Bose Knows: The Highs and The Lows (A Review of an Old Pair of Speakers)

In my last post, Rebuilding the Past, I mentioned that I was going to try to put together something akin to my first stereo system, and that I had a line on a Pioneer SX-450 receiver. Yesterday, I met with the Craigslist seller. After talking for 20 minutes or so, I decided he was on the up-and-up, and parted with a small amount of cash, collected my new/old receiver, and headed off down the road for the day's adventures in computer shopping (which will be a subject of a later posting, I'm certain).

Horrible iPhone picture of my new/old Pioneer SX-450 receiver.

At 15 watts-per-channel (in 1978 watts), the SX-450 is by no means a powerhouse. But, I know from experience that with an appropriate pair of speakers, that's plenty of power to sound great. I own several pairs of very-good-to-excellent speakers, and I figured that my Yamaha NS-6390s would be a good match. That's what I hooked up first, along with my iPhone 6s as a music source (since that's really all I have to play music from right now -- there's no antenna line to the basement yet).

Boy, was I wrong. The Yamaha's sounded okay, but relatively lifeless. The highs were nice, but the mid-range was muddy and the lows were pretty flat. Ugh. This is not the sound I remembered, either from the receiver or the speakers. Hmm ... Now I was hoping there wasn't a problem of some sort with the amp. Next!

Das Book: The owner's guide, ca. 1991, for The Bose 201 Series III Direct/Reflecting Speaker System.

Next, I tried the Bose 201 Series III Direct/Reflecting Speaker System which had belonged to my grandfather. I vaguely remember his comment was that he bought them because they had "great tone", but I don't think I ever heard them when he was alive. This particular pair seems to have been born in 1991, somewhere in Mexico, which makes them just old enough to officially be considered antique. I even have the original instruction booklet for them (in four languages), which looks like it just arrived from the printer.

Bose 201s are a deceptively simple-looking speaker. The driver compliment is a 6 1/2" woofer and an angled 2 1/4" tweeter, mounted in a smallish bookshelf enclosure. Like all of the Bose Direct/Reflecting line, they are sold in pairs, and there are specific instructions on how they should be placed for the best results.

The Bose manual had two recommendations for speaker setup, based on a "larger" or "smaller" room. I, of course, have a "medium" room, so I started with the larger room setup, which has the tweeters facing towards the center of the room, switched on the receiver, and started the music.

Whoa! Where did all that music come from?

I'd always poo-pooed the 201s, thinking that a little box like this couldn't produce good sound, despite knowing full well that Acoustic Wave radio thing always sounded amazing (remind me to tell you sometime about the first time I heard one of those), and that the folks at Radio Shack had blown everyone away for years with the little Minimus 7 speakers (heck, I own a half dozen of those!). In fact, until today I don't think I'd ever listened to a pair of 201s. And, I've never cared for the Acoustimass sub-woofer-and-satellite systems -- I think Bose has the crossover frequency all wrong. As far as I'd always been concerned, the only Bose speakers worth considering were the 501 Series II floor speakers (I really wanted a pair of those), or that the 301 Series II bookshelf models would be good (I've never cared for any version of the 901s and all the extra baggage they carry).

Bose 201 Series III Direct/Reflecting Speaker System -- Part I

Guess what. I was wrong again. These little guys are amazing speakers, and a perfect match for the little SX-450 (yeah, I'm gushing a little). Along with the drivers and crossover, there must be a good bit of magic stuffed into those little boxes, because the low end is full and warm, yet still punchy, and cross over beautifully into a high end that is bright and transparent without being harsh.

I'm not even going to mess with any of the other speakers I have laying around, at least not as primary speakers. I might see if I can find a good deal on a 301 Series II or III set, but I'm not sure I'll really want or need to.

You can buy 201s new, at under $220 for a pair or find older ones on eBay. The new series V are a lot sleeker looking, and maintain the 6 1/2" woofer. The new version has a high-tech 2 1/2" tweeter in place of older 2 1/4" paper cone type, but I'd imagine they still sound great. If you want a little more guts, the new 301 Series V is an amazing speaker system, too, for less than $330 a pair, and uses an 8" woofer and two 2 1/2" tweeters in a special arrangement to further enhance the stereo sound field.

The next part of the stereo project is to find an appropriate turntable. In searching eBay and Craigslist, there's a decent selection out there, but the prices on vintage models in good original shape or nicely restored are approaching those of some of the modern boutique models. What I'd like to find in a vintage model is a Pioneer PL-518 direct drive, semi-automatic turntable. The comparable Radio Shack would do (it was a re-badged Pioneer at that time), as would a Technics model. Otherwise, I may bite the bullet and get a new Orbit from U-Turn Audio.

BTW, those Yamahas are up for sale (as is an AudioSource SW6.5 powered subwoofer) if you or someone you know might be interested. They sound sweet with a 50-100 watt amp. I'll have a couple of more modern receivers up for sale soon.