Pros: sound better than the Bose 701s; mellow, inoffensive sound
Cons: diffuse imaging; mediocre microdynamics; slightly cheesy look
A few months back, I decided to give some contemporary Bose home speakers a listen. Back in the day (more than 20 years ago), Bose's 901 and 501 speakers were quite competitive in their respective price ranges, with their direct/reflecting technology (sound coming from the front and the back) providing a large (if somewhat diffuse) soundstage. The overall quality was good, and many people, including some "audiophiles," enjoyed 901s and 501s.
In recent years, Bose has gotten a reputation as an advertising-driven manufacturer of not-so-hot speakers for the masses. I wanted to see if that reputation was deserved, so I did some extended listening to the 701, as well as the 601, the speaker listed here.
The 701 was a total disaster, with a too-diffuse soundstage, a bright, abrasive sound, and terrible rendition of musical timbres. The 601 wasn't as bad. I wrote a review of the 701 a few months back. This is my review of the 601.
The Bose 601s are small tower speakers with drivers on the front and the back. There are two 6 1/2 woofers in each enclosure (one is mounted on the rear), and a small front-mounted tweeter as well. Each speaker is about 32" tall and weighs just under 30 lbs. The "light cherry" version of the speaker is actually kind of nice looking, while the "graphite grey" (the one I usually see in electronics stores like Good Guys) has too much of that trying-to-look-modern-but-actually-looks-cheap kind of appearance that bothers me. The retail price is just under $600. You can probably get a pair for $500 to $550 if you haggle a bit.
The sound of the Bose 601 was not as bad as that of the 701. While I found the soundstage too diffuse, and the sound a bit muddied, it was also mellow and fairly pleasing to listen to. The 601s provided a sort of wall of sound, with moderately deep bass, and highs that were substantially less etched than with the 701s.
With rock music, there was a pretty good foundation to the music, and the soundstage was fairly wide and deep. Impact wasn't that great, but it was OK. With classical, the effect worked pretty well, because the instruments seemed to come from behind the speakers. With small jazz ensembles or solo vocalists, the sound was a bit muddled, and the specific locations of singers and instruments were difficult to discern. This is a problem with many bi-polar or di-polar speakers, but it was exaggerated somewhat with the Bose 601s.
I didn't test the 601's ultimate volume limits, but they didn't distort at moderately loud volume levels, and my impression was they could probably play fairly loud if called upon to do so. Microdynamics (subtle changes in volume within the music) were not rendered particularly well, and subtle details within the music were not easy to hear.
A mixed review, overall, but at least I didn't find myself rushing to turn them off, as I did with the 701s.
So would I recommend the 601s?
No, I think there are considerably better speakers in the $600 price range. However, if you like a diffuse, somewhat mellow sound, the Bose 601s may be to your liking. They are easy to find, so you can give them a listen and form your own opinion. They kind of reminded me of my parents' old Magnavox all-in-one stereo, which I actually liked (it had tubes!). Still, I don't think the Bose 601s are competitive with the best contemporary speakers in this price range.
Speakers I like more in this approximate price range include:
Cambridge Soundworks Tower II
Paradigm Reference Studio/20
Energy Acoustics e:XL26
If you happen to hear the Bose 601s, please leave a comment. I'd be interested to know whether others' impressions were similar to mine.