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April 22, 2008

Bose: One of the best Massachusetts companies you've never heard of

Bose is the Massachusetts success story everyone knows about but doesn' t know a lot about. That's no accident. In this age when most businesses aspire to go public, Framingham-based Bose remains privately held. Amar Bose, the former MIT professor who founded it, is still chairman and CEO, and the company is not obliged to report its finances to Wall Street or anyone else.

One of the things that means is that you do not read regular reports in the business pages on its stock performance or deals. Another is that company managers are free to pursue the product strategies of their choosing.

As a company spokeswoman put it, because "Bose Corporation is privately held, we are able to reinvest 100 percent of our profits back into the company. This funds our research and allows us to spend the time necessary to develop new technologies and products." She added, "Bose has an exceptionally strong commitment to research. Given this, we're continuously monitoring the consumer electronics landscape (and many others) to learn about new trends and develop new products/technologies."

What consumers see from this is that Bose often creates not just new products, but invents new product niches. For example, I have recently been testing Bose's QuietComfort 3 headphones, its companion kit to allow it to be used with iPhones, BlackBerries, and other cellphones with music player capabilities, and the Companion 5 computer speaker system.

The "QC3" brings Bose's active sound cancellation technology to a smaller headphone that sits on the user's ear rather than fitting over it like an earmuff they way the QuietComfort 2 does. The adapter kit swaps out the headphones' cable with one that includes a microphone for cell calls, plus a bundle of plugs that fit a wide range of phones.

The QC3 is in some ways an exception to Bose's market-creator role. The QC2 created the market for high-end noise reduction headphones and such audiophile headphone makers as Sennheiser and AKG responded with on-ear models, so QC3 is somewhat of a catch-up product although it does strive to be a bit more upscale in design than the competitors. The capability to work with multiple smartphones, though, is a place where Bose completely leads the pack. While everyone else rushed to support the iPhone, Bose realized that there are a lot of BlackBerries out there.

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