How Amar Bose Engineered Today’s Sound

A curious Bengali American kid with a love for tinkering built a multi-billion-dollar company and changed the way we listen to music.

Atul Bhattarai

July 19, 2021

How Amar Bose Engineered Today’s Sound
Dr. Amar Bose (Bose Corporation)

In 2015, two years after the death of Amar Bose — the research scientist, longtime Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor, and founder of the eponymous acoustics company — the Fifth Asian Awards in the U.K. presented a posthumous award in Bose’s honor. The announcer told the audience that many of them likely “own[ed] [Bose’s] technology” but didn’t know “the man was Indian.” His daughter, Maya Bose, who received the award on Bose’s behalf, later explained to reporters that this was, in part, “a reflection of the fact that he was a very private person and did not like to talk about his personal life.”

Born in Philadelphia in 1929 to an Indian father and an American mother, Amar Bose discovered his talent for electric tinkering early on. As a child, he repaired scrapped toy trains to play with since his family couldn’t afford new ones. Later, he set up a radio repair business that grew into one of the largest in Philadelphia. A violin player in his youth, Bose would stumble onto acoustics research as a doctoral student at MIT, which drew together his passion for research and classical music.

Bose would go on to have a foundational role in the audio business through his company, which, with his “addiction” to innovation, he turned into an “engineers’ paradise.” He made it his life’s mission to get recorded music to sound lifelike. Bose would reinvent his company, as well as the audio market, time and again, producing box speakers, car stereos, noise-canceling headphones, Bluetooth speakers, and more. “I never went into business to make money,” Bose once famously said. “I went into business so that I could do interesting things that hadn’t been done before.”

Bose grew up “much, much more Indian than western.” In Philadelphia, his childhood home was a revolving door for revolutionaries of Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement, who demanded an end to British rule in India. A physics student who had been imprisoned for producing anti-British literature in British India, Bose’s father, Noni Gopal Bose, fled Calcutta for the U.S. in the early 1920s. At a spiritual retreat, he met and married Charlotte Mechlin, a schoolteacher with French and German roots and a deep interest in Vedanta. “Indian people would come stay with us for days, weeks, or months,” Bose once said to a magazine. “The food we ate was Indian, and both my mother and father were very deep into the ancient philosophy of India, so it could well have been an Indian household.”

The two settled in Philadelphia, where Noni started an import business while turning his house into a meeting ground for Ghadar Party members. But, during the 1929 stock market crash, Noni lost much of his savings — so much so that he had to borrow $75 to pay the hospital fees for his son’s delivery a few months later.