After almost 24 hours of flying and changing four flights, I land in the idyllic airport of Struer where the baggage claim belt has precisely seven bags on it.
By now you’ve probably guessed that it’s a small town. A population of a mere 10,000, each of whom seem to have a keen sense of aesthetic and solemn pride in their design virtues. Bang & Olufsen was the outcome of this tranquil progress and two gentlemen, Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen. Formed in 1925, it wasn’t until 1978 that the MoMA in NYC turned their attention to the brand and introduced a record 39 B&O products in their Permanent Design Collection. In Struer Museum, there’s an entire wing dedicated to B&O products, tracing their history to the very first product, the Eliminator. They’re a big deal in Denmark and indeed in the world of AV. I was invited to spend time understanding their design and manufacturing process while also getting a glimpse of their product and retail strategy.
Art and Science in harmony
B&O claim that theirs might be the most advanced aluminium machining plant in the world, and they could just be right. One look at the enclosures for the Beolab 19 subwoofer and Beolab 12 on-wall speaker alleviate any doubt you might have. The aluminium machining plant has a total of 50 tanks that are used to give the finished extruded parts a ‘dip’ in protective and decorative finishes. Scoop is that they’re working on an extremely difficult to master ‘White Aluminium’ finish and if they’re successful in formulating the process, B&O will be the first brand in the world to offer this finish as a customer option! The Bauhaus design principle means form has to follow function though and no other brand does it better than B&O. The underlying ethos is that every product should have a little bit of magic and that is obvious in the new Beovision Avant 4K telly where the speaker drops down and extends itself like a bot version of SRK. If you’re lucky enough to own a BMW 7 Series or the Audi A8, you would’ve loved the way the lens tweeter raises itself from the dashboard when you turn on the optional B&O system. Every motor assembly though, has to pass the quietness test and which is why, no matter how complex the movement of the stand assembly, speaker casing or screen is, it never even purrs in your room.
Inside the cube
Speakers are tuned by Tonemeister Geoff Martin who likes to work in The Cube, a room so-called because of its almost identical dimensions of 12 x 12 x 13m and he illutstrates how the A8 iPod dock speaker took almost 14 months from an idea to the final product. Countless hours of fine-tuning and material research goes behind every product, not to mention multiple design iterations since it has to bear the B&O logo. It’s a constant tug-of-war between engineering and design teams which eventually develops into a product so serene that even the most ardent audiophile is tempted to move away from his or her sweet spot.
Take control of your home
Automation is a big part of the B&O lifestyle too. With the Gateway, multiple B&O products can communicate with each other around the room as well as third party accessories and appliances like lights, curtains, CCTV cameras, gates etc. All of it can be controlled from your TV screen while you’re watching a movie for instance, with the brilliant on-screen interface and integration. Multiple speakers around the house can be grouped or you could simply use the slender, aluminium BeoRemote One to take charge. So much is possible with such simplicity that you easily forget the technical complexity of it all. An Apple for the AV world, then.
Mobile concert halls
Automotive is a big part of B&O’s operations as well, as much as 25% revenue comes from it so it’s no secret that they take it very seriously. Jens Peter Zinck, the Head of Automotive is very quick to mention that their relationship with Audi is special and is the brand that first showed faith in the business of luxury car audio as part of the option list. Every thing from an entry-level Audi A3 to the mighty Aston Martin One77 hyper car gets the same care and attention to detail, including different tuning for variants of the same model. While I was in their secret underground lair, there was a BMW 7 Series that was being kitted out and early impressions were indeed positive.
Danish design within reach
BeoPlay is a new sub-brand that caters to portable products and headphones. The instantly iconic A2 and A9 speakers merge classic Bang & Olufsen design philosophy with a more palatable price tag and easier access. Not bound by exclusive brand stores, BeoPlay products are available across a wider number of retail counters and that serves as a stepping stone to the brand. Form and functionality are inextricably linked at B&O and the more time you spend amongst the design and research labs, the more this becomes clear.
A slice of the future
The latest product from this Danish design giant is probably its most magical and unconventional. The Moment, as it’s called, is a wireless music streamer that is a slab of touch-sensitive natural wood slate on one side and a 7in HD display on the flip side. It uses Pattern Play and a Mood Wheel, both of which aim to understand your preferences over time and serve the perfect mix of music depending on time of day or your mood! It looks and works like nothing else on the market, and that is good enough for B&O, a brand that believes that the logo on a product is unnecessary if it's distinctive enough to be spotted anyway. Hence, the laser-etched subtlety on most of its products.
Shaping the brand
Torsten Valeur, Chief of Design at David Lewis Designers, the man responsible for penning a chunk of B&O products after the passing of legendary David Lewis, says that his team is small and each of the members like to believe it’s their own design, even though it usually is a team effort. Such is the passion exhibited for the brand. It’s infectious. But then again, it could also be the Danish pastries. We’re willing to find out all over again.