Bang & Olufsen at 92: A closer look at how the luxury brand found its success
If someone were to ask you to name some high-end speaker brands, chances are Bang & Olufsen would feature somewhere in that list. The Danish audio firm has become synonymous with luxury audio products that may cost a fair few quid, but deliver something different and stylish.
It didn’t start with speakers though, oh no. The company was initially formed for a very different reason.
It all started with radio
B&O was founded in 1925 in Struer, Denmark, around 220 miles west of Copenhagen, by Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen. Peter was the brains behind the early products, while Svend took care of the business side of things.
Its first devices were in fact radios, and it was a radio that could be plugged into the mains power that really put the company on the map. The majority of other radios at the time relied on battery power, but they couldn’t be recharged in the same, easy way we’ve come to expect from modern day gadgets. The batteries in radios would have to be taken out (and they weren’t exactly light) and taken to the nearest charging centre, which was unlikely to be next door. Some were more than 5km away.
Following radios, Bang & Olufsen turned its hand to making turntables, but ones that were hidden inside cabinets so could double as pieces of furniture.
The Hyperbo was a radio and gramophone in one, and inspired by Bauhaus Functionalism. Not only did Bauhaus inspire minimalist design, something that B&O has become synonymous for, it also dictated a product’s user-friendliness and quality. Bang & Olufsen implemented a similar design focus in many of its products at the time, with a philosophy to deliver audio products that could be hidden away, especially when they weren’t being used.
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The same can be said of its first televisions, which featured a screen built into a cabinet but had a piece of wood that would fold over the front to hide it away. This TV garnered the nickname ‘The Wheelbarrow’, because it had two pull out arms and wheels in the base. You could move it around just like the familiar gardening sidekick. The TVs of the early years are a far cry from the sleek designs and 4K panels of today’s sets.
Amongst the company’s most successful radios was the Beolit 39 released in 1939. It was the first B&O radio to be made out of Bakelite and the first to use the ‘Beo’ prefix. Up until the introduction of the plastic radio, audio device manufacturers – B&O included – relied heavily on real hardwood. The plastic Beolit 39 proved incredibly popular with the younger generation and it sold like hot cakes (Danish pastries?).
The Sixties, a time when B&O became more focussed on design
Jumping forward to the Sixties and Bang & Olufsen started to introduce designs that are reflected in modern day products. This was in no small part thanks to Jacob Jensen and David Lewis, two high-profile designers that were brought in to take care of audio and TV products respectively.
The two didn’t quite see eye to eye – especially as Jacob would always claim he was the best designer in the world – so would often be found working in completely separate areas of the factory. But while they may not have been the best of friends, there was one design feature they could agree on.
Both wanted B&O’s products to be incredibly simple to operate. For example, Lewis wanted customers to be able to change channels on a TV with just one button, rather than having to scroll though a selection. Jacob wanted radio listeners to also be able to switch stations with ease, rather than having to retune every time they wanted to change station or the signal dropped out.
It’s a design element that we’ve come to expect from our modern day gadgets, but Bang & Olufsen was at the forefront of convenience some 50 years ago. It seems we all have some thank you cards to write.
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The company has implemented the same philosophy in its modern products, specifically the BeoRemote. It has one button access to a whole range of functions. Not only can it be used to control a BeoVision TV, but all of the company’s speakers, whether they be Beolab or Beoplay, and even smart home products thanks to the company’s BeoLink platform.
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The modern day, where design and sound can really take off
Skip forward to today and Bang & Olufsen is now in its 92nd year and still going strong. In 2015, for its 90th anniversary, the company released the Beolab 90, a striking sculpture of a speaker that projects 360 degree sound and has no discernible front. It also has some 65kg of aluminium behind the grille, so make sure you choose a decent spot in your home as you won’t want to move it around every weekend.
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Speaking of aluminium, it’s a material that B&O holds close to its heart. It is more often than not the dominant feature in its speakers and so to make sure it’s perfect every time, the company has a factory dedicated to manufacturing it, cutting it, shaping it and polishing it. The actual assembly of the speakers is taken care of overseas, as B&O doesn’t manufacture its own speaker drivers, but instead implements its own DSP sound processing. Nevertheless, the company is incredibly proud
But just because it’s hit the grand old age of 92, Bang & Olufsen is showing no signs of slowing down. It will be unveiling new products later this year.
We’ve been lucky enough to have seen them up close while on an exclusive tour of the company’s Danish headquarters, and we can’t wait to reveal all.