Many packaged 5.1 systems come with speaker wire, and so does the Acoustimass 6, but the bad news is that it comes with twice as many wires as other systems. With the Acoustimass 6 you need to run the included 20-foot flat, ribbon-type wire between the Acoustimass module and your receiver's five speaker and subwoofer outputs. That proprietary cable is fitted with a multipin connector that plugs into the Acoustimass module; then you run another proprietary set of wires between the Acoustimass module and each of the five sats. The only reason we can think of for this unusual arrangement is that Bose is performing some additional sound processing in the subwoofer. That's fine, but be prepared for all the wires.
The matte black, vinyl-covered powered subwoofer has a single 5.25-inch woofer mounted on its bottom panel, and a large rear-mounted port. The cabinet appears to be constructed from medium-density fiberboard, but the front and rear caps are molded black plastic. The Acoustimass module's cabinet is definitely bigger than most of the competition's subwoofers; the mighty Bose is 16.33 inches high, 8.13 inches wide, and 22.33 inches deep and weighs 27 pounds.
The Acoustimass module has bass and LFE rotary controls located near the back of its right side panel. They separately control the overall bass volume level and movie soundtrack low-frequency effects. There's a detent at the 12 o'clock position of each knob, which we took to be the "flat" setting. As we played movies and music we sometimes felt a need to make small adjustments above or below those settings.
We used a Denon AVR-1912 receiver and an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player for all of our Acoustimass 6 listening tests, and we were pleased to find the system unusually easy to set up. Usually, with speakers as small as these, we would have to take some time to experiment with the AVR-1912's subwoofer-to-speaker crossover settings to achieve the best possible bass balance between the sub and sats. With the Acoustimass 6 the bass balance is fixed, and is handled within the Acoustimass module. We had great sound within minutes of setting up the system.
The Acoustimass 6's satellites may be incredibly tiny, but the sound is anything but small. We showed the Bose no mercy and played the opening sequence of the "I Am Legend" Blu-ray at a healthy volume, and the sound of Robert Neville's Mustang fastback speeding through the deserted post-plague New York streets was thrilling. When Neville shoots at herds of galloping deer the sound echoed off the buildings, handily demonstrating the Acoustimass 6's ability to put us inside a scene. The tonal balance was full and rich, and considering the size of the tiny satellites, that feat was even more impressive. Dialogue sounded natural and clear.
The Acoustimass 6's sub-to-sat bass blend was well above average, so we compared the Acoustimass 6 with the Harman Kardon HKTS 20BQ and heard two very different-sounding systems. With the "House of Flying Daggers" Blu-ray the fight scene within the circle of drums had more impact and visceral kick over the Acoustimass 6. The HKTS 20BQ's smaller subwoofer created a lot less bass, but it had better definition, so each drum thwack was more distinct. The sound from the HKTS 20BQ and Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS 5.1 systems was more detailed overall, and the wrap-around-the-room surround imaging of both systems was more immersive, but the Acoustimass 6 had more oomph, so it sounded like a bigger, more powerful system.
Porcupine Tree's "Anesthetize" concert Blu-ray sounded remarkably dynamic with the Acoustimass 6. The prog-rock band's mix of acoustic and electric instruments changes from tune to tune, and Gavin Harrison's drum kit had great punch, but his cymbals and other percussion instruments sounded a little coarse compared with what we were getting from the HKTS 20BQ's satellite speakers. The Bose's soundstage depth was flatter than the other systems'. The Bose satellites don't have tweeters and the Harman Kardon speakers do, which might account for the difference.
Listening to Paul Simon's new "So Beautiful or So What" CD in stereo we were more aware of the Bose sats' small size. Simon's vocals lacked body and the acoustic guitars sounded a little muffled.
We really liked the Acoustimass 6's fuller tonal balance with movies, and with the room lights turned off it was easy to forget we were listening to five 3-inch-tall speakers. However, the system forfeited the resolution and detail we heard from the other systems. The best, clearest sound we've heard from a small, budget-priced 5.1 subwoofer and satellite system came from the Energy Take Classic 5.1, although some buyers might prefer the Bose Acoustimass 6's rich sound.
The Bose Acoustimass 6 Series III speaker system delivers big sound from exceptionally small speakers, but its high price keeps it from being a good value pick.