Love them or hate them, Bose speakers are a phenomenon whether they are more impactful culturally or in audio terms.
You can hear lots of negative words about Bose, speaking mostly about their build quality and technical aspects.
Some will say that they made worthy speakers in the early days of Bose, but since then, the company has concentrated more on hype and looks over the sound quality of products.
While that might be true, it doesn’t take away from the fact that in the end, it’s down to the listener and what they want from a speaker.
Bose sound is full in the mid-bass with acceptable lower bass, a bit woolly through the mids with accurate upper octaves. The drawback of Bose’s direct reflection is that you get treble hot spots and cool spots at different places in the room.
Dr. Amar Bose was a very intelligent Electrical and Sound Engineer in his time. He intended to make high-performance loudspeakers when he was dissatisfied with his new hi-fi system in the 60s.
Today we’ll go over the best Bose speakers of all time and explain what makes them that good.
1. Bose 901 Series IV
Possibly the most prosperous and prolific loudspeaker design ever made.
The 901 series defines the career work of Dr. Amar G. Bose, Ph.D. It includes some of the most innovative and clever out-of-the-box thinking of any product of its type ever manufactured, presently available today.
The 40-year retail success of the 901 Direct Reflecting idea speaks for itself as Bose stays today one of the most reputable, thriving, and globally acknowledged icons in audio.
Since its introduction in the late 60s, the 901 speaker series experienced several modifications in which sound quality was enhanced, and the speakers were made fitting for the digital age.
Bose 901 IV has a well-balanced high-frequency extension, the midrange performance is superior to most of the current so-called “High-End” speakers, and the low-frequency performance of the 901 is jaw-dropping for a speaker so small.
The 901 can be used with amplifiers producing as little as 20 watts RMS or as extensive as 450 watts RMS. The dynamic range of 901 is more than 106 dB.
As its design releases a great deal of energy to the back, it’s not a plug-and-play design: the stereo image can effortlessly become too diffuse if the speakers are not correctly placed.
Complex room exchanges can result in sound-smearing, and mistiming of audible communication, resulting in a mess.
Bose may gloss over this problem: these speakers MUST be positioned very carefully – sometimes, a few inches difference is crucial.
The 901 IV can move an enormous amount of air, and their movement has been greatly reduced because of the matrix enclosure.
Setup correctly and given sufficient clean power, these speakers are competent of very impressive tight clean bass output.
The 901s will put the amp to bed before running out of pure, undistorted sound. These are not the cleanest sound speakers on the market, but they are definitely one of them.
2. Bose 10.2 Series II
When I first saw these speakers at the speaker showroom, there was a pair of Vandersteen 2ce signature II next to them.
I compared the 10.2’s to a couple of $4000 plus speakers, and the Bose blew them away.
I owned the 501 Series IV, 401s, 601 Series III, 301 Series III, 901 Series IV and now have a set of Acoustimass 10 Series IV (for space reasons) but will never sell 10.2 Series II since they are the best floor standing speaker we have ever own.
Bose 10.2s are the top-of-the-line .2 series that include two 2″ tweeters, 1 8″ side-firing mid-range, and an interior 8″ sub in an Acoustimass enclosure.
These are by far one of the best Bose speakers that I have listened to, even compared to the favored 901s.
The cabinet design made with teak veneers still has no equal. Bass, full-range and no dead span – Bose 10.2s are from a period when Bose really cared about sound.
I was quite surprised by the deep tight bass 10.2s put out, even with two high-frequency drivers per speaker and a fairly small subwoofer area performing against it.
This shows there was a period when Bose actually took deep contemplations when developing speaker cabinets, port volumes, etc.
The high frequencies are flaky but not bright and, in some sounds, actually very clear (though not completely dynamic). Add to this their stunning look, and you get one of the best Bose speakers of all time.
3. Bose 601 Series III
If you have the Bose 601, you don’t need all those satellites speakers – you got the best truly surround sound.
In my living room, I almost don’t know where the speakers are because the sound is all over from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, but I still hear the precise locations of the orchestral instruments.
Bose 601 IIIs are floor-standing speakers yet have a somewhat small footprint. They surround the space in stereo music via their “direct-reflecting” technology (i.e., tweeters/mids firing in specific directions to echo off the surrounding walls – more on that later).
They have two real 8″ subs, one on the front lower panel that is only a sub & one on the upper angled panel that is a mid-sub & sub.
This series has multiple 3″ tweeter/midranges (2 double-cubes per speaker) also named “twiddlers” by Bose. This is where Bose got the vision of their infamous “double cubes” mounted to the walls by drawing them from the 601 III’s, placing them in cute little plastic boxes, migrating them around the room & then using shorter “wanna-be-subs” in a single box in a corner.
The 601 III’s perform better than their precursors, the 601 I’s & II’s, because of their nicely designed, rear-firing, slotted bass port.
Bose 601 III was designed back in the mid-’80s when 60’s-70’s classic rock was widespread & 80’s rock/dance music was arising, which did not have near as much manufactured bass as the more recent stuff.
Also, synthesizers have been used more & more to replace real highs/lows that instruments played artificially.
These speakers were more developed for actual live music, performed by artists, not artificial, computer-generated music. They can play that stuff well but weren’t necessarily created for it.
All in all, the 601 Series III’s will put a smile on your mouth when you listen to them. Anywhere you stand/sit in the room will sound like you are in stereo, no matter how you turn.
4. Bose Soundlink Mini (Bluetooth)
I can testify to early Bose Portable speakers being some of the real pioneers in that field – the SoundLink Mini being an extremely competitive contender for years.
It’s clear that Bose’s creativity in building capable, small full-range drivers carried over to their Bluetooth speakers.
The build quality is amazing. It features a unibody metal case that just reeks of high-quality manufacturing.
The design is classy and illustrates a tabletop well. The speaker has a satisfying heft to it that I can’t describe other than to suggest that you try it out at your local shop.
I can feel the quality seeping out of it, holding it in my hands. Simply put, it’s a speaker that lasts a very long time.
Even better is the sound quality. It’s simply incredible what this thing puts out. Crystal clear room-filling sound.
When I listen to classical music, this thing plays Wagner perfectly. When I listen to more bass music, it also plays it perfectly.
Also, this thing can be cranked up extremely loudly. I mean VERY loudly – loud enough to provide music for a party. Yet it maintains its perfect sound quality even at maximum volume.
I have also had its smaller SoundLink Micro cousin for when I’m playing basketball, and it really is impressive.
Even though this legendary speaker is discontinued, a Bose Soundlink Mini limited edition (renewed) is available on Amazon.
Bose’s direct/reflecting sound system
Bose built its first direct/reflecting loudspeaker in 1968, developing the 901 series, and its first clients were secured through agreements with the military and NASA.
The development of direct reflection was based on Bose’s earlier research, which revealed that more than 80% of what people heard at the concert, for instance, was echoed the sound. The quality of the listening experience depended on sound reflecting off walls, floors, and ceilings.
Bose decided that their disappointment in speakers on the market resulted from only directed sound straight forward.
To gain a better spatial distribution of sound, Bose designed the 901, which placed 8/9 transducers in the speaker to the speaker’s rear, where the sound could bounce before it reached the listener.
The 901 utilized an active equalizer to allow the speaker to play the audio spectrum.
Bose also spread the direct/reflecting concept to lower-priced speakers in the company line and started marketing speakers to the broad public for usage in home stereo systems.
Bose’s electromagnetic suspension
Engineering was certainly one of Bose’s strongest suits back in the day.
They could take common cabinet materials and rather standard-issue components and dial them into differing degrees of success.
Like the original 2201, a 1/8th sphere that included 22 drivers developed to throw a wide distribution of sound from the corner of a room to the gemstones and cubes that folded away nicely to make room-filling surround in a discreet package – Bose took novel techniques to audio design.
And they indeed tried things few others were willing to. Bose’s magnetic ride suspensions were incredibly innovative.
As audiophiles, we only appreciate lifestyle companies like Bose when we take them at whole face value.
They aren’t an audiophile company. They may have challenged the norms that audiophiles and traditional engineers standardized, but they weren’t trying to replace truly reference-grade hardware.
They were trying to achieve a more pleasant sound using various concepts to appeal to a wide range of preferences, often sub-par conditions, for a real audiophile set.
With their unique tuning, EQ, and coloration, Bose offers many a fun experience.
In any case, the suspension system was (and still is) revolutionary.
Development started in the 80s and employed linear motors to smooth out the ride. The video demos are a riot – it had so much power it could quite literally leap over objects.
Bose never got the tech into vehicles, yet it made it into truck seats. The tech was sold to ClearMotion, and equivalent (yet damped down) ideas have made it into luxury vehicles.