Speaker & Earbud Reviews Bose 901 Speakers

Bose 901 Speakers

If you like listening to music from the side speakers in your car door or through a subwoofer, you've got Bose to thank. The company has more than pulled its weight in the R&D department and is responsible for a whole range of other audio technologies. It was the first brand to think of putting side speakers in high-end vehicles, which has since trickled down to a whole generation of audio-fiends. Even older products, such as the Bose 901 Speakers still hold their ground.

Bose understands that innovation doesn't come cheap, and whatever else their competitors say they have to admit, a lot of what the industry is turning out today owes its existence to research done by Bose. While I believe in giving props where they're due, it doesn't mean that Bose deserves praise just because they've made an effort.

Speakers and Earbuds are a competitive field where it's all about the latest and greatest innovation. So why did we choose the Bose 901 speakers to review? They've certainly been around the block once or twice. In fact, you might have even walked past a broken pair of them once or twice sitting disused on the street corner.

Well, don't count these speakers out just because they've been on the scene for a while. Many after-market units can be snatched up for a bargain and you know they're made to last. So should you consider seeking out a set of Bose 901 speakers? Do these old-timers have a chance of keeping up with the young'uns? Read on and decide for yourself.

Comparison Table

What are the Bose 901 Speakers?

The Bose 901 hasn't been in production by Bose since 1983, according to their website. So you can forget about getting any kind of warranty when you buy it. Assuming that you can find one online, and it shouldn't be too hard if you're motivated, you'll have to take it or leave it based on the condition you find it in.

This model can definitely prove it's got some staying power, but I'd argue that the quality falls far short of "top-notch," and that was true even when it was new. That said, Bose certainly did make a statement with the 901. It became well-known the world over. Famous? Infamous?

Product Specs

Bose 901 Direct/Reflecting Speaker System - Walnut

Image via Amazon

The drivers, where the noise actually comes from, each have one ohm of power flowing through them. This means they can get loud enough to fill the room and scare two rather panicky dogs upstairs. You won't see the drivers themselves unless you take off the beige-colored tweed front grills.

There are five drivers inside the cabinet, and these small drivers should actually be directed not at the center of the room but at the wall. That way, the sound can bounce off the wall and spread around the room. If you've ever put an iPhone inside a plastic bowl the effect is fairly similar. That's not to say the Bose 901 is comparable to an iPhone in a bowl; just that it uses unique sonic qualities.

The Bose 901 is without any tweeters or woofers anywhere in the drivers. This means that neither the very high nor the very low frequency notes can be played without creating distortion.

If you're looking for the terminals at the back of the unit, and that is a perfectly reasonable place to expect them, then you'll be surprised to find they aren't there. There is a logic to the terminal's placement. It's to make it easier to thread the cord through the stand. The hourglass-shaped stands look nice enough, assuming they come with the after-market model you buy.

One thing you realize fast is this: it's basically impossible to get the stand to balance perfectly. This is because the speakers need the wire to operate, and that wire is fed through the stand. But since the wire has to pop out of the base of the stand in order to plug into the wall, the stand has to sit on top of the wire. If you're especially handy, you can make a little hole the wire can slip through.

If you don't want to bother with the stands at all, or you simply don't have them because they didn't come with the used set you bought, then you can probably find a spot for the speakers to sit somewhere in the living room. They're meant to be directed at the wall, but you can look around to find the best place for them. For this review, that place was right on top of my coffee table.

Altogether the unit weighs 7 pounds and the dimensions are 21.1 x 21.1 x 12.8 inches. They're available in brown and black, though I've mostly seen the brown units as I think these were more popular when they were still being manufactured.

How it Compares

We picked a couple of similar products available on the market to see how they compare.

Bose 901 Direct/Reflecting Speaker System - Walnut
  • Flagship Bose speaker delivers legendary performance from stereo components
  • Direct/Reflecting speaker technology reproduces much of the impact of a live performance
  • Nine full-range drivers for each speaker

Pros

  • Reasonably-priced
  • Time-tested
  • Can do well at mid-range

Cons

  • Power is lacking
  • Stand sits slightly wobbly
  • It has heavy distortion, especially at high and low decibels
B&W (Bowers & Wilkins) Bookshelf Speaker 606MB (Matte Black)...
  • Technical Features: Decoupled Double Dome Aluminium Tweeter / Continuum Cone bass / Midrange Flowport / Description:...
  • Frequency Range: -6 dB at 40 Hz and 33 kHz / Frequency Response: 52 Hz ~ 28 kHz ± 3 dB / Sensitivity: 88 dB spl...
  • Dimensions: (H) 345 mm 13.5 in) × (W) 190 mm (7.5 in) × (D) 300 mm (11.8 in) Cabinet Only / Net Weight: 6.9 kg (15.2...

I've seen the Bowers & Wilkins 606MB listed at around six times more expensive than the 901. That makes them far more expensive than the Bose 901 speakers, but I have to say, they blow away the competition in terms of quality. The sound has the quality of dark roast coffee. It's deep and dark but also somehow sharp.

I tested these out by playing "Chelsea Dagger" by The Fratellis, and the drum beats absolutely exploded out of the drivers. It gave the feeling of being in a raucous club in some brick basement with great acoustics. More impressive still, I found the sound quality changed as I moved around the room. I could pick up different instruments depending on where I was standing.

From an aesthetic point of view, the seamless beechwood cabinets look just gorgeous. The slightly rounded corners are a product of pressure. They're durably built and there's something about the streamlined wood looks somehow organic. Of course, it's the drivers flower out of the middle of the cabinets that matter.

The speakers themselves produce plenty of power, 8 ohms collectively. Still, on especially bass-heavy songs, like those you put on specifically to get thrashed by bass, the Bowers & Wilkins 606MB  came up short. It's not that you don't get excellent fidelity, but I think there are models available that can outdo the 606MB, especially ones with subwoofers.

Pros

  • Rich, deep tones
  • Sleek cabinets
  • Sturdy construction

Cons

  • Bass leaves something to be desired
  • Relatively high-priced
  • No subwoofers
Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Andrew Jones Home Audio Bookshelf Loudspeakers (Set...
  • ANDREW JONES. From speaker designer Andrew Jones comes a collection of speakers that bring professional-quality sound to...
  • HOME LISTENING. Whether you use them as stereo speakers or part of a multi-channel home theater system, these speakers...
  • CURVED DESIGN. These speakers utilize a true curved cabinet design. Not only aesthetically pleasing, this stiffer design...

The Pioneer SP-BS22LK is a low-cost speaker system that gives you everything you need in a home theatre. It boasts "Thunderous Bass" from the SW-8MK2 subwoofer, and I honestly think the bass quality stands up well, especially for a low-priced unit.

It was a challenge trying to find space for all five speakers. It's just a rather bulky setup that requires some fine tuning to position the center channel somewhere that it won't get in the way. If you've got a flat screen and no display case to put the center channel and the bookshelf speakers on, then you'll probably need to get one in order to tie the whole thing together aesthetically. 

Like Henry Ford quipping about the Model-T, you can get the Pioneer SP-BS22LK in any color you like as long as it's black. This might not be a problem for some living rooms, but one does always wish for options.

The most important takeaway though is that the Pioneer SP-BS22LK speakers really do sound good. Really good. Not just for the price, though that is impressive enough, but compared with much more expensive units.

Though it's cheap, Pioneer didn't skimp on quality when designing these speakers. Yes, it's a pain to set up so many different speakers, but the crossover effect when they're working together is outstanding. There's a clarity of sound quality which is hard to match even among high-end speakers. For a test, I'd recommend listening to "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin.

Pros

  • Low price
  • High-quality sound
  • Includes a subwoofer

Cons

  • Hard to place in a room
  • No alternative color options
  • You need somewhere to put the center channel
SVS Prime Tower Speaker (Single) - Premium Black Ash
  • The Prime Tower is a reference-grade loudspeaker with pinpoint accuracy, exceptional tonal balance, effortless bass...
  • 4.5-inch midrange driver mounted in its own dedicated and completely sealed compartment ensures a smooth, precise and...
  • Cone material is extremely light and rigid and maintains a flat frequency response with excellent handling across the...

The SVS Prime Tower shares a lot of similarities with the Pioneer SP-PK52FS. Both have the same two towers and a center channel, but the Prime Tower has no bookshelf speaker on each side and no subwoofer. The whole unit takes up a lot of space. Its dimensions are 36.6 x 8 x 11.6, so you might want to do some measurements before deciding to take it home.

Both the SVS Prime Tower and the Pioneer have a 1 inch tweeter, which is the component responsible for creating high-frequency sound waves. That probably doesn't sound terribly big, but since many other speakers try to get away with a 1/2 inch tweeter you'll notice the difference when you listen.

Both at mid-range and at higher decibels the Prime Tower performs well, with little or no distortion, and you won't get any screeching, nails-on-the-chalkboard high notes either thanks to the tweeter. You don't have much choice in terms of color, though you can choose between an ash finish and what they call "piano gloss." Both are more or less black, but piano gloss is my favorite. 

The SVS Prime Tower and Pioneer are also in the same price range. I'd say that for the money it's a great value, but the fact that it doesn't come with a subwoofer makes the Pioneer still come out ahead. The Bose 901 on the other hand? Not in the same category.

Pros

  • Competitively priced
  • 1" tweeter
  • Great range at high volumes

Cons

  • No subwoofer
  • No bookshelf speakers
  • Takes up a lot of space

Conclusion

While Bose has certainly given the world some outstanding audio achievements, the 901 speaker set just isn't one of them. Not only are they completely blown out of the water by more expensive models, but pound for pound they can't stand up against some cheaper alternatives either.

Audiophiles have often razzed the Bose 901s due to their lack of power and quality sound. In fact, they were panned by reviewers in their own time, and that time has now long passed. Since they've been improved upon by successive generations, you're probably better off going with another set of speakers that are still in production today.

They aren't without their charms, and some aspects of the design are clever and innovative, but they probably aren't going to be worth taking home unless you can find an outrageous deal from a motivated seller.

If, for some reason, you're especially nostalgic, there's bound to be someone who'd be happy to let you take these speakers off their hands. Otherwise, if you do ever get the chance to listen to them, go ahead and judge the sound quality for yourself. You may come to a different conclusion or be forced to admit times change and that there are better speakers out there for less money.

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