Avi Greengart is the Research Director for Consumer Devices at Current Analysis (Mobile Phones, Connected Devices, and Digital Home). He also regularly writes for Slashgear, sporadically blogs at Home Theater View and Tweets far too often as @greengartAvi's expertise lies in understanding consumer electronics marketing, consumer behavior, and technology adoption patterns: where new technologies meet the mass market. 



Avi Greengart is an expert on the convergence of technology and entertainment: video, audio, computing, and wireless, how these are coming together, and what's likely to survive long enough to make a difference in your life.

Column #23 (12/31/2007)

More On Bose


I read your column about Bose speakers, and I know you don’t like them. But what about other Bose products, like the Bose radio, or Bose sound systems in cars?

AskAvi replies:

You’re referring to Column 5 (The Dark Side of Successful Product Marketing: Bose), where I never said I don’t like Bose speakers, I just don’t always recommend them. Bose products are highly targeted – they’re extremely well designed for specific target markets. In other words, if your needs perfectly match what Bose designed the product for, it’s a slam dunk. Need proof? In the latest Total Research Corporation/Harris Interactive/ EquiTrendSM “best brands” study, – Bose rates sixth overall (behind Rolls Royce cars and WD-40, of all things). Obviously, a lot of people are happy with products they purchase from Bose. But because Bose targets its customers so well, if your priorities differ from theirs, you could be giving up performance, or flexibility, or utility, and, usually, money (Bose tends to price their products at a premium).

We talked about Bose speaker systems in Column 5, so let’s talk about three of Bose’s other products, and see who they’re designed for.

Bose WaveRadio

It looks like a clock radio, and provides sound – particularly bass – that is disproportionate to the size of the thing. It costs $350. If you’re considering the WaveRadio for use as a small tabletop system, there are many other options in this price range – Japanese manufacturers specialize in micro systems. Some of the tiny executive offerings from Sony, JVC, and Onkyo look nicer than the Bose and provide comparable sound.

But if you need a clock radio that provides full, clean sound with upper bass intact, there aren’t too many other choices on the market. And there's a reason for that! At $350, it's simply too expensive for the product category – for $200 less, you can get Sony's top-of-the line CD clock radio that sounds just fine.

Bose Automobile Sound Systems

If you’re buying a car that offers an optional Bose sound system, is it worth the extra money? I don’t know whether it will increase the resale value of the car by much. But, as expensive as these upgrades are, I’ve found that comparable aftermarket systems will usually cost you more by the time you’re done with installation. Bose upgraded sound systems usually do sound a lot better than the base systems offered by the manufacturer for three reasons:

·       More/better equipment – if the base system offers only a cassette deck, and the Bose system is the only way to get a CD player, then your choice is obvious – either go with the Bose, or get an aftermarket system. But even cars where a CD player is offered, the base systems often skimp on amplification, while the Bose systems don’t. Bose also includes equalization circuitry to tailor the system for better sound in the noisy car environment (not necessarily more “accurate;” just “better”).

·       More/better speakers – in some cars, the base system comes with four speakers, the Bose system comes with six or ten. The base speakers are typically chosen for cost effectiveness, not best sound – you want better sound, you pay for it.

·       Better placement – Bose does acoustic studies of the interior area of each car it works with, and recommends where the speakers should be placed. This is surprisingly important for good sound in an enclosed space. I doubt they always get the placement they ask for – I imagine (hope?) that if it’s a choice between proper placement of an airbag vs. proper placement of a tweeter, the airbag wins.

So the answer to the original question, is, yes, the extra money for a Bose audio system usually buys markedly improved performance. As always, there are exceptions: the Audi A4 offers – standard – a 6 CD changer, powerful amplifier, and 10 speakers. This system is probably more than enough for most people, and I’d have to do a serious listening comparison before paying more for the Bose upgrade. Fortunately, there are resources for comparing different auto audio systems: most reviews on Edmunds include them.

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones

Bose is one of the leading suppliers of headphones to airline pilots. They also make special headphones for armed forces use. These headphones include an embedded microphone that samples the surrounding ambient noise, and then generates the opposite frequency to the earphones to cancel out the noise. Result? Lower noise levels, less pilot fatigue, and fewer headaches. The professional pilot model costs $995, but there’s a commercial version available for you and me for $299.

As usual, the same technology is used in less expensive headphones from Japanese competitors. I own a set of Aiwa noise reduction headphones; Amazon sells them for $50. They’re only moderately comfortable, but the noise-canceling circuitry is a blessed relief on flights. Aiwa isn’t your only other option – Panasonic makes a pair for $40, Koss sells one for $60, Sennheiser for $80, and Sony for $100. According to the specs and magazine reviews, the Bose version provides more noise cancellation than the rest, and better sound quality (and it better for 3x the price of the next most expensive model!). The Panasonic - which originally listed with a $100+ price tag - came in second, the Sony third.

I cannot underemphasize how wonderful these things are! If you’re a frequent flyer (or take the train/subway/underground to work), the Panasonic is a no-brainer. For frequent flyers and those with a little more disposable income, a $300 investment in the Bose version is easily justified.


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