Bose 901 Review: Are these Speakers Worth it?
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Despite the recognition associated with the brand, Bose still has a hard time convincing hardcore audiophiles that its products are worth the money for a high-end home stereo system.
After all, the saying “no highs, no lows, it must be Bose” is still a favorite among many audio enthusiasts. And of the many speakers produced by Bose, none are more controversial than the venerable 901 Bose series. In fact, you could almost compare the 901 to Bigfoot in that so few people have seen 901s in person, let alone heard them play.
The confusion becomes even more convoluted because the 901 is currently in its sixth generation and whenever someone mentions the 901 product line (Bose series VI), it’s important to know if they are talking about the current version of the speaker or if they are referring to an audio remnant from the 1960s.
This article reviews the newest iteration of the venerable Bose 901 speaker and determines whether the Bose name really is worth the price tag or not when it comes to home stereo equipment.
Overview of the Bose 901 Speakers
The Bose 901s are not a regularly stocked item in retail stores meaning that the $1,400 pair of speakers usually need to be special ordered or ordered directly from the Bose website. However, I was able to find mine online here for a better price. The fit and finish of the speakers was excellent (walnut cabinets with pedestal bases were used for this test).
- Construction: Sporting black metal pedestals that resemble something out of a 1960s furniture catalog, the speakers (which each weigh 35 pounds) are mounted to the metal pedestals using wood screws. Although screw holes are pre-drilled in the bottom of the cabinets, it is unlikely that these holes can be used more than handful of times before the speaker base gets damaged. It is surprising that at Bose decided not to add threaded inserts to the bottom of the 901 – especially for a speaker at this price point.
- Wiring: Any speaker wire can be used to connect the 901s but since the cables run through the metal pedestals, switching out the wire is tedious and some popular stereo wires, such as Nordost Odin speaker cables, are too thick to work with the relatively narrow stock pedestals anyway. Keep this in mind both when selecting speaker cable for the 901s and when installing the pedestals to the bottoms of the speaker cabinets.
- Drivers: The 901 uses nine full range drivers in each cabinet and Bose decided to use an inline equalizer to make these speakers work together. Most modern speakers rely on DSP to control each driver but Bose has been able to achieve a comparable effect using a less sophisticated (and less expensive) passive EQ control unit.
- Custom Controls: Of note is the fact that the inline EQ must be placed in a tape-monitor circuit when using a receiver. The EQ can also be placed directly between the amp and preamp units if they are separate. Bose includes a pair of 3 foot RCA patch cables to accommodate the inline EQ installation. The EQ has two sound profiles built-in: the first is noticeable flat sounding while the second position provides a bass boost similar to the loudness button found on older receivers. There are also two sliding controls for mid-treble and mid-bass. The mid-treble slider has a noticeable more significant effect on the overall sound quality profile.
The Bose 901s work best when placed in a corner. This is mostly because the majority of the drivers face the rear of the cabinet and ultimately requires you to fine tune the placement of the speakers for the best sound performance.
That said, placing the speakers too close to the corners of a room creates an overblown stereo speaker image (mostly due to exaggerated sound reflection) that can make the speakers sound much flatter than they actually are.
Interestingly enough, during testing, it seemed that one of the best positions for these speakers wasn’t in a corner at all. More akin to traditional audiophile speaker placement, the 901s performed very well when placed approximately eight feet apart and five feet away from the wall with another eight feet between the speakers and a couch. This setup seemed to allow the front driver enough space to anchor the overall sound presentation without resulting in excessive reflection as occurs when the speakers are tightly placed into the corners of a room.
Once properly positioned in the room, the 901s excel at rendering all types of music, consistently producing an excellent stereo image and wide soundstage. When testing the speakers with an assortment of solo vocalists, the mid-treble slider on the inline EQ becomes very important. Pushing for too much treble brightness results in grainy vocals (similar to adjusting the tow-in of a conventional speaker) but the effectiveness of this EQ function can really help to dial in the sound with a little bit of tweaking.
Bass frequency response of the 901s is also impressive. Using the Audiophile test CD, the 901s were able to produce 50Hz tones without a problem and 40Hz tones weren’t bad either. Below 40Hz, however, and the energy significantly dropped off. Still…this performance is hardly what most people would consider a flat sound profile.
The single speaker, crossover-less design of the 901 gives the speaker a unique coherence that is almost impossible to reproduce with other types of speakers. Combined with its impressively wide sound dispersion, these speakers sound great just about anywhere.
The downside to this design is that some ultra-focused listening is lost and this may be a problem for some of the hardcore audiophiles out there. That said, these speakers will excel in places where those other speakers will not – such as when entertaining a room full of people. In other words, if you tend to listen to music privately, enjoying every subtle nuance of the sound, the 901s might not be the best choice.
If, on the other hand, most of your music listening occurs while you are doing other things, few speakers will match the high fidelity audio quality of these speakers (at least in this price range).
Although the Bose 901s have some limitations, you will be hard pressed to find a better set of speakers for $1,400 (see here for latest pricing). One of the biggest areas where these speakers fall short is in rendering low-level details and micro dynamics but for most listeners, these missing elements are overshadowed by the 901s’ ability to play loud without straining at all.
Pros of the Bose 901
- Big, high quality sound at a very competitive price point
- Work well just when placed just about anywhere in a room
- Crossover-less design captures the essence of music across all genres
Cons of the Bose 901
- Lacks ability to properly render low-level details and micro dynamics
- Excessive sound reflection when placed too close to corners or walls can make speakers sound flat
- Speaker bases do not have threaded inserts for installing pedestals
- Inline EQ takes slightly more configuration than more modern DSP-based speaker setups
Bose 901 Alternatives
Because the Bose 901’s are no longer actively sold (but readily available on secondary markets), you may be better off with one of these alternatives to Bose 901.
Final Take: Bose 901 Review
Overall, the 901s are an excellent choice for just about any home stereo system. These speakers do an excellent job of rendering all types of music and the inline EQ controls make tweaking the sound profile very simple. Even at brain-numbing volume levels, the speakers did not distort and bass energy was solid down to about 40Hz.
If you are looking for a solid home speaker setup that isn’t going to break the bank yet is still capable of impressing those audiophile friends of yours, the Bose 901 speaker system may be the exact solution you need.
Initially, I faced some difficulty trying to order these from Bose. Thankfully,Amazon has a great listing here (with free shipping) that made things a lot easier.