90 years out in the open

Saturday, 28th November, 2015

Bang & Olufsen wears its heart on its sleeve with nothing to hide

In this extract from his new book containing 250 new photographs, ‘The Art of Impossible: the Bang & Olufsen Story’, its author: Alastair Philip Wiper describes findings of his thorough research of the company’s history, its thought and design processes and the company’s constant striving for perfection.

“Elevating everyday products such as loudspeakers and telephones into objects that people develop emotional attachments to is no mean feat, and it is what has made Bang & Olufsen a brand unlike any other.

Iza Mikkelsen is Product Communications Consultant at Bang & Olufsen. Together we have scoured dusty basements for prototypes of old products, driven around Jutland in the rain, explored every corridor of the Bang & Olufsen facilities and visited the local pub, The Happy Penguin, more than a couple of times. A second-generation Bang & Olufsen employee and former competitive ballroom dancer, Iza has grown up in the company and knows everybody in Struer, greeting them as we are out and about with a cheeky smile and a chat about how their parents are doing.

During my first visit to Struer, Iza showed me the Wall of Fame in the canteen of Factory 4, an epic 30-metre-long wall displaying the portrait of every Bang & Olufsen employee who has worked for the company for a period of at least 25 years; some even made it to a half-century.

Bang & Olufsen's latest creation: the BeoLab 90

There are an awe-inspiring 1,231 portraits on that wall. Co-founder Peter Bang is the first portrait on the wall, but his partner Svend Olufsen didn’t make it as he died a few months before his 25th anniversary. Rules are rules.

Seeing this wall is a humbling experience. “The spirit that was created during the first 25 years of Bang & Olufsen’s life has survived until now,” says Ronny Kaas, a third-generation Bang & Olufsen employee who has worked for the company since 1961, and who now serves as its history specialist.

The company began life in the attic of a manor house in Struer in 1925, started by two young engineers with a passion for radio and a keen eye for an opportunity: Svend Olufsen and Peter Bang. Apart from a few diversions, design at Bang & Olufsen wasn’t particularly radical for the first 30 years and they made products that looked pretty much similar to everybody else’s, focusing instead on technology and innovation. But in the mid-1950s something happened, and the Bang & Olufsen that we know today began to take shape.

“There was an exhibition in Copenhagen in 1954 where the furniture industry in Denmark showed that there were new times coming,” says Ronny Kaas.

In the mid-1950s something happened, and the Bang & Olufsen that we know today began to take shape

“The big architects like Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner were influencing all of the younger guys to be more daring, to reach for new shapes and new materials. Teak became very popular, colours began to be used more, and people began to change their home environments to be more cheerful and more happy.”

These new trends were shown to the public through exhibitions, and old-fashioned radio cabinets were put into the exhibitions because there were no alternatives. Those cabinets received a great deal of criticism for not moving with the times, and started a discussion about how radios should fit in with modern daily life.

The most notable critic was the famous architect Poul Henningsen, who said: “It is an insult to people who value modern furniture to force them to buy these monstrosities in order to enjoy the considerable cultural asset embodied by the radio. Has this thing been designed by fishmongers or potato wholesalers with nothing better to do in their spare time?”

Heeding the criticism, a few radio manufacturers started to work with architects, Bang & Olufsen among them. After four years of research, in 1958 Bang & Olufsen started to change the way it did things and began the close collaboration with external designers that would come to define the company’s way of working. Architect Ib Fabiansen was one of the first to really instigate a new direction for the brand.

In the modern era Bang & Olufsen has worked only with external designers, and that collaboration has been an integral part of the success of the brand.

“All Bang & Olufsen designs have a built-in story and idea – and when we have done our job really well, you should be able to understand what the idea is by looking at the design,” says Head of Brand, Design and Marketing Marie Kristine Schmidt.

“We are not trying to create design that pleases everyone, but we make a huge effort to try and understand how our customers live at home, enabling us to make the right choices based on these insights.”

A look at the products of the last 50 years will reveal the work of many talented designers, including Ib Fabiansen, Acton Bjørn & Sigvard Bernadotte, Henrik Sørig Thomsen, Lone & Gideon Lindinger- Lo?wy, Anders Hermansen and Steve McGugan.

But two designers stand out from that crowd, each of whom has had an enormous influence on the design of Bang & Olufsen: Jacob Jensen and David Lewis. The two young men worked for Bang & Olufsen designer Henning Moldenhawer in the early 1960s before leaving to set up their own design firms, and later returning to Bang & Olufsen. Between them they designed many of the products that have made the company famous, Jacob from the 1960s to the 1990s on the audio side and David from the 1960s to the 2010s on the video and speaker side.

Close collaboration with external designers would come to define the company’s way of working

Bang & Olufsen stands for old-school quality, products that are built with pride by people who care, and that is a valuable yet hard-to-grasp concept for today’s society. On the one hand, educated consumers are crying out for a slowdown, for the world to return to a state where the things you purchase are important and add value to your life; and on the other they are looking for the newest technology every single day, meaning that the world is moving more quickly and disposably than ever before.

Bang & Olufsen knows that doing things its own way has always been the key to its success, but that adaptation is also important.

I have built up a huge amount of affection for this unconventional West Jutland company: the people who work there do care. They care about creating the best products, they care about each other, and they care about the customers who are going to live with those products. Bang & Olufsen wears its heart on its sleeve with nothing to hide”. (Source)

Purchase the book at Amazon

More images & details of the book here

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Dressed for winter

Monday, 23rd November, 2015

Following on from the release of the BeoPlay A6 speaker with Kvadrat covers comes replacement covers for the very successful BeoPlay A9.

Kvadrat fabric

The fabric used for the BeoPlay A6 and BeoPlay A9 speakers is a special blend of wool fabrics using delicate, multi-coloured threads woven with precision to give premium acoustic transparency and beautiful aesthetics.

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Priced at 129 euros for the BeoPlay A9, the new Kvadrat covers are available in dusty blue, dark grey, dusty rose and light grey.

Bang & Olufsen flagship concept stores

The project Kvadrat textiles have been chosen by Bang & Olufsen for their new flagship concept stores. In 2013, these opened in Copenhagen and Shanghai. More are planned for major cities across the world. The new stores are designed by Johannes Torpe, the creative director of Bang & Olufsen, and his design team. They combine top-quality design and sound to create luxurious, mood-changing experiences, which encourage visitors to explore and play with different products. Speaker walls upholstered with textile are at the heart of the concept stores.

Visitors are invited to flip over panels to reveal hidden speakers for different sound experiences. Each store also offers a demonstration zone, which features a rotating stage on which visitors can interact with stateof-the-art TVs and speakers mounted on individual walls. Solution A variety of textile combinations and usages have been implemented throughout the flagship concept stores; including grey shades of Blitz, Remix and Waterborn for speaker panelling. Unicoloured versions of Plot, Primus, Tempo, Haze and Star were used for wall panelling and seating upholstery.

When designing the concept stores, we put the importance of our expertise within sound at first priority, and chose to cover the walls with fabric. Both to get the best acoustic result, but also to create a luxurious and welcoming atmosphere. Kvadrat was the chosen fabric supplier to work with because we are both Danish and share the same values of design and craftmanship.

Johannes Torpe, creative director of Bang & Olufsen.

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Bang & Olufsen: 90 years young

Tuesday, 17th November, 2015

To celebrate the company’s ninetieth birthday we present this insightful interview by Bang & Olufsen Australia, General manager Julian Kipping. In addition to the company’s birthday today - 17 November - Bang & Olufsen will be launching its latest loudspeaker, the BeoLab 90 – their most sophisticated loudspeaker to date.

Are you excited about Bang and Olufsen having turned 90?

You know what, isn’t it amazing that any European manufacturer is turning 90! Yeah, especially in the audio-visual world. I think I’m right in saying that we’re the world’s oldest and certainly the European’s oldest so it’s a real pleasure to be part of that as well.

Over 90 years has it been difficult for the company to stay in the forefront of sound engineering?

You know, we’re in sound, we’re in visual, we’re in technology and of course – in the last decade in particular – it has been incredibly difficult for the company to remain relevant in that space where lots of people are jumping in, pricing is going down, etc. We want to keep to our core beliefs of quality: quality of manufacturing; qualities of materials we use; design; craftsmanship; etc. You know, you’re always working against the grain in an environment that’s a very throwaway society, but I think that’s part of our strength. I think staying true to those cores is it and that are also what we do and have done throughout the years, said “okay, this is what we want the design to look like,” and then we go to the engineers and say “make it happen, but we’ve got to make it happen to this quality of sound level,” and that’s always been, of course, the challenge internally. The Danes come from that Scandinavian design orientated part of the world and that’s what we’ve built the reputation on.

Do you think one of the things that sets B&O apart is that equality of commitment to quality in both engineering and aesthetics?

Yeah, absolutely! It’s fair to say in the past that people – especially our competitors – would talk about us being just a pretty face, but I don’t believe you can be a pretty face and still be in business 90 years later. Personally, I think you’ve gotta have some substance behind you for that otherwise you get found out pretty quickly.

For your 90th anniversary the company has created the Love Affair Collection which references the 1920s when the company was first formed. What does the design of these pieces say about B&O?

I think it was an era that was rebellious, passionate, and so on. It was between the Wars and there was this new attraction, I think, to beauty and dance and music and freedom after the first World War of course. I think what we’ve tried to do here is be separate in it’s colour. The Love Affair Collection really revolves around the rose gold colouring because the products that are involved in that collection are a standard part of our range as well.

To make the collection so beautiful you have worked with the designer Stine Goya. How has her creativity influenced the direction of the design?

Stine is very much about colour. The part that she’s worked with us on is the fabrics. She develops the colours; the midnight green, the red… What she wanted to do was bring a bit more warmth into the product.

BeoLab 90 - on sale 17 November 2015

You have also announced the release of the BeoLab 90 loudspeaker. Which customer is this appealing too?

This is always the really interesting question when we bring something very different out. This takes us leaps and bounds above anything else we’ve done. If you know the range, the BeoLab5 was a very highest level of speaker and this just is a different stratosphere. It’s really, really up there. I think and audiophile audience is absolutely going to be our target. There are loudspeakers that cost a lot more than this one and do well, so there is going to be the person who has that ear and that is their life – their passion. It might actually be the main thing in their life. We can bring in those from the really, really high end who would never look at Bang and Olufsen. Then, to be really honest, there are those people who just can. They just want the best that’s out there on the market and they can do it.

Is the BeoLab 90 a standalone system or is it designed to integrate with other speakers to create a surround sound effect?

You absolutely can. It is designed as an audio pair of loudspeakers. They’re 137kg each. I think predominantly they will go to somebody who really sits and listens to audio and it will be their audio speaker. That said, they can actually plug into things like televisions and be part of a surround sound system as well. There’s no problem with that. Actually, in fact, they can be used as a wireless loudspeaker. At this level we would not recommend it, because to get the best out of it you want wired.

Is it a full range loudspeaker, and if so, how many drivers does each one contain? Also, does it contain other technologies to process the signal?

I’m not the biggest technical person in the world, but what I do know is that there are 18 different drivers in each unit. There’s 7 tweeters, there’s 7 mid-range, and there’s three subwoofers in the way that it’s mounted, and then there’s a front-facing subwoofer as well – a larger one. Because we’re an active loudspeaker each of those carries an amplifier. The power source is huge because each loudspeaker can output 8200 watts of power.

It has something called Active Room Compensation. How does that work?

Well, we set it up to compensate for the reflections. BeoLab 5 has automatic bass calibration which is a similar thing. What we’ve done with ARC is taken that technology a step further. Not only does it do it for the bass, but the mid-range as well. So the speakers come with a microphone and, of course, when we deliver we would set up and discuss with the customer how they listen, how they want it to be. We would calibrate it with them for their particular set up. Then, of course, if things change – their furniture, or where things are – then the customer will be able to recalibrate themselves quite simply.

So are there any other technologies imbedded in the BeoLab 90?

One of the options is beam width control. We say that there are three choices of beam width. We can have it so that it’s narrowed into a 45 degree angle. That’s for the person who has their absolute spot in the room that they sit in and they want it to be perfect. Or they can go to a wider beam which is 90 degrees. That’s where your love seat comes in, you know? Then there’s the 360 and that is where we start to look at putting it all the way around the room.

At that put does it integrate a phasing program to compensate for wave length interactions?

I think so. I haven’t gone through this one in detail, but I think what will happen is when we set up we’ll probably set up the relevant calculations, or settings, for each of those three different ones. When they switch from one to the other it will automatically go to what they wanted in that particular instance. Then, of course, there’s the beam direction control. You can have 5 different settings. You can have the beam width control set for 5 different areas in your room. It comes with its own app which is specific for BeoLab90 so you can just touch on the app to say this is what I want now and it just resets itself. I was told there was also a device which looks at the resonances. At this level of speaker if you get any resonances in a cabinet or anything, the speaker will recognise that there’s a resonance that’s not part of your music and it will compensate for that as well. It also comes with thermal protection so if you really are driving them hard, you’ll get to a point where they’ll say “mmm, a bit too hot now, need to cool down,” and it will just protect itself before you damage the speaker.

You also have BeoLab 18 loudspeakers. Are they designed as a surround sound adjunct for your other technologies?

Well, it’s actually the televisions that have the surround sound units built into them. We can use any of the loudspeakers to provide that surround sound. The BeoLab 18 works like any of our loudspeakers. They can be used as a purely audio speaker, or part of a surround sound, or just a front for the television. They can be anything that you want. The BeoLab A9 is really designed as a stand alone speaker. That is a single point speaker which can, with our new multi-room feature, join into the party if you like. You can have it join in with another room or have it as an individual speaker.

The BeoPlay A9 has been designed almost as a piece of art and can free stand on the floor, or be hung on the wall with all your other art. Does it need special rigging to hang?

Yeah, we’ve got a wall bracket that we produce.

Bang & Olufsen have been producing headphones since 1978. What has the company learnt about the experience of using them over those years?

I think the Form2’s are still the only audio product that are part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. 30 years after the product was launched we still sell it in decent numbers which is beautiful. I think we’ve learnt to get quicker in our uptake of it because the headphone market exploded and we were a little bit behind on it. I think now we’ve really caught up and we’ve caught up with a vengeance. The portfolio, at the moment, includes active noise cancelling versions and what we could call ‘normal’ versions – in ear, over ear, wrap around ear… What we’ve certainly learnt in the recent years where it is a fashion item as well as an accessory for travel, is that you need to change it, keep making it different, have very different design, and making sure (at our end of the market) that the sound isn’t compromised by the design. The reason we were a bit late into the noise cancelling arena is because to get the sound quality the way we wanted it took some development. It is now a really big part of our play range now, I have to say.

What is this sound experience that Bang & Olufsen are so careful about achieving?

Bang & Olufsen want to do it as naturally as possible. Really, when our guys are developing something they want to provide the most natural picture, for instance, and the most natural sound. The H6 headphone was very natural but people’s tastes have changed and the music is very different. Some people said to us “I need more depth, I need more bass.” We then went out and designed some headphones to cater for that market as well. I think what we’ve learned is that there are different tastes and sometimes it’s not just about the actual sound. You’ve gotta go for fashion. You’ve gotta go for different types of music and different tastes.

Your television range, and the BeoVision Avant, all have light sensing technology. Is that purely automatic or does that require specialist installation as well?

That is purely done by itself because it’s an ever changing thing. What happens in those televisions is that it looks at the ambient light in the room – and these days with the models we’ve got it looks at 360 degrees – and then it will make picture adjustments to adjust to the light level in the room or the direction of the light. If it’s a very, very bright day you have to pull the curtains to try and get a good picture because it washes it out. What will happen with the light sensing is it will actually brighten the picture to compensate for that light. If you have the television against a window, the light coming through the window really affects our perception of colour, so it will sense that and automatically adjust the colour balance to compensate for that. At night what happens with TVs is that you have one brightness setting so you get that same amount of light coming out all the time. That’s why you get tired eyes at night. What happens with Bang & Olufsen is the TV sensed that it’s darker and knows it’s time to tone down the brightness and it just makes it a more comfortable viewing experience. We also put anti-reflective coatings on the front and rear of the glass which cuts the reflection down by about 90%.

Given what Bang & Olufsen have achieved over the last 90 years, can you give us a hint of what we can expect from the company as it reaches its centenary?

Do you know what? I’ve worked for Bang & Olufsen for 18 years. I have it running through my veins. They never tell you what’s coming. Sometimes I get a 6 month insight into it at the pain of death for telling anybody. I genuinely think that technology is changing so fast, so rapidly they have got things in planning. I think those advances in technology are helping us to move in terms of responding as well. I can’t be specific because I genuinely don’t know. You can always say with B&O that whatever they come up with, it is always going to be a discussion point, it’s gonna be controversial one way or the other, and long lasting.

I believe you have some special anniversary celebrations in November. What can we look forward to?

We’ve been celebrating through the year with the Love Affair Collection. For November, all of our stores will be holding events. Our actual birthday is 17 November. Through that week all of our stores will be holding a party. In Melbourne and Sydney we have a group of stores holding external events and we’re going to do the launch of BeoLab 90 as well. We’ll be in the country for that. In Sydney we’ll be launching and having that party at the Opera House – where else would you have it? It has a very Danish influence and, in fact, we’re going to be holding that in the Utzon room. In Melbourne we are doing the celebration in Denmark House. We just can’t get enough BeoLab 90s in the stores, so the stores in the other states won’t get them quite yet. In the new year we’ll do a road show and take those products around the country.


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90 years & counting!

Sunday, 1st November, 2015

Bang & Olufsen commemorates their 90th anniversary with a special publication titled: The Art of Impossible - The Bang & Olufsen Design Story

Bang & Olufsen’s creations have always flaunted a distinctive visual aesthetic that is striking and visionary in design, with the technical performance to match. One of the world’s foremost consumer electronic companies, their music systems, television sets and loudspeakers have continually challenged the conventions of product design, showcasing innovative brilliance with visual trends that have been augmenting the appearance of homes for nearly a century. The Bang & Olufsen brand undoubtedly bears an enviable history and status, and even an acknowledged influence on Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive at Apple.

Written and produced with Bang & Olufsen’s full involvement, The Art of Impossible is a celebration of the prestigious company, taking readers behind the scenes and delving into the stories surrounding the iconic designs. It features 300 specially commissioned photographs of products in situ, an extensive archive of sketches and prototypes, as well as exclusive insight into the models that never found their way into the market - the definitive publication an industry leader in technological performance and exceptional design.

The Art of Impossible will be available for purchase as of 17 November 2015.

The Art of Impossible (book)

Link to purchase book

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