Bang & Olufsen On Location
Bang & Olufsen has been around for many, many years - probably a lot more than many American's would realize. Founded in 1925 by Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen, the two had an idea that radios should run on the "mains" (line voltage ran to the home) rather than on batteries. At the time, radios predominantly ran on batteries as power from the mains was generally "dirty" and fluctuated heavily. Bang and Olufsen designed a power conditioner and regulator that allowed their radios to be run on power from the wall. So popular was this unit that in 1927 they turned it into a stand alone box called the Eliminator (their first commercially viable product) that could be used to convert other radios to mains power. It wasn't really until the introduction of the "5-lamper" radio (which had 5 vacuum tubes - hence the name) that B & O really cemented their reputation as a quality radio manufacturer.
The Bang and Olufsen partners sold their radios locally in Struer, Denmark at first but quickly became known not only for the quality of their sound, but for their design. Some might ask, "Why Struer?" If you aren't asking, you've never been there. On the northwest coast of Denmark, saying that it is rural is an understatement. Dotted by farms and the occasional town, the area is an eclectic mix of rustic cottages and contemporary "glass box" design. But like so many things in life, the choice of location was based on one thing - love. One of the two fell in love with a girl in Struer, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Day 1 - The Farm
I literally stepped off the plane in Karup and was whisked off to "The Farm" - the new headquarters of Bang & Olufsen - for a quick introduction. Peter Thostrup took us through a quick history of Bang & Olufsen, focusing mostly on the direction of the company and some of the company philosophy. In brief, B & O is focusing mostly on opening more and more dedicated stores (called B1 stores) and pulling away from the store-in-store concept (B & O products sold within another store). To highlight all this, The Farm has a mock store and listening room. Personally, I liked the prices in the store (everything was listed as 0,000 DKK) and it really gave you a feel for how the stores are set up. The listening room was set up in a 5.0 arrangement with four BeoLab 5s on each corner and a BeoLab 7-4 doing center duties. These speakers feature the Acoustic Lens Technology that is becoming more and more prevalent on B & O speakers. Basically, the driver is mounted pointed up into a vertical baffle that spreads the sound in 180 degrees. The room was a bit bright but very representative of the types of rooms one might find in a contemporary Danish home - lots of minimalist furniture, hard surfaces, and clean lines.
The highlight of the first night was a tour of the Bang & Olufsen museum by B & O consultant Ronny Kaas Mortensen . Both interesting and informative (especially impressive after a 15 hour flight), the museum housed a number of the most influential and landmark products B & O has produced over the years. It started off with the "mains" radio, one of the first designed to utilize line voltage rather than battery power. This led to The Eliminator which was a stand alone box that allowed any radio to be run off of line voltage. Even way back in 1925, you can see how B & O had this flat, sleek design that carries through to tod ay.
Bang and Olufsen had many interesting designs. Most of the museum pieces highlighted innovative technology (such as push button operations, tone controls, etc.) but a few were there simply for the design. Two of my favorite early designs revolved around a chair and a car.
The Hyperbo 5RG Steel was based on a simple chrome frame chair with black leather stretched across it (they even had a picture of the chair above the display unit). The Hyperbo 5RG Steel is truly the precursor to the modern "all in one" unit incorporating a radio, loudspeaker, and record player. It even had a storage shelf for your records. As I was soon to learn, Bang & Olufsen is even now striving along the same lines.
My personal favorite was the BeoLit - the first radio made with a Bakelite cabinet introduced in 1939. The lines on this unit were exceptionally smooth and clean. The off-white on black made an interesting if a bit dated contrast. Something about the shape of the unit seemed familiar but I couldn't place it until Mr. Mortensen informed us that the design of the unit was inspired by the dashboard of a Buick. Quickly, I could see how the shape could fit nicely into the dash of a car. Personally, I think it is pretty interesting to discover how these designers and engineers came up with their ideas. The shape of the BeoLit (which, incidentally, started the whole "Beo" prefix that carries on to this day) was apparently very difficult to manufacture and a lot of effort went into getting the cabinet shape just right.
There were lots of other interesting points on the tour including a sort of offhand remark about sedition during the Second World War. Apparently, the Germans suspected that some subversive activities were going on in the B & O plants and constantly inspected them trying to discover what was going on. The Bang & Olufsen employees and owners apparently were a bit too sneaky because they never could find any evidence against them. In lieu of evidence, and probably out of frustration, someone blew up the factories in the night (which is why there were no products launched or dated around 1945).