The Law & Amar Bose

John Marks' concise yet comprehensive tribute to Amar Bose recognizes that no accurate portrait of him would be complete without the mention of legal proceedings, most notably his 14-year battle with Consumers Union, the group that publishes Consumer Reports, over a disparaging review of his model 901 speaker that he felt was based on bad science. Bose Corporation became the first company to beat CU in court, but the decision was reversed on appeal. Bose then took the case to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The press, fearing for its freedom, shrieked. A friend-of-the-court brief submitted to the Supreme Court carried the names of eight major media companies, including CBS, NBC, the New York Times Co. and Newsweek, apparently a knee-jerk reaction since Dr. Bose claimed a mere handful of writers had bothered to call for his side of the story.

I covered the case in an Audio magazine piece, published in December 1984 after the Supreme Court had ruled against Bose, and mentioned related matters: a 10-page lawyer's letter to a magazine called Physician's Life Style demanding redress for comments it made about the 901 in 1974; litigation to block publication of a 1976 issue of England's Hi-Fi Choice that included a Bose speaker review—Dr. Bose told me that had been instigated by U.K. management without his knowledge; and one pitting Bose's Dutch subsidiary against Consumers Union in the Netherlands (not connected to CU here). Bose Corporation has also defended turf it lay claim to by challenging rival manufacturers over model numbers, including Thiel, as John Atkinson's footnote to John Marks' obit notes, and Dual, which once renamed a cassette deck initially sold as the 901.

All this reinforces my initial impression of Amar Bose, who was tall, lean and swarthy, and who arrived for our first meeting appearing as self-assured as Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven. I later likened his exiting the Cadillac he came in—one equipped with the then-new Bose autosound system—to a gunfighter dismounting. He really was a drill-the-bandits, odds-be-damned kind of guy who followed his own star and always rode point.

Dr. Bose once told me he had applied to just one college: MIT. Clearly, he was already well on his way to becoming the man with brass enough to barge into the General Motors executive suite proclaiming he could produce better sound in their cars than their own Delco unit could.

Bravo for that. Whatever you think about his speakers, Bose singlehandedly started an autosound revolution that continues to expose countless people who may otherwise never have experienced decent sound to such names as JBL, Infinity, Mark Levinson, B&W, Dynaudio and others.

There's a coda. A few years ago, I wrote an ad for an entertainment furniture company, and its headline resulted in a letter from a Bose Corporation lawyer objecting to the use of a word associated with a Bose product series. The headline was "Lifestyle Support."— David Lander


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

A Site for Bose fans:

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.