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Back in 1968, Bose, then a 4-year-old company named after its MIT-educated founder, went way out on a limb and created a speaker design that looked and acted like nothing that came before it.

The Bose 901 is still one of the most famous speaker designs of all time, party because of how strange it looked, but also because of how great it sounded and how it works.

The essence of the 901 design is that it has nine total speakers in each box, but only one of those is facing toward you.

Bose engineers determined that this ratio of direct to reflected sound just about matches the way sound is heard in a classical music hall. The 901s may not have been perfect, but recreating ambience well was their strongest point. Listeners and reviewers felt they were getting the sense of being in the performance hall with the musicians, and the speakers sold like wildfire.

Today we begin a new series examining the basic points of what I’ll term “how to listen to music well.” The wonderful connectivity of the internet age has allowed for rapid growth and quicker understanding of difficult, technical hobbies. As time goes on, more “meeting places” — forums, subreddits, blogs, etc. — are filling with technical help and how to, to the point that anyone can get started learning about these passions for free.

Sometimes you notice that a meeting place is geared more toward the newcomer than the wizened regular. It’s a pretty funny name, but in pro audio, if you’re posting on Gear Slutz and you’re wrong about something, you will be corrected in short order. Heavyweights like some of the top mastering and recording engineers lurk there, and it’s a source of tons of knowledge if you know what you’re looking (or asking) for.

But a noob can’t start there. I’ve noticed that the subreddit r/audiophile on Reddit is very welcoming to newbies to the hifi audio game. While I wouldn’t say the regulars there know all that much about the hobby, they do get one or two things right on a regular basis.

Visit the subreddit and you won’t have to scroll down very far to see a picture of a system where at least one of the speakers is right up against a wall. “What do you think of my system?” asks the post title, and someone in the first five comments will respond, “I think they’d sound better away from that side wall.”

The Bose 901s caused people to look at those rear speakers and think, “maybe I should pull these out a little.” However, modern speakers with their drivers all facing forward might make you think that no sound comes from the back and sides of a speaker, and that’s not exactly correct.

The lesson today is a basic one. Sound mostly comes from the front of modern speakers, but quite a bit does go directly sideways and some even wraps around the back. Speakers need room to breathe and create more realistic ambiance, which in turn benefits all of your music. Keep your speaks away from the walls as much as your design sense will allow, and your ears will thank you.

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