Review: Bose 201 Series V

Category: Speakers

Bose is the heart of darkness for some audiophiles. Through pervasive marketing, they’ve successfully positioned their products as the finest in the industry, at least in the minds of average consumers. Because of that, any review of a Bose product, at least in an audiophile forum, must take into account the company itself and its highly successful marketing efforts.

So successful is Bose’s marketing that many music lovers (and a great deal more casual listeners) will never take the time to audition other brands – brands that may offer more accurate sound reproduction as well as higher-quality cabinetry, crossovers, drivers and design. They’ll simply buy Bose thinking they’re getting the Rolex of speakers, and also, let’s face it, because they want to impress their friends.

Conversely, there are certain “audiophiles” who dismiss Bose out of hand without ever auditioning their products. (You’ve read their illiterate, creepily misspelled postings on web forums: “Boes sucks ass!” “Don’t buy Boes!” “Bose has no base!” and so on.) I’ve actually owned Bose products in the past – a pair of 201 Series II bookshelf speakers and a set of 501 floorstanders – but only used them for background music. As such, I’ve never really been able to add anything of substance to the debate until now.


As we sometimes forget, most “regular” people don’t want what we want. They simply want a nice-looking (or completely concealable) speaker or complete system that throws a wide soundstage and sounds decent. Bose products, while not for the audiophile per se, exceed their expectations by a good margin, providing fuss-free music reproduction that’s well above average.

Of course, there’s more. Bose is deservedly well regarded for their excellent customer service, pleasant retail stores, easy setup instructions and – lest we forget – remarkable resale value. In fact, Series I and Series II models in need of new foam surrounds routinely sell for upwards of $75 after giving decades of service. Today, you could pay $218 for a new pair of Bose 201 Series V bookshelf speakers, listen for a year, then turn them around on eBay for well over $150. Try that with another pair of $200-$250 bookshelf speakers.


Looking at the 201s, you might rightly wonder where all your money went. Certainly it didn’t go into the materials, as the 201s don’t seem exceptionally solid or richly constructed. Definitely not into the drivers (cheesy paper cones with foam surrounds) or speaker connections (spring terminals that accept only bare wire or pins, though some bananas can be made to fit). I couldn’t see into the cabinet well enough to assess the crossover, but I wouldn’t expect it to be anything elaborate. On the other hand, simple is often better – the outstanding new $300 Epos ELS3, for example, has only three components in its bass driver crossover and four for the tweeter.

And as far as Bose’s patented “Stereo Everywhere” technology goes, well, it doesn’t seem to have come a long way since the 201 Series II. So what’s with all this research we keep hearing about? Well, the research seems to be mostly market research…very thorough market research, by the way. As a veteran of the advertising industry, I’m particularly impressed with the lengths Bose goes to in order to understand their customers.

Case in point: I recently registered for the “Bose Idea Exchange” on the company’s website. During that process, they go so far as to ask what year, make and model of car you drive. Should you think this is a forum for music lovers to freely exchange ideas, you’ll quickly find out it’s mostly about gathering data. Nothing wrong with that – consumers get to voice their opinions, Bose listens, and in the process, Bose learns how to sell more and better Wave radios. This is America, after all.

By reading between the lines of website’s content and PDF product guides, you get the impression that engineering doesn’t drive product at Bose, marketing does. Why that surprises audiophiles, I don’t know. Little companies that build esoteric SET amps and weirdo speaker designs go in and out of business all the time, mainly because they’re designing products from the heart and not for the purpose of meeting an identifiable consumer demand.

For those who believe Bose is evil, well, they are certainly litigious. As a recent post on noted, “Having deeper pockets than everyone they sue, Bose creates a fearful environment and an unfair place in the market.” The post goes on to remind us that Bose has “sued everyone from Thiel to Consumer Reports.” Behavior like that isn’t exactly in the spirit of community. However, part of my job is protecting intellectual property so I can understand, if not completely agree, with Bose’s position.

On a more positive note, be reminded that Bose is a private company. Unlike public companies, it’s free to reinvest profits in varied ways rather than making the payment of dividends its first priority. No shareholders means no one is screaming for blood if quarterly profits are down, and hopefully, that translates to a less brutal and more creative corporate culture. In fact, if the website is to believed, the company offers a great working environment for engineers along with all employees, going to far as to provide reimbursement for adoption costs and even health and insurance benefits for same-sex domestic partners.

With all that in mind, I figured it was high time I take one for the team and give Bose a second shot. Not in my main system, of course, but in my bedroom. At the very least, maybe my money will go toward some of those adoptions.


It’s easy to buy Bose, and the in-store experience ranges from poor (at Best Buy) to very pleasant (at Bose stores). While shopping for my 201s, I visited a range of stores, mainly because summer is a nice time to peel back the sunroof and go for a ride. (It would have been especially apropos had I a Bose system in my car, but it’s actually Monsoon.)

Best Buy’s Bose demo is hopeless. It’s a big open room with 50-foot high ceilings of corrugated metal, looking for all the world like some kind of futuristic feed store. It houses roughly 40 speakers playing at the same time. Good luck choosing between them. It’s a shame really, because they use decent demo equipment (Yamaha receivers and CD/DVD players) and most of the brands they sell (JBL, Klipsch, Celestion, Athena) would be at home in any mid-fi shop.

Circuit City fared much better, thanks to their enclosed listening room (with a door that shuts and a comfy leather bench). Still, the Bose speakers weren’t optimally positioned, the glass booth was awfully reflective, and the salesperson – who seemed knowledgeable enough – couldn’t figure out if the loudness control was on or off, or of the bass and treble were flat on the store’s Onkyo receivers. But overall, this is not the worst place in the world to audition speakers. The kid even suggested I come back with some CDs and take my time. Even more encouraging, he immediately pegged me as a music lover and pointed me toward the Polks and Infinitys. (I guess some good has come out of Circuit City’s decision to stop hiring commissioned salespeople; in the old days, Bose was practically forced down your throat.)

My last visit was to the local Bose store. It’s a reasonable facsimile of a high-end audio store, but more inviting. (The 901s were suspiciously absent.) The demos were decent enough and the program material carefully chosen: well-recorded music and movies that highlight the products’ strengths while downplaying their inherent weaknesses. I didn’t bring any CDs, so I don’t know if they’d let you try your own music, though I didn’t see any indications to the contrary. On the minus side, though they could field nearly any question about Bose models, the well-trained staff had never heard of any of the equipment I mentioned (they assumed I said “BMW” when I really said “B&W” and I think, judging by their dubious expressions, they assumed Rotel is some kind of bargain brand from Wal-Mart). In addition, they seemed to have limited knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the hi-fi hobby in general. What did I expect? After all, customers who wander into a Bose store are unlikely to inquire about how to include a pair of 901s in their Meridian multichannel DVD-A systems.

Note that you won’t find any great factory-direct deals by going out of your way to visit a Bose store. Mine, which is located in a large factory outlet center about 40 miles from my home, does in fact offer “Factory Refreshed” products at reduced prices. The 201s, at $195 for refurbished models vs. $218 for factory-new, were selling like hotcakes despite the very slight price reduction. I passed on those and the matching stands that, at $89, seemed to be of better quality than the 201s merited. I bought my own instead for $30 including spikes, and it turns out they’re actually a decent match aesthetically. One could easily find a similar pair for about the same price at most mass market electronics stores.


Upon opening the boxes, a smell hit me that was reminiscent of very cheap, some-assembly-required office furniture. Ever buy a $29.95 computer desk at Target, or a $39.95 bookshelf at K-Mart? That’s the smell. I don’t know if it’s the 201’s chemically treated wood, the vinyl veneer, glue, paint or what, but it’s a cheap and nasty aroma.

Removing the speakers from their plastic bags, I found the cabinet backs resemble those on speakers you get free with a low rent rack system: cruddy painted particle board, with rough and unfinished edges. For $218, it’s inexcusable. In fact, the speakers I got free with the Initial mini-system were finished to a higher standard, as are similarly priced JBL, Polk and Athena models, not to mention PSB or Paradigm. No wonder some people hate Bose.

On the Bose website, you can use their “Sound Advisor” feature to design a room as though you were creating an architectural plan. Pre-drawn icons of items like couches, tables and even turntables can be selected with a click of your mouse and situated anywhere on the “blueprint.” The idea is to anticipate and correct for sound-absorbing items or potential reflectivity (other than that which is intentional). It’s a neat feature. Plus, when you’re done, you can e-mail your room layout to a Bose customer service associate for advice. I did, mostly for shits and giggles. The e-mailed response read in part, “We have reviewed the room layout and information that you have provided. Your room design looks great and should provide you with excellent sound.” Flattering, but I imagine they say that to everyone because my room is less than ideal. However, the scripted guidelines that followed, while obvious to audiophiles, would probably be very helpful to the uninitiated. (“Place the speakers 4 - 12 feet apart with the back of speakers no more than 18 inches from the rear wall. Choose a stable and level surface for each speaker, and attach the rubber feet. Leave at least 12 inches of space from the end of a speaker to the side wall. Keep the back of the speakers within 18 inches of the wall behind them.”)

I chose 22” stands – much shorter than I use in my living room, but perfect for my listening position while relaxing in bed. I also chose my favorite cheap speaker cable, Radio Shack MegaCable. For the time being, I went without terminations simply because Bose, in the commendably well-written instruction manual for the 201s, says to strip the wires, twist the ends, and insert the bare wires directly into the terminals. (Hey, it was good enough for our dads’ Klipschorns.)

I got the best imaging with the 201s placed roughly 13” from the back wall. They were spaced about six feet apart. I would’ve liked to space them eight feet apart, but was limited by a lack of space. While Bose recommends leaving at least 24” between the speakers and any video monitor, I think that has more to do with their lack of shielding than sound quality. I was worried at first because I don’t have 24 inches to spare, but found I could place the speakers (tweeter end facing inward) almost right next to my bargain Apex TV without interference. I tried the same test with the Sharp 27” flat screen in my living room, and it was more sensitive than the Apex – six inches was a safe distance, but I would’ve gone eight if it were a permanent installation.

The Series V is handsome and modern looking, without appearing silly or sci-fi. I’m not sure it has “classic” looks like the older 201 and 301 models did, so I question whether the new models will be as desirable on the used market as the Series I through IV. But for now, they’re quirkily handsome, attractive even, though I’d opt for the black cabinets over the light cherry finish. The wood looks a little on the artificial side, unlike that of my departed Series II units.


Bose claims their 201 speakers can be effectively driven by any 8-ohm amp pushing 10-120 watts. I took them at their word and hooked the 201s up to my Initial DMA-710 DVD mini-system. It’s rated at 15wpc, which is probably somewhere between optimistic and highly creative. But again, Bose products are marketed to people who wouldn’t necessarily know that. If the engineers did their jobs, a little less power shouldn’t be a problem. Because I listen at moderate volumes during the late hours I’m in my bedroom, I figured 15 watts should be fine most of the time.

About the only problem I worried about was clipping, but Bose says there’s built-in protection (of some kind; typical of Bose, details are sketchy). If the Initial couldn’t cut the mustard, I was prepared to uncrate an old receiver. I’m sure I only have two or three lying around in the attic, along with some pre- and power amps and maybe an integrated or two.

Incidentally, cabinet dimensions and power handling are about the only specs Bose publishes. Suspicious? You bet, though the carmakers Rolls Royce and Bentley took a similar approach until the late 1980s by describing the horsepower ratings on their automobiles simply as “adequate” in a typically understated British way. (Later, when the 300+ horsepower turbocharged “R” models were introduced, that description was amended to “more than adequate.”) In a way, you have to respect this type of approach. It allows people to focus on what they experience, without being unfairly biased by specs that can be manipulative or misleading. As we all know, especially those of us with tube gear, numbers only tell half the story. On the other hand, judging by independently obtained measurements of some other Bose products, it may simply be a clever way of covering up.

Nowhere in the instruction manual does it say the 201s must be broken in, and most people who buy them likely wouldn’t think to do so anyway. So I started listening and making mental notes right away.

While the DVD player that’s built into the Initial DMA-710 is acceptable, the unit’s CD performance is a bit harsh, so I used a separate RCA DVD player from 1998 for CD playback, reverting to the Initial’s player only when the RCA couldn’t read the CD layer of my dual-layer SACDs. The RCA is hardly a mid-fi unit, let alone hi-fi, but it’s more than adequate in this setup. I reached into my ‘Big Bag O’ Interconnects’ and fished out a MonsterCable Interlink 300MkII for the job, which was probably overkill but the heck.

I set the Initial’s bass/treble and pre-programmed equalization curves to ‘flat’ to gauge what adjustments might need to be made. I then went easy on the Bose 201s for starters, playing mostly sparsely arranged music from Mark Knopfler, Randy Newman, Dar Williams and also some solo string and piano recordings by Michael Hedges and Bill Evans. You know, great music to fall asleep to. Except I didn’t, because the 201 makes a credible and surprisingly detailed presentation. But I did get really relaxed thanks to the 201’s sublime midrange. Vocals, particularly female vocals, were balm-like and soothing. And strings? Wow! Nickel Creek’s debut, along with their follow up, “This Side,” were both fantastic, with Chris Thile’s mandolin sounding nearly as good as I’d ever heard it.

These aren’t lively speakers. On the contrary, they’re way laid back. Bose, it seems, are speakers for people who hate speakers and everything about them: their size, the complication of placing them properly and the effort that comes with auditioning them before purchase. But some good things come out of the company’s McDonald’s-like approach to speaker design. You do end up with a design that nearly everyone likes (or at least tolerates). Just like McNuggets. Bose seems to have gone out of their way to design a speaker that’s involving when you want to get involved, but never in your face. As a result, I can’t imagine any non-audiophile being dissatisfied with them.

People often complain that Bose speakers have no highs and no lows. The highs on the 201 model are rolled off, no question about it. What can you expect from a tweeter that’s nearly the size of a midrange driver? But considering the quality of the equipment it will likely be used with, that seems like a smart decision on the designers’ parts. As for the bass, well, below about 80Hz, maybe higher, it’s just not there. Truly usable bass (bass you can feel) is long gone by about 90Hz, at least by the guesstimates of this liberal arts grad with no engineering background whatsoever. Still, the Bose 201’s have a fullness that makes the lack of low frequencies less bothersome.

The lack of bass meant that rock and electronic music lacked weight. Various CDs by The Clash, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones were a bit thin and sharp. On the other hand, pop music – particularly Peter Gabriel’s “Up,” had a surprising amount of thump, as did James Taylor’s “October Road.” The 201s can move a commendable amount of air.

After awhile, I found that I got the best balance by goosing the mini-system’s bass and treble very slightly. I also set the Initial’s equalization curve to the “Jazz” setting for low-volume listening, which is similar to hitting the ‘loudness’ button on my Denon receiver. Aside from those minor adjustments to compensate for the Initial’s weak-willed amplification, no other tweaking was necessary.

Even at their best, the 201s made me aware of their cabinets. There was a slight sense of ‘hollowness’ that, whether from cabinet resonance or due to the big plastic port, was always apparent. However, I’ve heard a similar effect in other entry-level models. It’s just slightly more pronounced with the Bose speakers.

Classical music was a pleasant surprise. While the mid-fi components I’ve typically owned (Acurus, Antique Sound Labs, Aragon, Rotel, Denon, NAD, Sony ES, Pioneer Elite, etc.) often struggled while sorting out certain pieces, and became slightly grating as a result, the Initial/Bose combo didn’t. Not that it unraveled the music perfectly. Far from it. It’s hard to describe, but the Bose speakers seemed to ‘smooth over’ the Initial’s feeble attempts at playing back complex passages, so much so that I didn’t even miss the forcefulness and impact of certain loud passages that the system was unable to convey. Yes, some information was omitted, lots actually, but it was information that would be difficult to enjoy anyway. Plus, the “stereo everywhere” effect was particularly enjoyable with classical CDs.

Less of a surprise was how well the 201s handled movie soundtracks. Because of the wide soundstage, they blanketed most of the room in notably rich sound when I screened DVDs of “Mystic River,” “25th Hour” and “Ocean’s Eleven.” They did particularly well in conveying space and depth, especially during the eerier moments in “Mystic River.” Plus, they played plenty loud – probably enough to make the neighbors complain – though after awhile, the Initial heated up like a waffle iron. About the only complaint I have is that, with my DVD player’s normally effective simulated surround effect switched on, the sound was intolerable – hollow and strange, probably because the Direct/Reflecting driver layout in itself creates sort of a simulated surround effect. In the end, I didn’t need it anyway.

Strangely, when I switched to higher quality amplification and sources, everything changed. Playing the same material back through the 201s in my living room with a Denon DRA-395 receiver and Pioneer DV-563A SACD player, voices sounded sandy, highs grainy and lows ‘thuddy.’ My living room is larger and the layout different than my bedroom, but not significantly. To make sure it wasn’t the Denon’s doing, I tried the same thing with a Rotel RC980 preamp/RA-960 amp and got basically the same result.

As a test, I swapped speakers again, moving my reference ProAc Tablette 2000 monitors into the bedroom and hooking them up to the Initial mini-system. Ridiculous? You bet. The Initial had a hard time driving the ProAcs, and the result was pretty lifeless (though the sound was much fuller, and closer to full range, than with the 201s).

Finally, I played back some CDs on the 201s while wandering around from room to room. With a really good pair of speakers, I believe you can trick yourself into thinking there are real live musicians in the next room. No such luck with the Bose 201s – from a distance, they sounded too ‘small’ to get it done. My ProAcs, on the other hand, have passed this test time and again with everything from small classical ensemble pieces to arena rock.


Can Bose 201s really provide a lifelike stereo image throughout the listening area? Well, sort of. With the Bose 201s, there IS music everywhere, diffuse and unnatural though it may be. It’s not exactly stereo, but it does in fact allow you to switch listening positions and still hear basically the same spacious sonic characteristics, even at the extreme left or right corners. Forget about enjoying a realistic soundstage though, and also about pinpoint imaging.

Rather, listening to the little Bose speakers was like listening to my ProAcs after a few too many sips of South African Riesling…the experience was lush, warm, woozy, and comfy. It kind of sounded like my favorite CDs were being re-broadcast in FM stereo on an old Marantz receiver. I found myself concentrating less on detail and more on the music itself and its artistic merit. That alone made the Bose 201s worth the price of admission, but it’s also not a trait that’s exclusive to them.

As an avowed headphone lover, I’ve learned that soundstaging isn’t everything. I have to admit, it is very nice to be able to change seats without being out of the sweet spot. That particular Bose trade-off wouldn’t suit my mood all the time, just as headphones don’t, but in the bedroom it did the trick nicely.

I wish I still had my Polk RT25i or Infinity RS2 speakers, because at about $250 per pair, they’d make a great direct comparison. As it happens, I only have my ProAc Tablette 2000 speakers on hand. They’re similar in size, with a similar size bass driver. At $1100 versus the Bose’s $218 price tag, it’s not exactly a fair shoot-out. I switched between the living room system and the bedroom system anyway, playing the same tracks on both for comparison. As you’d expect, the ProAcs embarrassed the Bose 201s in every conceivable way. I won’t even waste your time going into detail. I did find that the ProAc’s ‘sweet spot’ is bigger than I thought, and even when I wasn’t in it, the sound was still pleasingly full-bodied. I’m pretty sure, going by memory, the same would have been true of my Polks or B&Ws, though it may have been a closer race between the little Infinitys and the 201s.


It’s no secret I like the cute little Initial DMA-710 DVD mini-system. And by extrapolation, I’d imagine mini-systems from Denon, Yamaha and others would probably trounce its pleasing but modest performance by a fair margin. It stands to reason that one could put together a Bose 201/Japanese mini-system combo for well under $400. For most people, this would be the best-sounding music they’d ever heard. (Though it’d be even better if they went for a pair of, say, B&W DM303s some stands…)

Thanks to Bose’s imperfect but useful Direct/Reflecting technology, the 201s are a bookshelf speaker that can actually be placed on a bookshelf and sound decent no matter where you’re sitting. Since “unobtrusive” is the key word for Joe Consumer, and the Bose 201s can indeed be unobtrusively placed, I’d recommend them to anyone who loves music but won’t have anything to do with speakers, even little ones, that might interfere with their décor or – heaven forbid – require stands. (Somehow though, those same people have no problem buying stands for all their houseplants. Go figure.)

As for the speakers themselves, I’m sure that better drivers and stiffer cabinetry would slightly enhance the listening experience, to say nothing of their effect on pride of ownership and durability. Unfortunately, the 201s would probably cost at least $100 more with those improvements, pricing them well out of Joe Average’s comfort zone and making them an untenable proposition for slumming audiophiles. I’m equally sure that Bose has considered all that and decided, based on their market research, that costly improvements would yield little in the way of noticeable improvement for the vast majority of customers.

In fairness, some of my favorite speakers of all time used paper cones and modest connection terminals. Still, I remain gravely concerned about the durability of the 201’s paper cones and surrounds over the long haul.


Bose haters complain that the company dishonestly bills its speakers as the finest available. Well, what company doesn’t claim their products are the best? In a competitive marketplace, it would be stupid not to. In the case of the 201s, Bose doesn’t promise a life-changing listening experience. All they claim is that they are a good choice for the bedroom, dorm room, garage or vacation home. They are.

Are the 201s overpriced? Depends on how you look at it. For example, the Volkswagen GTI VR6 and Ford Crown Victoria cost about the same. One is fast, precise and high-tech; the other, big, comfy and technologically challenged. If you think all $27,000 cars should perform like the GTI, then you’ll hate the Crown Vic. Same with speakers. If you think every $200 speaker should sound like PSB Alpha Minis, then you’re sure to dislike Bose 201s. As for me, I drive a VW everyday, but I sure wouldn’t mind having a laid-back Crown Vic in the garage for road trips. Maybe that’s why I find a lot to like about both my ProAcs and Bose 201s. Plus, don’t forget…most of us have interconnects that cost more than a pair of 201s.

It’s true that you can buy speakers similar in quality to the 201s (superficially, at least) for half the price. Over the years, I’ve owned some of them myself – they were fine for the garage, spare room or shore house. But nothing I owned from KLH, Radio Shack (excepting the Linaeum-built models), Technics or Pioneer quite measures up to the 201s, which suggests there must be SOMETHING to Bose’s engineering and quality claims.

So…could I live with the Bose 201 as my only speakers? If I had to, sure. They can, under the aforementioned circumstances, sound quite wonderful and warm. Not hi-fi, to be sure, but musical and enveloping in a not quite accurate, not quite fully resolved but still enjoyable way. As a bonus, just about anything can drive them, from a mini-system to a cheap receiver and hell, maybe even a transistor radio.

For the kids’ rooms, basement, den or shore house, these are worth a listen. And, for the VERY cash-strapped audio enthusiast, a Bose 201- or 301-based system will allow you to focus on your music, not the glaring little shortcomings that more revealing monitors would surely uncover in cheap components. Just be sure you have bass and treble controls, and maybe even an equalizer…the minimalist approach won’t work with the 201s.

Bottom line? Like ‘em or hate ‘em, Bose sure sells a lot of 201s. In a world where low-quality MP3 files and satellite radio boom boxes are quickly overtaking FM stereo, LPs and CDs, Bose remains firmly committed to superior sound reproduction for the masses. And through their wide-reaching marketing efforts and commendable music education programs, they help keep people interested in, and enthusiastic about, two-channel audio. There’s something to be said for that, and also for the 201 Series V.

Associated gear
Initial DMA-710 DVD/CD Stereo Mini-System
RCA DVD Player
Apex Digital 27” TV
Monster Interlink 300MkII Interconnects
Radio Shack MegaCable 16-gauge speaker wire
Generic 22” wood speaker stands w/carpet spikes
MonsterPower power strip

Similar products
Polk RT25i, B&W 601S2, B&W 301, Infinity RS2, Boston Acoustics CR7, ProAc Tablette 2000, Paradigm Reference Studio/20 plus various cheapies from KLH, RCA, Radio Shack, Pioneer and Technics.
You must have a lot of spare time.

Very thorough review. Well done!


Dr. Bose should hire you A.S.A.P! You could be the next Herbie Hancock of late night infomercials! Wow, what a review!!! Now if you only hang them from your Bedroom ceiling with chains like the Bose 901's, wonder how that would change things???
Thanks Audiobugged, but I don't think Dr. Bose would have me, considering I bashed everything from the 201s build quality ("cheesy," "rough," "unfinished”) to the soundstaging (“diffuse and unnatural”) and frequency response (“sandy, grainy highs and ‘thuddy’ lows”). For what it is, the 201 is a good product. I don’t think that’s being over-generous with my praise.
However a Bashing Bose infomercial would make insomnia more enjoyable!
Thanks Audiobugged, but I don't think Dr. Bose would have me, considering I bashed everything from the 201s build quality ("cheesy," "rough," "unfinished”) to the soundstaging (“diffuse and unnatural”) and frequency response (“sandy, grainy highs and ‘thuddy’ lows”). For what it is, the 201 is a good product. I don’t think that’s being over-generous with my praise.
Damn. Now I have to cancel my Bose order.
Ekobesky, I know that "Bose" is a dirty word in hi fi. The fact that you chose to review these speakers in the first place will irritate many, but I encourage you to keep up the well written reviews! I`m not enamored of Boses` marketing, or legal practices, but I appreciate your honesty in your review. Again, well done!
Thanks, Froggerz40. I believe in taking a product on its own terms. Bose today has morphed into kind of a low-rent version of B&O. When viewed in that context, the 201 speakers are better understood. They're a nice piece of industrial design that will sound good, but never great, in most rooms and with most equipment. If it rubs people the wrong way because I prefer to play devil's advocate, then so be it. But I'd suggest they actually LISTEN to the 201s before they dismiss my observations. The 201s actually do play music competently, sometimes better than that. Those of us who care about two-channel audio should welcome everyone, even Bose owners, into the hobby. Let's not forget how few of us there actually are.
One day, in a fit, I decided that an Acustimass HT system would be the way to go. The DQ-10's just wouldn't fit. They were small, a couple of friends had them, so I went out and bought the speakers and a Nak HT reciever. Hooked them up and thought that surround stuff was ok. Not great but at least they fit in my apartment. And then time passed and I got to hating the Acustimass's worse and worse.

About the 201's? I wonder how much better my Image 2B's I use for rear speakers would sound? I just have to believe that there are many better ways to spend $200+ on speakers. All of that being said, I really don't care what others use for their tunes/movies, and people are free to spend however much on whatever product. Personally, it is about a tradeoff between sound quality and the $$$ spent. Bose repeatedly fails that criteria.

Great review though.
No way are the 201s better than your Image 2Bs, Jrflanne, that's not even a question. And I share your dislike for the Acoustimass systems -- they're shrill and nasty with a big hole in the midrange and a sub that's not really a sub at all. Still, if it were my home theater (and I'm not very picky about HT) I might go with 301s in front, 201s in back, the cheapest Yamaha or HK receiver I could buy and a bargain center channel. I just like how the 201 and 301 speakers throw a crazy-wide soundstage and work well with bargain equipment. Plus, the resale on them is so good I'd have alomost nothing to lose. And I'd much rather spend my money on two-channel than HT, so even though it would be fun to have DefTechs or something, I could probably do a complete Bose/Yamaha HT for under $1000 and have money left over for the new McIntosh 275.

Just to be clear: never would Bose speakers of any kind -- even the 901 -- make it to my main listening room.
I like that, shrill and nasty. And you are right, the resale for Bose stuff is crazy. People actually want that stuff and will pay to get it. I sold mine to a friend, told him about their sonic deficiencies, and he bought em anyway (WAF?).
When you factor resale into the equation, Bose products really aren't a bad value at all -- provided, of course, you value style, convenience and ease of use over absolute fidelity.

In terms of sound quality, I think Bose's bookshelf speakers would be better accepted if they were priced more in line with competing products. If the 201 was priced at, say, $159.99 and the 301 at $259.99, people might be less critical. They're really not bad speakers, it's just that they're not a great ones, either. And there are a lot of great ones these days.
My roomate set of these. He really seems to like em. he pushes em with a mid-level yamaha reciever.. He is no audiophile, but he likes decent sound.

I was somewhat shocked when he got them set up and turned his system on. The low end extention is definatly capped, but what low end there is is pretty damn forceful. On a good Bass Guitar recording you really feel the strings in yer chest. Im sure he has the EQ in the reciever to get as much bass as possible.

All in all not BAD speakers, but really nothing to scream about. I agree you could do better at that price point
Flimsy paper cones can really sound good, and enclosure finish (on the back) is meaningless except for perception of quality. Quite a few years ago I owned KLH12 and KLH5 speakers, and was astonished to see the midrange drivers (2) that they employed. Paper cone, and what looked like tissue paper for surround. But reproduction of midrange sound, particularly the spoken word, was as good as it gets.

When I was at MIT (1961) Dr Bose was still a Prof, doing serious research on multidriver speakers. There was a 24-driver monster set up in the music library. His initial commercial product was excellent, but required great amplifier power, which was not so easily obtained back then. Subsequent redesigns have reduced the power requirement, but ruined the design (IMHO).

I'm sure he cries all the way to the bank.
Great Review! I find Bose to be crappy, poor excuse for a speaker. Their lack of specs should be a warning to anyone. There are just too many contenders out there to warrant a closer look. I like your honesty and humor in the review- thanks!
Remember that these speakers do have a strong consumer following. What I can't figure is if it's marketing hype or simply that they provide a type of sound that really is popular with a wide segment of non-audiophiles. Your review suggests that it could well be the overly forgiving nature of the sound.
The Bose 201 (and 301) are one of the smartest designs ever for the non-audiophile because they smooth out the rough edges contributed by mass market sources and amplifiers. You can hook these up to anything and they sound good. Are they for the audiophile? Probably not -- unless that audiophile wants to put together a second system using the junk he's already got in his basement. Yes, they're expensive, but they make it easy for anyone to enjoy music without any hassles. From where I sit, that's a good thing. In any event, I'd much rather listen to the Bose 201s and a cheap receiver/CD changer combo than an iPod and Bose Sound Dock.
Had a roomate at UMass Amherst in 1976 who got hold of the blueprints for the Bose design (from a friend who worked at Bose) and built a number of sets of Bose speakers, and the electronic crossover/equilizer. They chained them from the corners of the rooms, 4 per room, and the sound was better then anything else we had heard up to that time. They once wired three or four sets of these up with a lot of amps, and blew out windows in the hollow concrete block doom room. Lots of bass, and it sounded better then anything else out there at the time. Seems that Bose made their product cheaper and cheaper as time went on, not that any of the parts were really that expensive. Paper cones then, paper cones now.
I must say very very detailed i almost thought of it as graphic for a minute. i do personally own two pairs of 201 series v and i love them. my review on them,

Nicely balanced stereo performance, On jazz, classic rock, spanish instrumental music etc. The 201s are easy listening speakers.

-Lacks low-end bass typical of bookshelf speakers but does not distort at high volume.

-Oversized mid/tweeter (twiddler) opens up smoothly takes on human vocals, string and wind instruments with much detail. This review is based on my 2nd pair.
a little off topic but i have heard bose 901's sound very good,my friend started out with 2 pairs of 901's & they sounded like hell,i got him a decent high end pre then 2 high wattage high current ss amps & the 901's took on a whole new life & they sounded pretty damm good with a bass presentation that was better than what ive heard with b&w speakers.

bose has made a few very good products like the 1800 & 1801 power amps,the 1801 is a great amp that walks all over anything from adcom,ive owned the top of the line in adcom & the bose 1801 beat the adcoms in every way,i cant remember the model number of the matching bose preamp to the 1801 but it was also a very good product.
About 13-14 years ago I bought some Bose 10.01s or 10.02s or whatever, real teak veneer (not the laminate), 12" footprint, about 43" high ... omnidirectionals, of course, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The room was about 15'x27' and I could hear distinguish both speakers, which were about 15' apart, from everywhere in the room. Of course, they wouldn't do an in-your-face performance when I'd sometimes yearn for it, but that's the drawback with omnis. They were very good for the money, maybe $1k. I replaced them with ML Aerius speakers after a year.
hello bose hater,if you want i buy the 201 you have i dont have that model but don`t think that i`m in the dark, i think you are my friend ican`t beleive your so ignorant,all the bose i have are great and i callenge every for sound true sound i mean and long long life in most harse conditions i never had problems with the spring clips or anything i cant beleive you live in the us other brands most of them let me down but bose the best for good people not 100 years back people.
well Pawlu, you've said it all right there, ah huh, yup.
This was a very detailed review and it was nice to see someone analyze products that are within the reach of everyone. The only comment I can make about Bose is that some of the people I know that own Bose are arrogant about the speakers. They really think Bose is the best out there and are closed-minded towards anything else. If someone asked me about what speakers to buy in this price range of $225, I'd point them in the direction of used mid-fi speakers which will deliver more. However, better speakers will require more dollars invested in other electronics, so that may defeat the benefits of lower priced speakers to begin with. But then again, if someone is happy with Bose and it suits his/her needs, to each his own I guess.
Ingenious! Bose bashing has gotten to be comparable to religious fanaticism. You have coolly and calmly assessed the 201s with bouquets of gracious backhanded compliments. It's subversive. It's incredibly deceptive to lucidly point out all the deficiencies while pretending to praise and defend. Most people don't really listen to music, they only hear it. They go to "see" a concert. They rarely, if ever, hear any music unamplified. They have no idea what live acoustic instruments sound like. They have never heard a concert grand piano, or a double bass in person. From this experience, or lack of, a giant sized pair of clock radios, or a number of them on spindly stands with a "bass module," will sound pretty darn good. Bose knows.
I'm sorry but I'm sceptical of this review. Although very intertaining, one must ask himself the following question: Why would someone who owns Acurus, Antique Sound Labs, Aragon, Rotel, Denon, NAD, Sony ES, Pioneer Elite, etc pair them with a cheap RCA CD player?
Hmm...maybe I shouldn't have been quite so enthusiastic to see you review the SL-1200 ;^)

Tell me Ekobesky, why do you take it upon yourself to write such professional reviews for no pay -- not to mention buying the review component for only that purpose (as far as I can tell)?!? Building your resume, perhaps, for something beyond PFO? And whence the facsination with entry-level and mid-fi mass-market gear (not that there's anything wrong with that -- I think audiophiles need that kind of self-check from time to time)? Just curious. Whatever, I enjoy the fruits of your labors! Wonder what's waiting in the wings...
Fantastic review. I agree with you that for some people, Bose is the way to go. I took my wife to the Bose store to give her an idea of what all the fuss was about. We went through the whole song and dance of their presentation. After it all, she walked away with a better appreciation of our mid-fi set-up at home (ML Aerius i's powered by Adcom GFA-545II, Adcom GTP-500II, and a $1.50 DVD player going through a DVDO scaler). She agreed the Bose sound was better than most, but she also objected to the cost. Simply, Bose cost way too much for what it delivered. She said if Bost cost half what it did, it would be ok. That's my girl! For her (and me), accuracy, imaging, and "realism" are important. On this set of criteria, Bose falls flat.

Let me illustrate with a similar example in video. I put together a similar video set up for myself as I did for my father. He has a Sony DVD player with a 65" Mitsubishi, I have a Panasonic with a 55" Mitsu. We both send the video signal into a DVDO iScan Pro. Piping
"Gladiator" through both our systems, you can see jagged edges on buildings on my player, yet those same jagged edges are smoothed out, almost non-existent on his. However, his image is also more flushed out. My conclusion is that his Sony DVD puts out an inferior, less precise signal to the DVDO, which projects it onto the monitor. My Panasonic however, sends out a cleaner signal, imperfections and all, causing you to see artifacts in all their imperfect but honest glory. So too, Bose sends out less precise sound that smooths out the imperfections of the source material and components. Vandersteen's precision would show you everything, good or bad, including what you ate for breakfast. For us, the latter is more important.

Ekobesky, I hadn't thought about Bose for HT, but your analysis makes sense. I think 5+.1 is already pretty sloppy with an extremely narrow sweet spot. An imprecise Bose set up could open up and average out the spot to a larger field. Frankly, I'll never leave 2ch. I've heard well put together 5.1ch, and I find the rears very distracting. If you're outside the sweet spot, one speaker or another dominates. Awful.

Finally, I talked with a guy at Perdue in the late 90s who created a website ripping on Bose in a biased if fairly scientific and methodical manner. Several months later, he was called into the Perdue Persident's office. He was instructed to take down the website or else XYZ would happen . He (stupidly) responded with a free speech argument. The President sympathized but insisted. So, the site came down. He speculated the reason was Bose probably gives money to Perdue and was going to pull all of its support out. Bose is pretty heavy handed but knows our opinions matter.

Again, Ekobesky, fantastic review! Glad to have read it!

In my work (in the home improvement sector, not specifically involving audio) I meet clients in their homes, and I'll never forget this one guy who was so proud of his Bose. Not that I remember exactly what products of theirs he owned -- just that in his repeated bragging, he consistently referred to the stuff as "my Boise", pronounced (with the "ee" on the end) like the Idaho capital, but spoken like the proud expression for one's family jewels...It was all I could do to keep myself from busting out laughing or correcting him and blowing the sale...
That is great writing, period. Humorous, informative, truthful. I have a pair of 201's in my garage with an old Pioneer receiver and Technics CDP - all for under $100. Sounds great, for the garage. It isn't my MF Tri-Vista 300, but hey, this is about music, right? Well done.
Excellent and fair (a bit too kind) review of Bose. I recently left my position as a floor salesman in a Bose store, where I worked for about 15 months. I went into Bose owning a Linn Classik with Rega Jura speakers, so I'm the kind of guy that would like to really be into hi-fi, and I try to throw my money into it, but I'm pretty broke so that's what I've managed to put together. I took the job at Bose because the job market sucks, and I couldn't find anything better, plus it worked around my weird schedule. I went into Bose thinking their products were kind of weak, kept an open mind, and left a year later thinking they have one or two things that would be worth buying if they were 1/4 of the price.
To respond to your comments about the knowledge level of Bose employees in the Bose stores, they give us the basics of how speakers work (cone, dust cap, air go back and forth, crossover, etc.), but nothing to truly educate us on what makes a speaker great. They tell us about the Bose patents on the various speakers, and the features of the Bose speakers, but I always felt that what they were telling us was just exaggeration and dressing up of gimmicks. I tried to get them to educate me further (so that I could maybe eventually work at a real hi-fi store), and they were nice enough about the idea, but ultimately it doesn't fit in their training rubrick, which is a mucked up corporate journey through the common sense of how to be a decent person in society. I always sort of felt like I was working at a booth at the Texas state fair next to some guy selling pewter figures, another guy selling water filtration systems, and another selling rubber band guns: that is, they were products that technically worked and were impressive to the local yokels, dressed up with fancy terms, but no real quality underneath.
They don't educate on other brands at all; half of the other employees didn't no anything about quality two-channel products out there and didn't care to know, the other half fetishized one particular brand (Macintosh or Krell etc.) without having any real reasons they liked the brand.
They would let customers demo their own music, though it happened a total of once when I worked there. Demos are kept to 30 seconds total, with the employee always telling the customer to listen for (and this is all you need when it comes to quality sound (not)) crisp clean highs, and deep rich bass. They kind of have dedicated listening areas, and I always complained to my manager about this, but he made a fine point in saying that the customers don't have a problem with the ipod gizmo playing on top of the wave music system. That maybe says something about why we should criticize Bose's customer base more than the company. Then again, no, we should criticize both.
I could go on about how Bose is actually a research company, and because of that they're less about providing a superior product than they are about just solving a problem (ie, man wants small speaker that sounds good, Bose makes man small speaker that sounds barely good enough instead of sounding great), but I'll save that for another day. I could also go on about how Bose cares less and less about quality 2 channel, their 3 main focuses (as far as the products in the retail store goes) being 1.surround sound for movies (not for music despite the riff raff about being able to take a 2 channel recording and distribute it among 5 speakers) 2. portable products (ipod players and headphones) 3. music throughout the house (but can you blame them on this one?) The most shrewd comments I've read about Bose is that yes, they are foremost a marketing company (and they front that they're a research company), they do in fact create products that people are extremely happy with (and the people kind of suck), but most importantly, don't buy them, don't buy them,
Ultimately Bose wouldn't be so successful if there weren't so many goofballs (I can't cuss on this website I assume) who want their junk. I blame things like the movie Garden State (indie pretense smothers any true grasp of devotion to something meaningful that typifies the current generation of people in their 20's), the growing nostalgia of the baby boomer generation (see various editions of Ken Burns related coffee table books), and this crazed notion the middle class has developed that they have enough money to actually buy something that their neighbor would covet (see whatever the highest color of Johnnie Walker you can get, or Fat Tire beer for that matter).
I can't believe I read the whole thing!
A couple of years ago, I visited the home of a friend that I had not seen in quite some time. She had renovated her home and done an amazing job, really jaw dropping. I wish I knew how to do that. It was just incredibly tasteful and beautiful.

They she turned on her home theatre. It was tiny little Bose speakers, I guess one of their sub-satellite 5.1 or 7.1 systems. To someone like me the sound was simply unbearable. The sound was so harsh it was grating, and there was no midrange at all. But she was so proud of it. It did look cool.

I have heard some very listenable Bose gear - not to my taste, but listenable enough that I could imagine someone else having that taste. Heck, I love tube gear that is slightly euphonic, like many audiophiles, but other audiophiles can't fathom it. Nevertheless, most of the Bose gear just leaves me very, very puzzled. So much of it strikes me as impossible to listen to.

I've never heard the 201 in it's current version; actually I last heard the 201 series probably 20 years ago. I have not sought it out but perhaps it has gotten better. By way of this review, I surmise that I would find it enjoyable if not perhaps among my higher priority recommendations.

This was a very fair review and I agree with just about everything in it. The point is quality or the perception of quality is relative.

I use Bose products and despite my audiophile tastes when used for the right purpose I feel they do excel. I have a set of 151's on my deck for summer parties. I also have a wave radio that wakes my wife and I up in the morning and actually is a very impressive clock radio. I’ve used it as a sound system for gatherings and even used it as a theater speaker for a movie might at work once! I love that thing. And I use the Lifestyle Acoustimass 5 series II for my home theater and have never felt like I am missing that much. Plus my wife can figure out how to work it:)

My local youth football league uses two, yes just 2 251’s as PA speakers during the game! Now that is impressive sound from those very small outdoor speakers.

So, I don't use them for critical listening, I have my "special" systeme that no one gets to touch for that but I'm not a Bose hatter.
As described in another thread I have taken a flyer on Bose 901s for the large high ceiling swimming pool room that I have recently built, and the results are well beyond expectations. I would not like these speakers in the typical listening room. Besides the huge room I find that substituting a Behringer DEQ2496 for the Bose-supplied equalizer makes a big improvement. Also puzzling is how well they image, what with 90 percent of the sound projected out the back onto the wall. I attribute this to the highly reflective glass and wood wall surface, and the large symmetrical and unobstructed configuration of the wall.
I consider myself a bose fan, I always wondered how audiophiles felt about Bose, and your comments have answered all of my questions, I had a pair of 701 Series 1's I liked them, unlike most Bose speakers they had bass thanks to the 8in woofers in them, unfortunately the treble sucked, I ran them with a Sony STR-V555ES receiver. Using the built in equalizer I pushed the treble as it would go. Then I went over to my friends house, he has a pair of Thiel 7.2's run by an audio research 300.2 amp (which he later GAVE ME, yes GAVE ME cost me nothing!) he played a record and I was sold, I started hunting for higher end gear, I got my hands on a VPI TNT MK1 with around 500 hours on it (this was about 6 months ago) and a pair of talon Khorus speakers for 2g's I have since sold off all of my bose speakers 'cept for a pair of 901's (intellectual curiosity) and tri-port headphones. There is nothing wrong with Bose, compare a pair of 301's to what sony or pioneer offers and the 301's will take them on, but start comparing Bose to Polk's or Klipsch's and they will start showing their true colors. Bose is a stepping stone, a place to start, they aren't meant to satisfy your audio hunger, you are never supposed to be satisfied, that what makes us audiophiles, we are always looking for something better. So stop bagging on bose, for some of us (like me) Bose is where we start, and for classical music, bose is actually adequate for a bedroom or garage. (though personally, I prefer this brand of speaker call Micron from the late 70's early 80's they are inexpensive though hard to find, detailed and can take a pair of quad bookshelf speakers on without breaking a sweat)
I do like your review, it was honest, but I think you should pick up a Sony ES receiver and drive the 201's with that, you might be surprised... (try the STR-G1ES, it is a weird receiver, but you might like it)