The problem with Bose

written by Mike Shea on 2 July 2003

The cost of a Bose Lifestyle 50 home theater system is $3500. The cost of a Onkyo TX-SR 800 THX receiver and a Boston Acoustics System 9000 speaker package is $1800. The Onkyo / Boston system has similar speaker sizes, more accurate sound, and costs $1700 less. There is no advantage to the Bose Lifestyle 50.

Bose Acoustimass, Lifestyle, and 3-2-1 systems are expensive, inaccurate, and low quality. Better sounding home theater systems can be purchased for less money.

High Cost

A two speaker Bose Acoustimass 5 system costs $500 compared to highly rated and more accurate B&W 303 speakers running $250 a pair. The cost of Bose systems are often twice to five times higher than systems of greater sound quality. There is no statistical, ergonomic, or product quality advantage to the Bose systems.


The frequency range of a high quality home theater system should be 20Hz to 20,000Hz with less than + or - 3dB fluctuation in volume level and be able to output 105dB during loud peaks. DVDs and CDs are produced in mixing environments that match these specifications and THX uses these specifications for the certification of home theater equipment and environments. Bose Acoustimass speakers are only able to produce sound from 46Hz to 13.3kHz at + or - 10.5dB. Bose Acoustimass, Lifestyle, and 3-2-1 systems are not able to meet standard specifications expected by DVD sound producers.

Because of a frequency gap between the bass module and the cube speaker, Bose Acoustimass speakers lose all sound material from 200 to 280Hz, often the frequency range of a human voice. Because the bass module has frequencies as high as 200hz, a user is able to pick out the location of the bass module within a room. The Bose bass module is unable to reproduce frequency ranges below 46Hz while DVDs have bass down to 20hz.

The Bose Acoustimass cube speaker has a frequency range of 280Hz to 13.3kHz at + or - 10.5dB. Compare this to the 72Hz to 20kHz at + or - 3dB of the B&W DM303 bookshelf speaker. The removal of high frequency ranges will result in a loss of accuracy in DVD and CD material. The large 10dB fluctuation in frequency accuracy results in inaccurate sounds between 280Hz and 13kHz resulting in sound being louder or softer than the original recording.

The Bose Acoustimass bass module and cube speaker remove 1/4th of the sound originally presented by DVDs and CDs. The remaining 3/4ths is presented with a high degree of error, up to 10dB louder or softer than originally recorded.

Bose employs a direct / reflecting design that supposedly creates a larger sound stage by reflecting sound off of side walls. Movie theaters, recording studios, and professional home theater installations attempt to reduce or remove side wall reflections because they create sound where none was intended. Clap your hands in a movie theater and you will not hear the echo from the side walls. Bose's reflective design creates an inaccurate sound stage that was not originally intended with the source recording, and promotes the installation of a home theater in an unideal listening environment.

Bose Marketing, Why Does Bose Sound Good?

The engineering behind Bose speakers is designed to play to the sounds the human ear hears best. Through acoustical wizardry, Bose is able to create the illusion of accurate and full range sound. Bose cube-based speakers remove the advantages of proper sound editing by purposefully changing the sound of original source material.

This illusion of "rich sound" is fed by the physical size of the speakers as well. The hidden bass module helps produce low frequency sound while the listener only sees small speakers. This creates the "small speakers, big sound" response that Bose has built their company upon. This does not change the fact that Bose speakers are not accurately reproducing music or movie soundtracks.

The cost of Bose is another part of the illusion. By attaching a high price tag, Bose creates an exclusive mystique to their product. Many consumers who have not seen the full range of speaker selections consider Bose "high end". The high price of Bose products actually helps their marketing.

Through the use of high priced marketing, wide availability, and sales promotions, Bose has built a massive market for their speakers. While word of mouth among consumers is often favorable, many owners have negative feedback. The $1300 Bose Acoustimass 15 speaker package has received a rating of 2.54 out of 5 averaged from over three hundred consumer reviews from Audio Review. In comparison, the Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 loudspeaker received a rating of 4.97 out of 5 in fifty nine consumer reviews. A full Ascend Acoustics home theater speaker package costs $1308.

Bose does not publish frequency ranges, accuracy, distortion levels, or power output for the Lifestyle or Acoustimass systems in their instructions, brochures, or website. Bose sued Consumer Reports for faulty testing procedures for an unfavorable report.

Instead of describing compatibility with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio decoding standards, the Lifestyle system reports that it is "Digital 5.1 compatible". While higher priced Bose Lifestyle systems supposedly include native Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS decoding, they do not discuss it on their website. Bose product descriptions for specifications and decoding compatibility do not follow the industry standard format used by hundreds of other audio manufacturers.

The following table describes Bose Acoustimass products alongside comparable speaker packages. Review statistics are courtesy of Product specifications are from the product web page or in the Acoustimass example from Sound and Vision, August 1999.

Product Price Frequency Range Fluctuation Number of Reviews Average Review Score
Bose Acoustimass 15 $1300 46Hz to 13.5kHz
(dropout at 200 to 280Hz)
10.5dB 305 2.54/5
Ascend Acoustics System 23-2001 $1308 25Hz - 20kHz 2dB 59 4.97/5
Boston Acoustics System 9000 $1000 29Hz-20kHz 3dB 52 4.75/5
B&W 303x4 mains, LCR3 center, Hsu VTF-2 subwoofer $1250 25Hz-20kHz 3dB 115 4.36/5 (302)
Home Theater Direct Level 2 $550 30Hz-20kHz not listed not listed not listed


Bose speakers are too expensive, inaccurate, and uses questionable marketing practices to sell their product. For a fraction of the price, one can purchase a home theater system that will more accurately reproduce the original source material of a DVD or CD.


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