Home & Design

Feb 1, 2015

Simple and Sophisticated

Bang & Olufsen (B&O) is a Danish company that designs and manufactures audio products, television sets and telephones. Their pieces turn technology into art.

It was founded in 1925 by Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen, whose first significant product was aradio that worked with alternating current at a time when most radios were run on batteries. In 2004, the company opened a factory in the Czech Republic where it employs approximately 250 staff producing mainly audio products.

Peter Bang (1900–1957), son of Camillo Bang, a successful Danish businessman, showed great interest in radio technology from an early age. After graduating as an engineer in 1924, he spent six months working in a radio factory in the United States where he became familiar with the latest developments in the field. On his return to Denmark, he clubbed together with his student friend Svend Olufsen (1897–1949) whose parents made the attic of their manor house in Struer in Jutland available for experiments. When they officially opened their business in 1925, Bang concentrated on the technology while Olufsen dealt with the business interests. There were a number of successful developments in the 1930s and 1940s, including a sound recording system for the film industry, roof-mounted loud-speakers for circus and army vehicles and the iconic Beolit 39 radio with a Bakelitecabinet.

Their work with radios and loudspeakers led them to the principle that their products should be capable of high fidelity musical reproduction: in Danish Ærlig musikgengivelse, meaning "honest music reproduction". They held the ideal that the music you experienced through their sets and speakers should reach your ears uninfluenced by the limitations of technology. To this end, psychoacoustics is an important factor in design and testing of B&O products as instrument-based testing.

It was, however, many years before their business became significantly profitable. The firm suffered a huge setback towards the end of World War II when its factory at Gimsing in Struer in Northwestern Jutland was burnt down by pro-Nazi saboteurs as punishment for the management's refusal to collaborate with the Germans. Undeterred, Bang and Olufsen rebuilt the factory, producing electric razors until 1955, and then going on to develop a range of radio, radiogram and television sets, later influenced by designer Ib Fabiansen when he began work for the company in 1957. David Lewis, who became involved with B&O in 1965 then went on to design most of the company's products after 1980.

Products by B&O are often of different and distinctive design when compared to mainstream rivals. B&O hires designers rather than directly employing them in the company. Many of its products in the 1970s and 80s were designed by Jacob Jensen, whose design firm still operates today. From the 1980s onwards B&O's chief designer has been David Lewis. 

In the 1990s B&O opened dedicated B&O stores selling directly to users, instead of selling through retailers. Production of audio separates was discontinued in favor of mini-type audio systems sold, as was usual for B&O, at a price higher than the industry average.

Due to the economic crisis of 2008 the company experienced a sharp decline in sales and announced significant losses.

Bang & Olufsen revealed in January 2015 that the firm would consider any bid approach from a larger rival in response to problems caused by a profit warning at the end of 2014.

Despite its decision to suspend the manufacture of separate components, B&O continues to develop and market loudspeakers. Its flagship speaker, the BeoLab 5, uses digital signal processing to adjust its frequency response to the room and location in which it is placed. Its midrange and treble drivers use the audio lens technology developed by Sausalito Audio's Manny LaCarrubba to spread the sound over a 180-degree range in order to fill the room, overcoming the directional range limitations of normal midrange and treble drivers, and preventing the sound from reflecting off the ceiling and floor before reaching the listener. B&O acquired the audio lens technology in 2007.

In 2003 Bang & Olufsen entered into an agreement with Audi to provide an advanced sound system and in 2005 a sound system based on the BeoLab 5 with 1000 W amplifiers became available to Audi's flagship model, the A8. Audi markets this sound system using the Bang & Olufsen brand name. A unique feature of this sound system is its motorized tweeters that emerge from the dashboard when the sound system is turned on.

Audi subsequently extended the optional advanced sound system to their A4, A5, A6, A7, Q5, Q7, A8, and R8 models.

As well as producing consumer products the company also provides business to business services, particularly in the area of custom audio-visual installations for car manufacturers, and the service industry (hotels etc.) 

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