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Bose 301 Bookshelf Speakers Reviewed

* April 23, 2009

Founded in 1964 by Amar Bose, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, Bose has generated tremendous success - as well as a large volume of criticism - for its approach to sound reproduction. Bose believes in creating sound that mimics a concert hall, regardless of the artist, material, or soundfield present on the recording itself. While this philosophy has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the tastes of the listener(s), Bose's success speaks for itself. When combined with its world-class marketing and lifestyle packaging, Bose's actual sonic performance almost takes a backseat within the buying decision and the brand's overall reputation.

The Bose 301 Bookshelf Speakers utilize one front-firing eight-inch woofer, one front-firing two-inch tweeter and one rear-firing two-inch tweeter. The 301 also has two ports on the back to increase bass extension. They have optional matching stands and will easily fit on a bookshelf.

The build quality of the 301 comes up short of the standards set by many of its competitors. The knuckle rap test revealed a hollowish, much-too-alive sound. The dullish vinyl overwrap and somewhat cheap, push-pin speaker jacks don't suggest value, nor do the paper woofers and lightweight construction. Also, while offering the security of Automatic Speaker Protection circuitry, such an approach adds circuit complexity to the expected need for overall purity in signal reproduction.

The 301s present a scattered sonic presentation lacking clear focus. The 301s don't excel at any one aspect of the frequency band - the rolled-off highs, hollow midrange and muddy bass get smeared all over the soundstage and the loudspeakers themselves don't remotely disappear. Certainly, the 301s sound big, and even expansive at first, but the lack of real palpability hurts music playback, and even movies and games. Speaking of movies and games, the 301s are not magnetically shielded, meaning you must place them at least 24 inches from a television display (according to the manual). The rear-firing tweeter also mandates at least an 18-inch placement from walls, according to the manual, although the sound didn't seem to vary that much with lesser distances, down to at least half of that.

On the plus side, from a background music and casual listening perspective, the 301s do a credible job. The big sound and seemingly good sensitivity make it a good fit for that crowd - although it should be noted that I could not find the actual sensitivity specs (and frequency response, for that matter) anywhere.

High Points
• The 301s throw very big sound with wide dispersion, which is pleasing to the listener.
• The 301s fit into many different decors, and come in Light Cherry or Black. These aren't the largest amount of finishes, but the ones they have are pretty good.

Low Points
• The Bose 301s offer sound lacking in focus and detail, as compared to more audiophile speakers in their price category.
• The soundstage smears and the overall sonic picture lacks coherence, musicality and palpability when compared directly with the likes of B&W, Paradigm, PSB, Orb Audio and many others in their price category.
• For movies and games, the lack of bass requires a subwoofer, and there is a possible need for inconvenient placement due to the lack of magnetic shielding. The last thing you want is to have your TV looking purple because of gaussing.

The Bose 301 provides big, expansive sound within a relatively small footprint, and fits into many space-conscious home environments. However, its sonic properties lack the raw frequency response, dynamics, imaging and soundstaging necessary for higher-end music listening or home theater applications. At a lifestyle level, you can be very happy with Bose 301s. For the critical listener, you can get a much more accurate, low-reaching, powerful speaker for the same money.
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