Bang & Olufsen

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By Michael Chang


Less than 20 years after the first extended broadcast of the human voice, two young Danes pioneered a company that was to become a world leader in sound system design.

Peter Bang was the child of a modern Copenhagen family, fully equipped with modern amenities and appliances such as electrical light, a telephone and even a gramophone. Svend Olufsen, on the other hand, was raised on the rural manor Quistrup in West Jutland. He was, however, a somewhat unusual country squire in that his sole interest was radio mechanics.

They were both enrolled at Aarhus Polytechnic University and through their mutual interest in electronics they became close friends. After graduating in 1924, Peter went to America where he worked for a radio manufacturer in New York while Svend returned to his ancestral home to continue his radio experiments.

Six months later, Svend invited Peter to join him in setting up a radio manufacturer – and that’s how Bang & Olufsen began.

 

Pioneers

In 1926 Bang & Olufsen launched the Eliminator – a device which allowed any battery-powered radio to be connected to the mains. The product was a huge success, and by 1927 the company had outgrown their humble workshop in a tower room at the Quistrup manor, extending production to almost the entire estate. With the household burden of an extra 30 mouths to feed, it soon dawned on the young men that they had finally outstayed their welcome. The first Bang & Olufsen factory plant was constructed in the town of Struer in northern Jutland where the company is still based.

During his stay in New York in 1925, Peter Bang witnessed one of the very first screenings of a talking movie. Peter’s first-hand experience led Bang & Olufsen to develop a sound projector, which featured prominently a few years later when talking movies were introduced in Scandinavia. By 1935, Bang & Olufsen had sold 148 complete sound projector systems in the Nordic countries and Baltic States, and their groundbreaking invention had also been awarded a *Diplôme de Grand Prix* at the *Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles* the same year.

 

Danish quality seal

Despite their early success, Peter and Svend were still no closer to realising their goal of starting a radio manufacturing business. Eagerly prompted by Peter’s father, who was chairman of the board, the young men concentrated their efforts on developing a new model.

The fruit of their endeavour was a technical wonder called *5-lamperen*, which not only sported ample technical features; it also transformed the radio from being a screeching headset to an elegant sitting room centrepiece with true-to-life sound. One of their first endorsements came from the illustrious Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli: “I am so enthusiastic about your apparatus, its beauty and clear sound.”

In the early 1930s, B&O launched a radio gramophone with a price tag which exceeded the annual wage of most Danes. B&O had now established itself as a market leader and exclusive quality brand. In the late 1940s, Bang & Olufsen launched the *Beocord 84U*, which was the first wire recorder developed in Europe and the forerunner of the tape recorder. And in the autumn of 1950, the annual Copenhagen radio exhibition hosted the introduction of television to the Danish public. Bang & Olufsen featured a complete series of 10 TV sets.

World-class design

The 1950s was the heyday of Danish Design, but for Bang & Olufsen this golden age was still going strong in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1964, the first transistorised *Beomaster 900* was launched. With revolutionary turntable design by Henning Moldenhawer, the model opened doors to export throughout Europe and became the hallmark of Bang & Olufsen’s design.

With *BeoLab 5000*, designed when Nicolai Krebs Sørensen was chief engineer, Bang & Olufsen set new standards for the European hi-fi market. Designer Jacob Jensen and his assistant, British designer David Lewis, sought to give the product a technological look by adopting a slide-rule design for the controller.

In 1972, the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased seven Bang & Olufsen products for their permanent collection, and in 1978 the museum hosted an exhibition of the entire Bang & Olufsen product range of 39 designs.

The early 1980s saw the launch of the *BeoLink* system with an innovative approach to remote control and offering a seamless integration of Bang & Olufsen sound system products. When Akio Morita, founder of Sony, paid a visit to the Bang & Olufsen stand at the 1992 *World Expo* in Seville, a Bang & Olufsen attendant offered to help him with the *BeoSystem 5000* remote control. His answer was: “No thanks, I have one at home”.

The *BeoSound 9000*, designed by David Lewis in 1996, is a mechanical masterpiece featuring a sledge (CD catcher) that moves at a speed of 30 km/h yet stops within a margin of 1/1000 of a millimetre. On the audio visual front, the sculptural *BeoVision MX8000* was launched.

 

Looking to the future

Bang & Olufsen has long since outgrown the tower room at Quistrup manor to conquer much of the world. The company, established by Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen 80 years ago, is today the ultimate sound system brand and a frontrunner within technology and design.

Bang & Olufsen seeks to maintain its cutting edge by creating products which offer novel experiences. As one of the world’s leading producers of high-end audio-visual products, Bang & Olufsen has entered partnership with a number of other visionary companies. Most recently, Bang & Olufsen has developed a unique sound system for the Audi car manufacturer and has engaged in collaboration with Samsung Electronics in developing an entirely new cell phone concept. The pioneering spirit still drives this venerable Danish company.