Bose and Specifications- they don’t provide them!

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich
Week 23, 2007

Q: Why is Bose so secretive about the frequency response of their sound-cancelling headphones? Could it be because it’s not as good as they could wish?

-Steve Perry
St. Paul, MN

A: Bose has a long history of not disclosing specifications of any type. Wikipedia’s entry on Bose Corporation states Bose’s position, as taken from a paper published by the Audio Engineering Society, at aes.org: “The ultimate test, Bose insists, is your perception of audible quality (or lack of it) and your preferences. Unlike other major speaker manufacturers, Bose does not publish specifications relating to the measured electrical and objective acoustic performance of its products. This reluctance to publish information is due to Bose’s rejection of these measurements in favour of “more meaningful measurement and evaluation procedures.”

In other words, it does not matter what the scientific measurements say, it is whether you think it sounds good or not when you listen to it.

My own position, and that of most every audiophile, is that specifications are very meaningful, especially for loudspeakers and headphones. Audio is a science as well as an art, and accuracy is to be strived for.

You have touched upon the most important specification, frequency response, which is the portion of the audible spectrum that the equipment can reproduce. Humans can hear between 20 hz (deep bass) and 20,000 hz (very high treble) and you want the speaker to
reproduce as much of this range as it can evenly, without exagerrating any specifically part of it. A figure such as +/- 3db will be given with the frequency response to specify it can reproduce the spectrum without varying more than 3db softer or louder.

A test of Bose’s Acoustimass system’s cubes showed by far the worst frequency response I have ever seen: 280 Hz to 13.3 kHz at ±10.5 dB. If you compared it to audiophile, or even mass-market speakers of reasonable quality, a variation of 10.5 db is totally off the charts. I imagine the “incredible deal overstock” speakers you can buy out of the back of a cargo van would post better numbers. (In fact, if you own a set of these van speakers, write me- perhaps this would make an interesting comparison!) You can read a summary of the test at

http://www.intellexual.net/bose.html.

Besides the incredibly huge variance in frequency response, the cubes cut off at 13.3khz, which means over 65% of the highest octave is unaccounted for, because the speakers are incapable of reproducing it. The audiophile phrase “no highs no lows must be Bose” certainly is relevant here.

Specifications don’t always tell all- for example, many audiophiles prefer the sound of tube amplifiers, though they have more measured distortion than solid state amplifiers. Still, smooth frequency response without huge peaks and valleys is ALWAYS desirable.

When I first received my Polk i-Sonic review unit I was impressed by how smooth, clean, and sweet it sounded. I mentioned this to Polk’s marketing manager, Paul DiComo, a month later during a visit to Polk’s HQ. Paul mentioned they were using digital sound processing to create very even response from bass to treble and produced a frequency response graph showing an almost flat line from left to right.

Only Bose truly knows the true reasons they do not publish specifications, but given how ridiculous they would look if they did (especially given the premium prices they charge) this sometimes-cynical columnist thinks they are hiding something.

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