CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Bose 3-2-1 Series III review: Bose 3-2-1 Series III

If you're short on living space and don't need a Blu-ray player, the Bose 3-2-1 Series III home theatre system has plenty of "lifestyle" appeal.

Nic Tatham
4 min read

For many, Bose is perceived as the ultimate audio visual brand. In reality, this simply isn't the case, but there's no denying the hugely successful niche Bose has carved out for itself, having virtually invented the "lifestyle" AV system. Its Acoustimass speaker technology is almost legendary in hi-fi circles and spawned many imitators over the years.


Bose 3-2-1 Series III

The Good

Convincing 2.1-channel pseudo surround. Easy to set up and use. 1080p DVD upscaling looks good.

The Bad

Flat musical performance. No Blu-ray playback. Limited decoding/DSP options.

The Bottom Line

If you’re short on living space and don’t need a Blu-ray player, the Bose 3-2-1 Series III home theatre system has plenty of "lifestyle" appeal.


Carrying on from the Series II system, the latest incarnation shares much of the same physical design, but adds HDMI connectivity and 1080p upconversion of DVD. This is a 2.1-channel system, meaning an active subwoofer and single pair of satellite speakers, so it's not a true surround sound system in the 5.1-or-higher multichannel sense.

The disc-spinning, AM/FM radio media head-unit attaches via a dedicated umbilical cable to the Acoustimass subwoofer module, which houses all the amplification. The electronic wizardry that attempts to fool your ears that there are more surround speakers is called TrueSpace — a digital signal processor that works with any source, from mono audio to CDs and DVDs.


This system will play most current disc formats, except for Blu-ray. Unlike a lot of alternatives at this price point, Blu-ray is yet to be included in Bose's playback repertoire, but that's expected to change later in the year when it finally releases a BD-playing system.

DVD is unconverted to 1080p and output via HDMI, plus there are three inputs for external sources, such as a set-top box or satellite receiver. Additional video outputs include the norm, with a single of each — component, S-Video and composite. A Boselink connection allows multi-room connection and integration with other Bose components, such as its Wave radio and outdoor speakers. The media unit itself only sports six buttons — the learning remote control is definitely needed and it's a well laid out device. One of the niceties of this system is its ease of set up and use; they don't get much simpler, and Bose supplies all the necessary instruction and cabling in the box.


Taking up very little space (you can hide the Acoustimass bass module anywhere in the room), this system demonstrates Bose's core strength by making a lot of sound from very little hardware. Great if space is at a premium or you just don't fancy a room full of AV gear. In our 4x7-metre room, the Bose had absolutely no problem filling it with movie and music audio.

Kicking off with a surround sound classic, the pod race sequence in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the Bose delivered plenty of excitement on-screen. These few minutes of action is packed full of surround effects and the Bose gave it a fair crack with good dynamics and a healthy surround spread, despite the lack of actual rear speakers. While there's not the enveloping front-to-back panning of dedicated rear surrounds, the TrueSpace pseudo effect proved convincing enough with heavily-engineered surround soundtracks. With more subtle movie material, the pseudo surround effect of the Bose was less obvious, such as the wonderfully atmospheric sounding Das Boot. Whereas the Bose did a decent job of recreating the claustrophobic conditions with the numerous hull creaks and water drips, a dedicated 5, 6 or 7.1-channel system is more effective and encompassing.

Perhaps the Bose's surround forté is the quality of centrally-placed audio. Voices and other central effects hang and image well between the two satellite speakers and with movie use, you'd be forgiven for thinking there was a dedicated centre speaker below the TV screen. This is just as well because some 70 per cent of surround sound info is handled by this particular channel. Propping this up, the Acoustimass bass module also thumped out the lower registers well. Both bass and treble can be "compensated" for and these are effectively the main audio adjustments. We found giving both controls a small boost helped, and the Bose was able to deliver the bassy, dynamic sounds of films like War of the Worlds really had plenty of depth and control.

Music was more of a mixed bag as this prodigious bass can become overpowering. The small satellites also don't produce that sweet a mid-band so vocals can sound a bit thin and weedy. Stereo depth and imaging was also not as extended nor as focused to make music listening as convincing as movie watching. On the image front, the Bose does a good job of upscaling conventional DVD, but many, at this price, are going to want the Bose to play Blu-ray as well.


This entry-level Bose is a doddle to set up and use, plus it makes a decent job of providing pseudo movie surround from a 2.1 speaker configuration. Musically, it's not quite so convincing, but if you're short on living space and don't need a Blu-ray player, this Bose system has plenty of "lifestyle" appeal.