Bose L1 Model 1 volume problem identified?

(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)

Bose have been tinkering with the L1 system – and it’s not for the better by the initial looks of things.

The new – but to my ears not improved – version of their L1 system is being called the L1 Model 1. The original L1 system is now being referred to as the “L1 Classic”.

Unfortunately, both the Model 1 and Classic systems look exactly the same so many musicians are reporting that they didn’t realise that their local music shop had sold them an L1 Model 1 instead of an L1 Classic and this has been causing some MAJOR headaches for many musicians.

Here’s just one of many horror stories I’ve heard regarding this issue recently.

Robert, our resident singing expert who, like me, is a professional musician with more than 30 years experience in sound, borrowed one of my my L1 Classic systems to try it out at a few of his gigs. He used my L1 Classic at EVERY gig over a 2 – 3 week period in venues of every shape and size and was so impressed with it that the following week he bought one himself.

However when he played his first gig with his “new Bose”, he noticed that his L1 system wasn’t nearly as loud as my L1 system which he’d used the week before…

So how could this possibly be? After all, he bought his Bose L1 from the same music shop as I bought my Bose L1 from, and it looked exactly the same as my Bose L1…

Upon further investigation he discovered the answer.

It wasn’t the same.

Although it looked exactly the same cosmetically, inside it wasn’t – it actually had 250W less power! That’s when he discovered that the system he had bought was the L1 Model 1 and my system is the L1 Classic. They both look the same, but the L1 Model 1 system puts out less volume than the L1 Classic system.

Most annoying of all is that when he bought his L1, the music shop assistant didn’t tell him. Perhaps he didn’t know. Rest assured though, the L1 model 1 is different from the L1 Classic despite the fact that they both look the same.

When Robert told me about this, I was a little shocked and surprised, so before writing this article, I borrowed his new L1 Model 1 and conducted my own tests and then compared my test results with his. He was right. In both tests we found that the limiter on the L1 Model 1 kicked in and started limiting the sound output at a much lower volume level than in the L1 Classic.

Put in layman’s terms, the older L1 Classic was considerably louder than the new L1 Model 1.

Unknown to us at the same time, a third musician friend of ours was also considering buying a Bose L1 and his local music shop gave him an L1 system out on trial which he used at a few of his gigs. He later told us that he decided NOT to buy it and returned it to the shop because…you’ve guessed…the limiter continually kicked in and the volume it produced just wasn’t loud enough!

This now meant that 3 different musicians with over 80 years of musical experience between them, had all arrived at the same conclusion – the Model 1 isn’t as loud as the Classic.

We tested both the L1 Classic and the L1 Model 1 systems at dozens of live gigs and made A/B comparisons in all these venues which are all different shapes and sizes. The L1 Classic system out-performed the L1 Model 1 every time. We even had our “under-achieving” L1 Model 1 tested and checked out by Bose themselves, and they confirmed that there was NO FAULT on our L1 Model 1 system, which left us with only one possible conclusion – the “L1 Model 1” is simply not as loud as the “L1 Classic”.

There seems to be little doubt that this is because the L1 Model 1 has only 500 watts of power (2 x 250W) compared to the L1 Classic’s 750 watts of power (3 x 250W), a very important detail that the Bose adverts for the new L1 and our local music shop failed to make us aware of. Robert then posted the problem on Bose’s own forum where, astonishingly, a Bose representative actually dismissed this crucial piece of information about the L1 model 1 having only two thirds of the power of the previous L1 as “splitting hairs” and gave technical proof to substantiate Bose’s claim that the L1 Model 1 produces the same amount of sound as the L1 Classic.

It was also suggested to us that by tinkering with the impedance of the speakers, Bose supposedly made 250W sound like 500W and anyway, the original L1 Classic didn’t really give out 500W – it was more like 375W because of the way the L1 Classic speakers functioned. Of course all this is very surprising because Bose are actually a company who encourage their customers to judge sound with their ears, not specifications sheets!

Perhaps Bose thought “…if we can’t repudiate the claims, we’ll just try and blind ’em with science…”.

But unknown to them, Robert only gave them his name, not his job title, so these Bose guys to this day don’t realise that they’ve actually been dealing with MP3 Backing Trax professionals who are experts in their field and really know their stuff, not Joe Punter!

So, is it possible that Bose have cut corners with the L1 Model 1 and would rather we didn’t use our ears to judge this new version of their L1?

Annoyingly, this story is now repeating itself at an alarming rate. Every week I hear of yet another musician who has bought a Bose L1 Model 1 system because they’ve heard others using the L1 Classic and are impressed, only to find that the L1 Model 1 just isn’t cutting it the same. The problem is further aggravated by the fact that Bose don’t produce the L1 Classic anymore, so when they go to their local music shop to buy what they think is an L1 Classic, they are actually walking out with an L1 Model 1.

Worse still, not one of the sales assistants or PA experts in our local music shop who sell Bose products and who inform me they’ve been on Bose training courses advised any of the musicians before they bought their L1 Model 1 that it had 250 watts and one power amp less than the original L1 Classic. No-where on the Bose marketing stand in the music shop does it tell you this either.

I and everyone else I’ve spoken to about this have all been led to believe by Bose in their forum, and the sales reps in the music shops, that both these systems give out the same volume – they don’t. It’s unclear whether Bose, after originally gaining world-wide acclaim with the fantastic L1 Classic, have been cutting corners with the new L1 Model 1 and have perhaps just gone a step too far. Certainly, I personally can only think of one reason why Bose would produce a new version of their L1 with one less amplifier with only two thirds of the power and spend time and effort tinkering with it to try and squeeze the same from less (which according to our tests they’ve been unsuccessful in achieving). To save money and produce it cheaper.

Not good!

So if you need your sound to be loud, beware of the L1 Model 1. Compared to the L1 Classic, it produces much less volume despite Bose’s claims that both systems produce the same volume. For solo acts who only put their backing tracks and a microphone through it, the L1 Model 1 will most probably be fine because with this type of set up, the volume limiting isn’t quite as noticeable as it is when there are multiple instruments and microphones.

In saying that, there is really no excuse. If the old L1 Classic can handle a multiple instruments and microphones type of set up with ease, then the new L1 Model 1 which Bose still charge the same price for should be capable of handling the same.

In the end, Robert gave his L1 Model 1 back to the music shop and managed to get hold of a couple of older L1 Classics the same as mine. He’s now completely happy with his L1 Classics and the volume they produce and would never consider buying an L1 Model 1.

You can read all about Roberts L1 problems at the Bose forum. Be aware though that the Bose forum is moderated by Bose and Bose understandably don’t seem to like any negative publicity about their products on their forum.

It took a few days before Bose would publish one of Roberts posts about the L1 Model 1 problems, and the day they did publish it, they also published their response to it. We reckon that Bose probably held back publishing Roberts post until they felt that they had some sort of suitable answer to it. By doing this, the negativity in Roberts post could be counter-balanced by Bose’s reply.

This clever piece of marketing ensures that the Bose forum is perceived by the public who read it to be a place where Bose users can publish their questions or problems etc and straight away those clever, helpful guys at Bose answer and solve them. That’s not quite the case in our experience.

I’m sure Bose would argue that their forum exists solely to provide help and assistance to L1 users, and I think they do manage to achieve this to a large extent. However I do feel that the Bose forum is more of a thinly veiled marketing exercise for Bose products rather than being in the true spirit of what a proper internet forum should be. Internet forums historically have always been places where people interested in the forums subject matter can join in and throw in their two cents worth but the Bose forum doesn’t seem to be that type of forum which is unfortunate.

Finally, on a more positive note, please don’t let what you read here deter you from buying a Bose L1 Model 1 or any other L1 system for that matter – just remember to “up” your calculations a little bit more when you’re trying to work out how many of these systems you’ll need to replace your current PA system as you may find you’ll need to buy more systems than you perhaps anticipated to make up for the lesser volume the L1 model 1 produces.

As for the earlier article I wrote which was written some months ago before I discovered this issue with volume on the L1 Model 1 system, I still stand by EVERYTHING I’ve said about the “L1 Classic”.

Go buy one (or two or three) now! It’s still one of the best sounding PA’s you’ll ever hear.