Amar G. Bose – Visionary in Sound Engineering

Those familiar with Bose sound systems might not know that the man behind the company was more than an entrepreneur. IEEE Life Fellow Amar G. Bose was an engineer, an educator, and a visionary whose work with speakers and sound technology set the bar for how we listen to music today. On 12 July, he died at the age of 83 but not without leaving behind a legacy that will continue to define high-quality acoustic engineering.

An Indian-American electrical and sound engineer, Bose’s passion for classical music led to his success. In 1964, he founded Bose Corp., based in Framingham, Mass., which designs high-performance audio equipment for the home, car, and professional settings. He became one of the richest men in the world, with a net worth of around US $1 billion.

Bose was born in Philadelphia to an American mother and an Indian father who fled to the United States from India after being imprisoned for opposing British rule. Growing up, Bose had a knack for business.  At the age of 13, he recruited friends to become “co-workers,” repairing model trains and home radios to make some extra cash.

His father borrowed US $10,000 so that Bose could attend MIT. Bose completed his bachelor’s degree and went on to become a Fulbright Scholar in New Delhi before returning to MIT to earn his Ph.D. in electrical engineering. After graduation, he was hired as a professor at the school. Although his intentions were to stay there for two years, he remained a professor for 45 years, until 2001. He is noted with having influenced thousands of electrical engineering students and attracting students from other fields to his courses as well. Bose was known to have thrown away the syllabus he was given when he began teaching and instead brought in nine blackboards encouraging students to think out loud and illustrate the problem-solving process on the boards.

In a story featured on MIT News, Bose’s colleague Paul Penfield, Jr., said, “Unlike so many other creative people, he was also introspective. He could understand and explain his own thinking processes and offer them as guides to others… Perhaps that helps explain why he was such a beloved teacher.”

ENGINEERING SOUND

His passion for stereo equipment is said to have started in 1956 after his disappointment with the high-end equipment that was on the market at the time. Bose wanted a stereo that could replicate the sound of a live performance. He began to focus on speaker technology and psychoacoustics, the scientific study of sound perception, which led him to design equipment with “lifelike sound.” As a student, he had learned that 80 percent of sound heard in a concert hall is indirect, which means it bounces off the ceiling and walls as opposed to traveling directly to the ear. He invented the 901 Directly/Reflecting speaker system, one of the first stereo loudspeakers to use the space around a room. The speaker remained an industry standard for 25 years.

With the help of angel investors and holding significant patents in loudspeaker design and power processing, he was able to grow his company to the level it is today, with annual revenue of $2.28 billion and 9300 employees worldwide in 2011. Bose Corp. funnels most of its profits into long-term research in the area of acoustic engineering.

In 1972, Bose was named IEEE Fellow for “contributions to loudspeaker design, two-state amplifier-modulators, and nonlinear systems.” In 2011, he was listed by theBoston Globe as ninth on a list of the top 150 innovators from MIT since the school’s inception. By the age of 68, he held more than two dozen patents. His acoustical products are used in Olympic stadiums, Broadway theaters, and landmark buildings such as the Sistine Chapel. His noise cancellation system is used in space shuttles to protect astronauts from permanent hearing damage, as well as in the military and for aviation for noise reduction. And his research on nonlinear control theory led to an electromagnetic active control suspension for automobiles, which provides sound control when driving over bumpy roads.

Bose donated to MIT the majority of his company stock to sustain and advance the school’s educational and research mission. He also has made donations to the IEEE Foundation, the organization’s philanthropic arm.

“Amar Bose was an exceptional human being,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “I learned from him, and was inspired by him, every single time I met with him. I have never known anyone like him. I will miss him. MIT will miss him. The world will miss him.”

Bose leaves behind a wife, daughter, and son, Vanu Bose, who is the founder and CEO of a radio technology firm in Cambridge, Mass. He told MIT News, “My single greatest education experience at MIT was being a teaching assistant for my father. While my father is well known for his success as an inventor and businessman, he was first and foremost a teacher.”