Pros: Pleasant if unrealistic sound. Make for acceptable background listening speakers. Bass can shake the room.
Cons: Overpriced, distorted tonality, loose wumpy bass, no imaging/soundstage, fit and finish is only OK
This is a review of the 301 III. I recently heard the 301 V and my opinions have not changed.
Summary: A pleasant sounding speaker for back ground listening but over priced and out classed by the competition. Tonality is distorted to produce pleasant sound rather than accurate sound. Bass is loose and wumpy sounding. The 301's can shake the room but only over a limited range of bass frequencies. Direct-reflecting design hurts imaging. The combination of bad imaging, unrealistic tonality and loose bass make them a poor choice for home theater. Fit and finish are only OK for the price.
My roommate has a pair of 301 series III (Im not certain of the series but they were new in 96;). Heres my take:
They are not *bad* but you can do better for the same money. I dont expect these to match the various speakers in my side room system while my roommate had these in the living room (Meadowlark Kestrel, Vandersteen Model 3, Magnepan MMG, NHT 2.5i, Pioneer HPM 100), but Ive also heard similar priced models that are better (PSB, Paradigm, NHT, Boston Acoustics, B&W) Many high end manufactures extend their lines and expertise into the Bose price range.
Well we can forget imaging. As Bose says, these are sound everywhere speakers. That means you have a dispersed sound rather than tight imaging. This is not really a disadvantage if you arent the type who sits in the sweet spot to listen for a while or if you dont care about home theater. If you turn on the music while walking around the house they will be fine.
Tonality: They dont have a very clean tone. Bose has tuned this speaker to make everything sound pleasant if not really true to the recording. Again, if you just want something nice to listen to in the background they will serve this function well. These speakers are excessively warm. They boost the mid bass and roll off the highs. Music will never become fatiguing but you traded realism for that tonality.
Bass: Several compromises were made here. The Bose can make the room shake with a moderately powerful receiver. This was great for college parties and OK for movies but it has limits. First, they have very limited bass range. These speakers do not go deep. They excel at turning Watts into mid-bass but they just cant go really deep. I would guess they are done around 50 htz. This is not shameful given the size of the speaker and /or price but people are often surprised when they learn how much bass is still left untouched whey they hear better speakers. The problem is the 301s lack controlled bass. A tight thunderclap sounds like a suggestion of thunder. One of the true marks of a good bass speaker is the ability to *stop* producing bass in a heartbeat. Thats what makes thunder clap and a kick drum kick (tight Bang! versus a loose wump a slow to develop thump). The 301s wind up their bass then wind it down when they are done. The price competitive speakers from the companies above are far more nimble with the ability to start and stop quickly. Think of a bullet train vs a sports car. The bullet train Bose may be fast but it takes a long time for the driver to get to speed (generate the desired frequency and amplitude) and a long time to stop. NHT, PSB, Paradigms are like sports cars. Their top speed may not be as fast as the train but they can accelerate, turn and brake so much faster (dynamics and transients). Which is better? Well if you just want to shake the room at one frequency go for the Bose. If you want to have tight, crisp bass, get something other than the Bose.
Home Theater: Due to the warm forgiving sound of these speakers I found them OK for music. Home Theater is a different story. These were used in a 2 channel set up with the living room TV. For home theater, I agree with Richard Vandersteen, if your funds are limited, buy a good two channel home theater rather than a so-so 5 channel. The 301s poor imagining comes back to haunt. Voices and sounds are smeared across the front of the living room rather than staying in the TV where they belong. The loose wumpy bass does little justice to explosions and mechanical sounds. The distorted tonality strips believability from every day sounds.
Overall I can see people saying they like the speakers because they sounds pleasant. They really work as background speakers. The problem is they cant deliver anything more even when asked. I accept that if they were $150 a pair but given the good choices for the $300+ asking price well Bose is lucky most consumers dont bother to cross shop. The current series V are pleasant looking but their fit and finish is only so-so when compared to the previously mentioned companies