Amar G. Bose, PhD: 1929–2013

Photo: Bose Corporation

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 sound—as 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
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pwf2739's picture

Mr. Bose was a pioneer in the mid-fi field. Whatever sonic qualities the company achieved, they are perhaps the best marketing company in audio.  While I do not necessarily consider Bose a high end product, I do confess to having a Wave Radio in my bedroom. I am sure he will be sorely missed. 

clarkjohnsen's picture

In Cambridge back decades ago a hifi store had a series of guest speakers from the industry. There I saw, inter alia, Peter Pritchard, Paul Klipsch and Amar Bose. All three were bigtime spokesmen for their product. Paul hauled out a blackboard to derive "the immutable laws of physics" by which his speakers and his alone could produce real sound. Amar had his 1/8 spheres along and they were terrible; my buddy declared that the old, similar KLH Sweet Sixteens sounded better. But did that deter Amar? No, because next year he was back with yet another "perfect" design, best I can recall a whole sphere of drivers on a stand. Two years later, moving right along... In the end the system at my house (with roomies) soon consisted of double 901's. But after that, Magnepans.

John Atkinson's picture
pwf2739's picture

What a unique perspective of a company heralded by some, vilified by others. I would also agree that the submittal is entirely accurate and offers a different perspective of the head of a company always in the public eye. Personally, I remember when the 501's and the 901's both came out. They did so to a huge advertising campaign. They were, for a time, THE speaker system to own. At the time I had a set of AR-7's which I loved. In fact, I still have them and they still sound pretty good for a speaker almost 50 years old. I stated before, I never considered  Bose a producer of high end products. But no matter what, the company and the man sure stirs up a lot of varied and dichotomous opinions. Love him or disparage him, Mr. Bose was one of a kind. 

Saint0's picture
Utopianemo's picture

Bose is the gateway drug to audiophilia; it is what Widmer Hefeweizen is to craft beer. My first toke was the Bose 301 III, chosen over the lifestyle system because, as I now realize, I enjoyed the midrange. I wouldn't buy them today but they started me on the road to good sound. I can still remember the first time I plugged them into my cheesy Sony integrated stereo and played Uranus the Magician from the Deutsche Grammophon recording of Gustav Holst's The Planets. About 20 seconds into the recording, members of the orchestra lean forward in their chairs and I could just about see them in front of me. One area of research Bose conducted that hasn't been mentioned much revolved around a suspension system for automobiles that utilized electromagnets. As far as I can tell, the tires read the road almost like their noise-cancelling headphone circuitry, and the magnets would raise and lower each tire independently to contour the road. Obviously it never took off, but the demo videos they had on their site in the early 2000's were pretty amazing.

dalethorn's picture

I remember only one good demo of the 901, in the mid-1970's at Audio Hall in Akron Ohio. At that point I had the original Advents, and had heard the Klipschorns in Cleveland, also properly demoed. When they fired up the 901's with music I was very familiar with, I was immediately struck with how neutral I thought the sound was overall, much like the Advents, and surprisingly, the Klipschorns. I figured that was a good sign, having a similar signature, since very few speakers sounded much alike at that time.

Fast forward to the Bose QC2, a $300 noise-canceling headphone I bought circa 2003 I think. I never took it out of the house, never abused it, always had it next to the bed where only I touched it. After a few months use, the headband on the left side broke, or should I say the plastic somehow just disintegrated. I duct-taped it. A month later, ditto with the headband on the right side. More duct tape. Lastly, another month and it just quit working electronically - with alkaline cells there was no battery charging issue.

I then began looking up Bose on the Internet, first for the QC2, then for other products. I got the impression that Bose physical quality was sub-standard. Such impressions can be false and misleading if you haven't had much experience doing those searches, or if the amount of data examined is relatively small. The impression stuck. Still, I got the idea that Bose was better than average at replacement forgiveness when the circumstances merited it.

I'm more familiar with their current headphones than anything else. The QC15 noise canceler is, to my knowledge, the king of such items, with a fairly hi-fi sound. Not a bad deal. The AE2 is a rare item, one of the very few headphones sub-$500 that are properly balanced for hi-fi reproduction right out of the box. Other Bose headphones, including the pricy QC3, sound really awful - not even EQ-fixable I found. It sure makes me wonder, since the models that are quite good are no accident.

In sum, I think the things Bose accomplished were well above and beyond what most people could expect in a single lifetime, RIP.

jimtavegia's picture

Most Bose customers offer praise for the products they've bought, but the audiophile community...well, not so much. There appears to be little middle ground where Bose is concerned.

I do think there is a market for their smaller sound bar-like TV systems that are great for clearing up poor HDTV internal speaker sound, but most audiophiles would just as soon use an inexpensive receiver and a good pair of bookshelf speakers, or better yet a home theater receiver in 5.1, 7.1 or even  3.0 for that matter with quality bookshelf speakers & a sub. A pair of AudioEngine A2s would also work great....better is in the ears of the beholder, but for me that would be my ticket. 

No one in audio has challenged their marketing accumen...yet, and it may not be ever done. Great marketing does not make a product great, but most people are not audiophiles so what Bose offers works for many of them. Their try and return strategy has worked well I would think. 

 

Pro-Audio-Tech's picture

The Bose 901's with Phase Linear amplification, big sound from small boxes, it was quite impressive for 1972. I mowed a zillion lawns to afford that system and never regretted the purchase. All my friends were impressed, had the system for over 10 years and it never had a single problem no matter how loud we played Ziggy Stardust or Pink Floyd.

jcbenten's picture

Back in University days in the early '80s, a fellow on the dorm floor had some spending money so he bought a pair of 901s and a Pioneer receiver that put out some ungodley wattage.  On Friday nights when lots of noise was permissable, the entire floor would rumble and if you went into his room, one could feel the sound waves traveling through the body.  After 2 minutes it was so painful I left.

I now long for that setup when the local sports users spin the volume dial on their PA system a bit too much.  Immigrant Song headed back their way would perhaps make a point.

audiolab's picture

It is never of course a good thing to hear of someones departure. It is a shame that he cannot survive....but if only someone could bury the name and the company. As someone who could be considered a middling audiophile, there is nothing I hate more than when someone says whats your hobby.....and the reply to your response being "yea I have a bose system". I just want to run from the room screaming.

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