Bose 901 Series VI Speaker System Reviews

Bose 901 Series VI Speaker System

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My Reference Standard...For The Right Room!

Jul 9, 2003 (Updated Feb 20, 2014)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:Detailed powerful reproduction of sound. Curved and contoured cabinets. Pleasure to behold visually and sonically!

Cons:Very picky about amplifier & room size characteristics!  Use separates or "Tape Monitor" receivers/amps.

The Bottom Line: No speaker is perfect but this one approaches that ever so elusive speaker designer's dream of capturing the "LIVE PERFORMANCE" perhaps better than anything else!


In 1968, I took an old Philco record player and turned it into my first hifi turntable by installing a Shure M3D stereo magnetic phono cartridge and then adding a preamp and low powered amp and sealing the entire deal by building these gigantic enclosures for a pair of Jensen duo cone 8" speakers that cost a grand total of $20/Pr. This was my introduction to stereo hifi and a new audio nut had been born. 


This was also the year that the now famous Bose 901 Direct/Reflecting speaker system graced the audio world with a courageous unorthodox design.  Had it not been for Dr. Amar Bose and this speaker, who would have caused so many speaker designers to even give stereo imaging the slightest consideration? 


Believe it or not, I wasn't even aware of the design at that time. In fact it wasn't until 1972 when I was stationed in Alaska for the USAF that I took to picking up a few stereo magazines including Consumer Guide and Stereo Review and then ventured into the local hifi shop in Fairbanks that my first encounter with the 901 took place. 


When the salesman put on an album by a band called Chase, The 901's that were suspended from the ceiling immediately shook the room and the clarity was awesome! Stereo everywhere yet I could distinctly identify each trumpet, guitar, percussion and voices with better separation than I had ever experienced! The amplifier driving the speakers at the time was none other than Bob Carver's creation...the Phase Linear 700. The love affair had begun and I purchased my first set of Bose 901's. 


In 1983 I upgraded to Series V and just recently to Series VI...the subject of this review. It is a solidly well built speaker system throughout. 
The Bose 901 Series VI features a 21" x 12" x 13" cabinet with curved fronts and two angled panels in the rear. The two angled panels each contain four 4 1/2" drivers while one single driver is placed toward the center of the front panel. 


Thus the reason for the model #...9 drivers total with 1 in front. The design is appropriately designated as direct/reflecting with 89% of the sound projected from the rear and the remaining 11% coming out of the front. This proportion was the finding of Dr. Bose's MIT team when studying various halls where live performances were featured. 


The impedance is a solid 8 ohms across the musical spectrum and should prove to be a most stable load for whatever amplifier one chooses but choose wisely as this speaker is extremely picky about what drives it and I'm not referring to just power alone! It is quite conceivable that a given 50 watt amp could sound better with the 901's than a competitive 200 watt amp. 


The small drivers themselves boast heavy magnets and high quality voice coils as they must move an enormous amount of air. The multi chambered Acoustic Matrix enclosure vents the speaker in a most unusual way with air speeds exceeding 60 mph! Three ports or jets protrude through the rear of the 901 enclosure. 


Because of the use of small full range drivers, an active equalizer which is absolutely essential to the system is used in place of the normal crossovers that introduce distortion no matter how well engineered. The 901 e.q. simply smoothes out any bumps or irregularities in the system's power response. 
Frequency Response specs are not ever offered by Bose because one of the founding principles was that they offer little or no value to the audiophile! Bose simply observed that great specs certainly did not always coincide with equally great performance. 


The Owner's Manual is quite extensive and written in several languages. It also gives special instructions for mounting the 901's on pedestals or hanging them from ceilings. 


The robust speakers are rated to handle amplifiers of 10 to 450 watts of clean almost infinite power but do not induce amplifier clipping as this will kill any speaker regardless of the rating or how well it is made. Dynamic Range is rated at 106 db...well above the 90db capability of the best digital sources! 
The two finishes that are available are black ash and light walnut. Earlier Series VI models included an Amar Bose Signature Piano Glossy Black version that sold at about $1900 p/Pr. I chose the light walnut for mine with dark brown indestructible grills that are absolutely seductive looking!  Optional PS6 pedestals are available.

Pedestals 16" to 20" are also offered by others such as Sanus for reasonable prices if you wish to save on them...and you certainly could save some money but make sure they support your 901's properly. Two foot high end tables offer a sturdy and childproof support of the speakers also.

 
The bottom of each 901 speaker reveals a circular cutaway that surrounds the two heavy duty knurled nut speaker terminals that hold speaker wire like no other arrangement I know of. It is very secure and should make for a lifetime of good connection to quality OFC speaker wire. This wire is available from Kimber Kable and AR but for my money Calibre Xtreme 12 gauge is the best stuff at super low prices that can truly make an audible difference. There is no substitute for controlled well defined bass and clear mids and highs. Good wire can accomplish that! It's been proven. 


After patching the 901-VI EQ into my Tape Monitor circuit on my humble Parasound integrated amplifier with the supplied patch chords and then carefully setting up the speakers in my living room I was able to listen to my vast collection of CD's into the wee hours of the morning night after night as I simply could not get enough of the beautiful sound the speakers project! A new Tape Monitor is provided on the e.q. to replace your old one. Adjust the Mid Bass and Mid Treble slider controls along with your amp's tone controls moderately for room and source compensation. 


DO NOT MIX AND MATCH WRONG EQ's FROM VARIOUS SERIES MODELS AS THE SOUND WILL BE INCORRECT AND DO NOT USE WITH OTHER CONVENTIONAL UNEQUALIZED SPEAKERS FOR HOME THEATER!!!! 


901 EQ AND SPEAKER SERIES COMPATABILITY: 

Series I and II...Acoustic Suspension design from 1968-1976 
Series III and IV...Acoustic Matrix design from 1976-1983
 Series V and VI...Acoustic Matrix design from 1983-Present day 




Do not deviate from these guidelines as 901's are available in used condition over the internet. Undoubtedly as you read this review, someone is selling a Series IV 901 with a Series VI eq or a Series II eq with a Series III speaker and will result in total dissatisfaction with the product on the buyer's end. 
Also beware of the phony 901 look alike LDL 749 speakers that were manufactured from 1970 to 1974 without EQ's but did not equal the 901 quality sound. I almost purchased one of these systems back then but thankfully did not but beware as they can easily be peddled as 901's. They do resemble the Bose to a great degree. I think someone from the original Bose/MIT group jumped ship to make these imposters.

 
As for the subject of speaker placement I can only suggest that you experiment a bit and rid yourself of any normal distance you would keep between conventional left and right stereo speakers as the 901 is anything but conventional itself! I really do believe that the love and hate stems from the fact that the 901 sound can change drastically in the lower frequencies when not setup properly! Alas, I have found the 901's to sound best on 18" high pedestals and out 18" from the rear wall along the short wall of my listening room as compared to the longer wall. I think this is better than hanging the speakers from the ceiling where the bass tends to get lost. Experiment...experiment...this is the key! 


Because of the angled rear panels, the "middle sound" will be quite strong and stable eliminating the typical "sweet spot" rules. You can separate these speakers miles apart from each other and in fact should do so within reason to get first rate stereo separation.

 
By doing so, you'll not only widen the fantastic soundstage but also eliminate any possibility of losing left and right channel detail. Don't worry, you will not have a "hole in the middle" effect. This way also gets you to move the 901's closer to the adjacent walls. Just keep the wall behind the speakers relatively free of drapes and teddy bears. 


Hanging the 901's from ceilings more than ten feet from the ground is not recommended as the sound may get obscured a bit and imaging along with deep bass lost. In other words, if you have a ceiling like the Sistine Chapel, forget it! 

The sound of the 901 Series VI is really special and downright seductive! Regardless of the many genres of music that have been played thru my 901's, the soundstaging is such that never have I experienced a wider higher portrayal of various performances with equally impressive depth! You can literally point to every instrument in the orchestra or follow a soloist as he or she moves about the stage in front of you [e.g. Tony Clarke-"The Entertainer" as he moves to and fro banging his tambourine...it's really something to behold! 


The break-in period for the 901-VI went very nicely with the drivers fully seated after six months. Be careful not to push them too hard at first and do not introduce amplifier clipping. By the way, this break-in period applies to owners of older 901 models that have had their foam surrounds replaced. Simply Speakers on EBAY  & Parts Express both sell wonderful kits for under $50. 


I love it when people say that the 901's can't go deep. Just checkout the opening low pedal note in the movie "2001-A Space Oddysey" and see if it doesn't rattle every window and loose floor board in the house! Or checkout Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" at the four minute mark. 


Here's a little experiment you can try on the Bose : Hold a tissue loosely right behind one of the jetlike Acoustic Matrix ports on one of the 901's. Place Telarc's CD of Stravinsky's "Rite Of Spring" in your CD player. Advance to around the eight minute mark of Track 1. There you will discover one of those tympani gut punchers that literally will knock your socks off and make the tissue fly out from your grasp like it was shot out of a cannon! Try it! It really is quite dramatic indeed.

 
Just midrange speakers, huh? No, what's happening is that the Acoustic Matrix enclosure is moving huge amounts of air. That's what gives you bass...not just the physical size of the driver. Why do you think many top notch speaker systems like Win Burhoe's Silent Speakers or the Spendors use such small drivers and are still able to produce such deep notes? It's because the cabinets have special sophisticated chambers that create significant air speeds. Also the drivers have powerful motors in their voice coil and magnet assemblies.  In fact it is because of the 901 that many systems today are using downsized drivers with tight clean bass response.  Funny….they still sound like woofers tweeters and crossovers compared to the 901’s crossover less full range equalized sound.


All other systems seem to be fat sounding in the bass...even the biggest most expensive ones! Forget about subwoofering the 901 as it is not necessary in the right room. Put your wallet away and be happy with the fact that you own a fantastic 40Hz gut puncher. 



Telarc's CD of "Carmina Burana" is so dynamic with the voices and orchestra bringing forth massive but clear emotional sound thru the 901's. Midrange and high notes are crystal clear thru the speakers when they are truly present. That brings me to another point...that the 901's only reproduce what's in the recording itself and very little of anything else. BUT YOU GOTTA LISTEN TO THEM FOR YOURSELF. 

The 901-VI equalizer is silent with no perceived extraneous noise and places much less demand on agiven amplifier as opposed to the earlier models. The only noise that will be revealed is amplifier hiss or such sound in an analog mastered recording. Some digital recordings even have modulation noise and you will recognize such flawed CD's immediately. 


The speaker has an uncanny ability to reveal eveything! Beware as this is certainly a double edged sword for the Bose. I have one CD of Barry White's Greatest Hits that on the song..."You're The First, The Last, My Everything" where this older recording used a poor microphone for Barry's voice that can sound downright harsh! Yet the orchestra behind him is very nicely portrayed. You will certainly stay up late the first night checking out all of your library to see what's good and what isn't.  The earliest 901 Acoustic Suspension model was a bit more forgiving on this recording so be advised that you may wish to back off on your slider control here.



I'm not kidding when I tell you that the 901 can distinguish between a good mic or a bad one. You can even hear "poof!" sounds from microphones that were not properly screened and wind proofed! Just listen to a variety of radio broadcasts or checkout the "Buddy Holly Collection" CD of remastered recordings and listen for yourself. 


That is how revealing the 901 is. I dare say that many of you will not like the speaker because of this very fact. The quality of your amplifier and CD player will also be unveiled ten fold compared to most other speakers in this price range…for whatever it is. Use good quality power as the 901 likes heaps of it although a vintage Pioneer SX-990 Stereo Receiver rated at a conservative 30 watts per channel will drive it just fine! Yes, it can play quite loudly but with the right amp sounds wonderful at a whisper.   The classic but Spartan-like AR Amplifier will perform better with this Series VI than the first two series 901s rendering a nice warm tube like sound quality for sure.



I can no longer recommend any modern receivers for use with the 901's as the system mercilessly reveals how poorly these electronic contraptions are made. It is absolutely amazing to me that even a Pioneer SX-424 from yesteryear can drive the current 901's with a rating of 12 watts per channel while I'm not so sure about some other massed produced modern brands and models with their inflated Power Ratings. 


Even if you press the Low Frequency Filter on the 901 EQ you will still experience deep bass down to 40Hz while placing less demand on the Pioneer while still maintaining superior sound. Of course the vintage higher power rated Pioneers and Marantzes will perform flawlessly! Certainly super expensive audiophile mono blocks will be at their best also…not to mention the great audiophile tube-like amps from Belles and Jolida…oh ohh…I just did! 


If you listen to Jazz 88 in the Newark, NJ area you will hear non smeared percussion and wonderful vocalists with plenty of plucked basses and super sweet highs all naturally portrayed thru the 901's. The cymbals are so darn natural! Transient Response is exemplary! I love the fact that I can hear a kickdrum change tone or every subtlety and overtone on various recorded music. The simple striking of a trianglular bell can raise the hairs on my back. 
Accuracy of musical timbre is important and with the Bose you get plenty of it. You haven't heard the Beatles until you've heard "Sgt Peppers" played through the Bose 901. 

There is a rather nice CD entitled "Atmospheres-Celtic Voices" featuring ambient waterfall sounds along with various seductive strings, tom toms, woodwinds and basses. This Irish music CD is worth seeking out as it reveals changes in the stringed bass's tones and subtleties that can be a very useful tool for speaker evaluation! You can probably pick it up for around $8 or less! The 901 sounds absolutely wonderful with this recording. 


But don't just take my word for it...listen for yourself! You may or may not agree. That is how controversial this speaker is! Speaker auditioning should be fun and pleasant so don't let snotty proprietors and extremely opinionated sales people stand in your way. Some of the hatred stems from the fact that Bose seems to pursuit competitors in court quite often and also even went after a negative reviewer...and that's not right. We are free to print how we feel about a product and should have no fear of repercussion.

 
But as a maker of great speakers I think Bose does very well indeed and their customer support is unbelievable! I have had some nice chats with both Bose field and customer service reps. 


Look, my feeling is that a truly great speaker can involve you in the performance so well as to summon all your emotions as I have felt many tears in my eyes when listening to beautiful music through this system. Telarc's "Rite Of Spring" is quite dynamic. Yet the orchestra sounds so sweet as to make you cry or stand up and exclaim...Bravo!...as it does on CBS Masterworks' "Nutcracker" w/Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the New Phiharmonia Orch. 


There are many bigger more expensive models costing well over $5000 a pair but I don't really consider some of these Gigantors to be appropriate for the average listening room. We don't have auditoriums for listening areas do we? 
Well the 901's have served me well in some of my rooms over the past thirty years and can sound great in rooms big or small if the acoustics are correct for them. If your listening room is smaller than average and full of curtains then look elsewhere for your special transducer. In larger rooms with solid walls or undraped windows the Bose 901 SERIES VI will be at its best! The fact that their current price is still within reason for such great performance at under $1500 is a credit to Bose. The USA engineered speaker is now being crafted in Canada which lays claim to such fine outfits like Mirage, PSB and Paradigm. 


Although the system is not always setup properly in malls and generally not available through high end dealers, don't let that fact stop you from seeking the speaker out. My advice is to find someone locally who owns a Series III, IV, V or VI system and ask for an audition in the home where they reside. There is simply no substitute for auditioning the 901's in an actual home! You can also go online at BOSE.COM to place an order and use a 12 month payment plan that makes it so much easier on your pocketbook. 


A Special Note To 901 Owners And Perspective Buyers: Do not be discouraged or put off by those who feel this speaker system is overrated or hyped up. Trust your own ears! No amount of poetic flowery descriptive double talk can truly make a given speaker system sound great. Neither can impressive manufacturer's specifications! Listen for yourself. 


Compare the speakers to the best of the best like the B&W Nautilus 801's and 802's but also the biggest most expensive Tannoys, Martin Logans, Definitives, JBL's, Allisons, Bostons, Polks, Legacy's or any other brand you can think of as I have and see if you agree with my findings. Isn't it most interesting that some of these lovely sounding models cost up to ten times the price of the 901 or more?  I did compare my Bose briefly to most of these speakers!   Many high end salesmen tried to tell me what was wrong with them [like most of us audiophiles they are very opinionated]. I simply smiled as my 901's outperformed these great speakers on every single CD used for audition.  Even my Series I or V sounded better. 


What a great audition but these guys couldn't sway me and they knew they had lost this battle! Who needs someone telling us what we should be hearing while auditioning speakers or any piece of audio gear?  It's quite amusing how audio sales people like to force their righteous ways on us.  It is our decision. We know what to listen for!  Just beware of this little trick when you decide to bring a 901 system into a high end store. They don't like Bose!   It's almost as if an Excorcism ritual has to be performed after you and your 901s leave {or should I say...get kicked off} the premises.


This silliness began in 1971 when Stereophile Magazine'sJ Gordon Holt gave the original Bose 901 a somewhat negative review.  He did however bring up some good points but was off the mark on the 901's sounding "fat" in the bass as they are anything but that! However, the battle lines were drawn. This review sparked the "Love/Hate" of the Bose 901 speaker system and you can link to the entire review from my profile page. Just so you have an idea of where Mr. Holt is at...he loves the sound of the B&W 801. I thought that this was rather ironic as this model [although great] has been tagged by myself and others as a bit overwhelming and "fat sounding" in the bass frequencies...again...room acoustics like it or not will affect various speaker models more than we sometimes are willing to admit. 

With the proper amplifier and room your reaction may very well be like mine..."I may be living in a different world from everyone else but if so...DO NOT wake me up! I'm having too much fun listening to music the way it was meant to be heard with this heavenly speaker!" With the wrong amp and improper room you will probably feel that you've been ripped off and Bose is full of nothing but hype. 


I recommend the speakers highly with the condition that you fully audition them in the right situation but be aware of the fact that many of you will find yourselves wondering why you even bothered to give the beasts a listen! For those of you in this situation I highly recommend the Vandersteen 1C speakers at a slightly lower price. The Vandies are wonderful sounding in just about any room you can think of and are available at fine high end stores like John Rutan's Audio Connection of Verona, NJ ...WWW.AUDIOCONNECT.COM


If you really don't mind spending a large sum of money, then the B&W Nautilus 802's at $7,000 a pair might tickle your fancy! In a decent sized room, nothing can equal the Bose 901 loudspeaker. Everything else seems to have woomph woomph bass and overly brilliant tweeter-like highs. The speaker is so emotionally involving and this perhaps separates it more than anything else from the rest of the endless pack. 


Part of the trick in achieving the ultimate sonic pleasure is to have an octave to octave balance and transparency with impact and clarity. The Bose 901 Series VI or any other series 901 for that matter seems to have achieved this goal better than anything else out there for your choosing. The 901 is simply an extremely well balanced system that continues to excite and satisfy for extremely lengthy periods of listening without inducing the slightest sign of fatigue. 


Bose states that the 901-VI was engineered by passionate music lovers. This fact is so highly obvious once you give the speaker a listen in an appropriate setup [and the Bose Store may very well not be the best!]. It seems to me that no other speaker system delivers powerful accuracy quite like this one!...c@PJS Series II 

2/20/2014
Please see my review on the Bose 901 Series VI Version 2 system.



 



Recommend this product? Yes


Amount Paid (US$): 1298

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