful thing. We’ve solved so many day to day problems in our lives with technological advances. Many would assume the tiny speakers that handle the high and middle frequencies in a Bose system are just another example of this. Unfortunately, the laws of physics didn’t get the memo that a 2.5” driver can accurately reproduce high frequencies and down to lower-mid range frequencies. As it turns out, those lower mid range frequencies are one area where the Bose Cube-Satellite system falls short.
It’s not that the Bose system doesn’t recreate lower-mids at all, it’s where they come from that’s the issue. The Bose Acoustimass subwoofer by and large handles these low-mid frequencies for the system, which introduces another two-fold problem back into the system. Firstly since the cubes aren’t going down as low as a standard bookshelf speaker would, the system suffers from poor mid-range localization. And since those frequencies are being handled by the subwoofer, the sub itself suffers from an overachiever complex that often results in poor low end response.
Speaking of frequency response, Bose doesn’t publish frequency responses for their consumer products. Dr. Amar Bose was quoted as saying “looking at frequency responses on paper and charts doesn’t really matter – it boils down to how it sounds to people”. I will be the first to admit that frequency responses aren’t a good way to judge a speaker, especially if you’re comparing similar speakers. But I think it’s safe to say Bose would be exempt from the similar speaker comparison example.
When your competitors publishes their frequency responses and your company doesn’t, you’re either betting that your average customer doesn’t care enough to investigate statistics or that they really don’t matter at all. Given the fact that Bose cites several technological advancements as a direct result of their engineering, I’m betting it’s the former.
Here is the simple truth about Bose Cube/Sat speaker systems and their frequency response. There are obvious localization problems caused by the low-mid frequency shift to the subwoofer. A simple way to illustrate this (if you happen to own a Bose home theater system) is during a movie unplug all of your satellites and see if you can still follow the dialog from the subwoofer.
So far in about 5 out of 5 attempts, I’ve been able to follow the dialog. No I don’t own a Bose system, but I’ve replaced several. You shouldn’t be able to follow dialog from a subwoofer alone. This is indicative of a sub that’s recreating mid to upper mid-range frequencies, and not focusing on the low end as it should.
The general consensus is that as little as a 30hz gap or as large as a 80hz gap exists between Bose’s Cubes and Subwoofer. But again with out official frequency response figures from Bose, we’re left with outside independent reviewers speculating on the actual numbers. That is to say, I’m unaware of any credible third parties testing the frequency response of Bose’s Cube/Sat systems. But suffice to say, ANY frequency response gap would be worse than a high or low roll-off.
I haven’t even mentioned the price of Bose’s home theater systems, but I need to. Bose’s premium home theater systems aka The Lifestyle System, range anywhere from $1,599 to $3,999 at time of press. I don’t want to get into the “you could buy xyz components instead of Bose diatribe”, but I will say please do some shopping. You’ll be very surprised at what you can get in a component/speaker package from other manufacturers for say $2500.00, which often winds up being the average price of one of the Lifestyle Systems.
I’ll close in saying that Bose is very often an emotional purchase by uninformed (through no fault of their own) buyers looking to buy a ‘surround sound system’ and more often than not the size of the Satellite Cubes is what seals the deal. However if you’re after genuine sonic fidelity and aren’t limited to a speaker that’s tiny, I urge you to do your research, hear multiple systems and refrain from impulse purchases, your ears and wallet will thank you.
In doing research for this article, I ran across a reprint of an article from SmartMoney entitled ‘The Sound and the Fury’. The article reviews 5 speakers (Bose among them) and features Lou Reed as a guest reviewer. There is a hilarious quote from Mr. Reed in the article about Bose, but I’ll let you read it for yourself.
Note: don’t take the link as an endorsement of Klipsch speakers, that’s just where the .pdf of the mentioned article resides.
p.s My goal here was informing potential Bose buyers, not lambasting current owners. If you own a Bose system and think it’s the cats meow then kudos to you, but please understand our comment system is for on-topic polite discussion and not for belligerent rhetoric.
Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Surround Sound