Amar Bose, 1929–2013

The engineer who pioneered acoustic excellence

Amar Bose was finishing his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1956 when he treated himself to a new hi-fi system at Radio Shack. But when he tried out his new purchase, he was appalled by the awful acoustics. The inability of modern speakers to replicate live sounds, he said, became “a problem that began to obsess me.” That obsession would eventually make him a household name, a billionaire, and a legend in the world of high-fidelity acoustics.

Born in Philadelphia, Bose was the son of an “Indian freedom fighter forced to leave Calcutta because of his political beliefs,” said Outlook India. To help his family make ends meet, he worked repairing radios while still in high school. He was accepted into MIT in 1947, and it was nearby that he later started Bose Corp., which started out doing acoustic engineering primarily for military contracts, but later branched out into commercial applications.

Bose’s study of psychoacoustics—the human perception of sound—centered on his finding that 80 percent of the sound heard in a concert hall “bounced off walls and ceilings before reaching the audience,” said The New York Times. Accordingly, his first commercial stereo system, the Bose 901, “used a blend of direct and reflected sound.” Not everyone was convinced of the idea—the company’s first president “said no one would buy it” and quit in protest. But Bose was vindicated when the system “became a best seller for more than 25 years.”

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By the 1980s Bose audio products had become “talismans of yuppie affluence,” said Businessweek, with “Rolex-clad squash players” happy to blow hundreds of dollars on his clock radios and CD players. Bose sound systems were standard equipment in Porsches and Infinitis, and later the Bose SoundDock became “the fancy iPod dock.” But all the while Amar Bose remained a beloved professor at MIT, where he taught a class on acoustics for more than 45 years. In 2011, he donated most his company’s shares to the school. “I never went into business to make money,” he said, but “so that I could do interesting things that hadn’t been done before.”

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