Founder of Bose audio firm dies at 83

His speakers, although expensive, earned a reputation for bringing concert-hall-quality audio into the home

Image Credit: AP
Amar Bose, founder and chairman of Bose Corp., the audio technology company, in front of the company headquarters, in Framingham, Mass. The company announced on Friday, that Bose has died. He was 83.
Gulf News

Boston: Amar G. Bose, the visionary engineer, inventor and billionaire entrepreneur whose namesake company, the Bose Corp., became synonymous with high-quality audio systems and speakers for home users, auditoriums and automobiles, died on Friday. He was 83.

His death was announced by the Bose Corp. It did not specify where he died or the cause.

As founder and chairman of the privately held company, Bose focused relentlessly on acoustic engineering innovation. His speakers, although expensive, earned a reputation for bringing concert-hall-quality audio into the home.

And by refusing to offer stock to the public, Bose was able to pursue risky long-term research, such as noise-canceling headphones and an innovative suspension system for cars without the pressures of quarterly earnings announcements.

In a 2004 interview in Popular Science magazine, he said: “I would have been fired a hundred times at a company run by MBAs. But I never went into business to make money. I went into business so that I could do interesting things that hadn’t been done before.”

A perfectionist and a devotee of classical music, Bose was disappointed by the inferior sound of a high-priced stereo system he purchased when he was an MIT engineering student in the 1950s. His interest in acoustic engineering piqued, he realised that 80 per cent of the sound experienced in a concert hall was indirect, meaning that it bounced off walls and ceilings before reaching the audience.

This realisation, using basic concepts of physics, formed the basis of his research. In the early 1960s, Bose invented a type of speaker based on psychoacoustics, the study of sound perception. His design incorporated multiple small speakers aimed at the surrounding walls, rather than directly at the listener, to reflect the sound and, in essence, recreate the larger sound heard in concert halls. In 1964, at the urging of his mentor and adviser at MIT, Y.W. Lee, he founded his company to pursue long-term research in acoustics. The Bose Corp. initially pursued military contracts, but Bose’s vision was to produce a new generation of stereo speakers.

Although his first speakers fell short of expectations, Bose kept at it. In 1968, he introduced the Bose 901 Direct/Reflecting speaker system, which was a best seller for more than 25 years and firmly entrenched Bose, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, as a leader in a highly competitive audio components marketplace. Unlike conventional loudspeakers, which radiated sound only forward, the 901s used a blend of direct and reflected sound.

Later inventions included the popular Bose Wave radio and the Bose noise-canceling headphones, which were so effective they were adopted by the military and commercial pilots.

In 1982, some of the world’s top automakers, including Mercedes and Porsche, began to install Bose audio systems in their vehicles, and the brand remains a favourite in that market segment.

Bose’s devotion to research was matched by his passion for teaching. Having earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1950s, Bose returned from a Fulbright scholarship at the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi and joined the MIT faculty in 1956.

He taught there for more than 45 years, and in 2011, donated a majority of his company’s shares to the school. The gift provides MIT with annual cash dividends. MIT cannot sell the shares and does not participate in the company’s management.

“As long as there are interesting problems to solve, I’ll stay active,” Bose said in a 2005 interview.

Bose loved teaching, said his son, Vanu G. Bose.

“While my father is well known for his success as an inventor and businessman, he was first and foremost a teacher,” the son said. “I could not begin to count the number of people I’ve met who’ve told me that my father was the best professor they ever had.”

In the 2005 interview, Bose said he tried to let his curiosity be a guiding principle as he demonstrated an experimental, Bose Corp.-designed car suspension system.

“Even our financial people were trying to get the engineers to discourage me, because they all saw money going into it,” said Bose, a lifelong tinkerer who began repairing radios as a teenager. “But some things you just believe in.”