Amar G. Bose, PhD: 19292013
Dr. Amar Bose, founder and CEO of the most successful privately-held consumer-electronics company in history, died Friday, July 12, at his home in Wayland, Massachusetts. He was 83.
A native of Philadelphia, Bose showed an early interest in tinkering with model trains and electronics. He took a degree in Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Later, as a PhD candidate at MIT, Bose’s thesis advisor was Norbert Wiener, who made pathbreaking contributions in set theory, information theory, noise-filter theory, and self-regulatory systems. Bose’s PhD thesis was on non-linear systems. Bose was later awarded a patent in non-linear class-D power processing (No.3,294,981).
Bose became interested in research in audio engineering and psychoacoustics after buying a stereo system and being disappointed by its sound. Bose’s first attempt at loudspeaker design was a quasi-omnidirectional array of 22 small drivers mounted over the surface of a 1/8th sphere that was intended to be mounted in the floor or ceiling corners at the front of the room (Patent No.3,038,964). The disappointing results led to Bose’s famous empirical research in the balance of direct and ambient (reflected) sound in concert halls.
Bose’s famous Model 901 direct/reflecting loudspeaker fell like a thunderclap upon the audio industry of the late 1960s. While Stereo Review’s Julian Hirsch pronounced the 901 to be simply the best, J. Gordon Holt, later writing in Stereophile, declined to agree:
“If we were to judge the 901 in terms of the best sound available, then, we would say that it produces a more realistic semblance of natural ambience than any other speaker system, but we would characterize it as unexceptional in all other respects.”
Consumer Reports’ unfortunately worded negative review of the 901 from 1970 was ultimately parsed and passed upon by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 466 US 485 (1984).
Over the years Bose Corporation earned a reputation as an aggressive litigator; other targets included JBL, Infinity Systems, Thiel Audio (footnote 1), and CEDIA.
Although Bose was assisted at the outset by angel investors, Bose resolutely stayed in control and kept his company private (and reportedly, as debt-free as possible) so that he could pursue expensive long-term research projects that a publicly-traded company might be faulted for. Amar Bose’s keen sense for business-expansion opportunities was revolutionary for a loudspeaker designer. While other loudspeaker designers were content to eke out incremental improvements in their existing products, Bose redesigned the idea of what an audio company could be.
Another successful home-loudspeaker designer might have tried selling aftermarket car-audio speakers directly to consumers. Bose approached the auto manufacturers, offering to custom-engineer systems to be built into new cars. This allowed a seamless integration of the components and better soundas well as creating a “halo effect” for his company’s home-audio products.
Other Bose innovations were the “enforced systems approach” to loudspeakers and electronics, wherein Bose’s small cube satellite speakers and under-couch woofers would properly work only with the Bose amplifier that contained the necessary equalization circuits; the “Wave Radio” portable table radio, which at the outset had an alternate-channel direct-sales business model that later became one of the most successful direct-marketing campaigns ever, noise-canceling headphones, and affordable portable sound-reinforcement systems for use in small clubs or temporary venues. Just about the only Bose business initiative that did not prosper was its pre-Internet entry into direct sales of compact discs via a print catalog and an 800 number. Bose Corporation’s 2011 financial results were $2.28 billion.
Bose built up an engineering staff that could do more than just squeeze cost factors out of mass-market products. One Bose custom-engineering project (which may or may not still be in place) was to design a multi-zone DSP-driven echo-canceling system for use in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Other prestige projects include designing sound systems for the Mercedes S-Class and the revived Maserati sedan.
In 2011, Bose, a longtime faculty member, donated the majority of the (non-voting) equity in his company to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Footnote 1: Bose sued Thiel in the early 1990s on the ground that Thiel’s model name “CS2.2” infringed upon Bose’s trademark in its Model 2.2, with the result that Thiel changed its product’s name to “CS 2 2,” with a space replacing the decimal point. However, seeing as Bose did not own a loudspeaker trademark involving a decimal point and a “3,” Thiel’s later speaker was named the “CS2.3.”John Atkinson