For the price, nothing special

Dec 28, 2011
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Solidly built, with a sober and elegant appearance.

Cons:Very average performances and overpriced.

The Bottom Line:

Elegant appearance, but the sound reproduction capabilities, which after all is its primary function, is mediocre, and it is overpriced. 

I recently decided to upgrade my computer speakers, and the first manufacture's name which came into my mind was Bose.  I have owned several of their products and have always been pleased with them.  My past purchases included a pair of Bose 901s from 1972, which still hang from my living-room ceiling as the main speakers for my high fidelity surround sound system.

At the Bose store, my choice was between the Bose Companion 2 Multimedia Speaker System, which came out in 2001, and the Bose Companion 2 Series II Multimedia Speaker System, which appeared in 2004, and which I suspected was most likely a repackaging of its predecessor.  Both systems were available at this store, and the former (I will call Bose I), apparently having been discontinued, was discounted to $70.  I bought both sets of speakers in order to make an A/B comparison.

Most speaker companies, and Bose is no exception, do not include their speaker measurements:  they not only don’t want to share their "secrets," but also their speakers’ problem areas.     As a retired physicist, I am sure I could have gone to my former laboratory and convinced a co-worker to let me come in after-hours to carry out all sorts of measurements on these speakers, such as their frequency response, impulse response, spectral decay, etc.  However, I assumed that the Bose engineers, having already optimized these parameters, left me only the need to try these systems with my own two ears and be happy with one of them.  In my opinion, and in that of many reviewers, this is the only meaningful way to determine the superiority of any audio speakers.  The "yardsticks" in these tests are familiar musical pieces in the genre(s) one likes, preferably music that one has already heard in a live environment.  Of course, you'll never be able to match a live concert or recital, but you can get close to it with the proper acoustic audio system.  Yes, this is a subjective approach, but if what comes out of the speakers replicates the original, whether recorded in a studio or in a concert hall, then the audio system is by definition a good one.  Typically, listening for a few hours lets you ascertain the quality of loudspeakers.

Since I mostly listen to orchestral and vocal classical music, jazz, and some popular music, I used some excerpts from Beethoven 5th(piano), Shostakovich 1st(violin), Bucker's 8thSymphony as an examples of a rather complex orchestral work, and few operatic areas and lieder sung by various artists.  I also used a North Indian classical music piece in order to test the bass response of the speakers with the subtle sounds and rhythms provided by the tabla, the drums.  I added a more quantitative check the responses of these speakers in the bass frequency range (< 200 Hz) using sound testing videos found on the Web.
Both set of speakers are solidly built, with a sober and elegant appearance, as opposed to the cheaper "space-age-baroque" plastic designs of most other speakers on the market.  They both have a metallic silver finish with a clean and elegant look, as one would expect from the design-conscious Bose engineers.  The Bose advertising department describes, using its own jargon, some of the speakers' "break-through" technical innovations, but what these really mean is something else. I had suspected that the Series II was just a re-packaging of the Bose I, but my tests indicated otherwise.

I started my A/B test with the sound generator. Without a sub-woofer, one does not expect a window-rattling bass response with computer speakers, and Bose is no exception.  Of course, with my primitive Web sound generator, I could not measure, in decibels, the speakers' output power as a function of frequency, but as expected, it dropped rather rapidly in the low frequency range.  With each frequency drop, I increased the volumes on each set to keep the power output as constant as possible, and I found that both set of speakers behaved relatively well down to about 70 Hz, and at 50 Hz, both sets resonated  incoherently.  Fortunately, the speakers' efficiency at these low frequencies is so small that it does not affect the music listening, since hardly any sounds are coming through below 70 Hz.

With actual music as an input, my disappointment was great!  The overall sounds of both sets of speakers were quite unremarkable, and did not live up to the "Bose reputation."  The bass response of the Series II was slightly better defined than that of the Bose I, but this betterment seemed to have been definitely achieved at the expense of its mid- and high-frequency ranges.  In these frequency ranges, the music was definitely "muddier" compared to that of the Bose I system, which itself did not show a very clear pitch definition.  This was true for the brilliant musical passages as well as for the soft and subtle parts.
Perhaps I was expecting too much from those tinny speakers, so I decided next to investigate what was offered by other manufacturers.  I searched the Web for technical evaluations, and eventually selected a pair of Cyber Acoustics CA-896 PC multimedia speakers, at $37.  So now, it was an A/B/C test, and the CA-896 clearly won.

The sound of the CA-896 in the low frequencies was rich and it seemed that the roll-over started at a lower frequency than for either of the Bose systems, and therefore still providing some response at 50 Hz (The test results on the Web claim a 20 Hz cut-off).  The sounds in the mid- and high-frequency ranges were crisp, and subtle-to-loud parts of the music were clear-detailed and well rendered.

Based on my simple tests, I kept the CA-896 speakers and returned both Bose systems for my money back.  I would give 5 stars (out of 5) to either Bose systems for their elegant appearance and construction.  However, I give only 3 stars to their sound reproduction capabilities, which after all, is their primary function, especially given the Bose prices.

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