Bang & Olufsen: A Brief History
Images from B&O Archives
November 19 2015
In the history of industrial product, only a handful of brands have ever become shorthand for good design. Olivetti was king for a hot Sottsass minute, Braun nailed sober German simplicity in the heyday of Dieter Rams, and today Apple and perhaps Audi and their signature radiused curves are the king design brands. But while Apple was lost at sea for a decade between the original Mac and the iMac, and Audi for decades made lumpy, all-wheel-drive Volkswagen clones, there is no brand—arguably in any industry—that has been so synonymous so consistently with good design as Bang & Olufsen.
B&O was founded in Denmark in 1925 by They were among the first to adopt AC current when DC current and unwieldy old batteries were the norm. The Hyperbo 5 (above right) that looked to be straight from the crazy corridors of the Bauhaus. It was Marcel Breuer’s iconic Wassily Chair in audio form. The Beolit 39 (above left) from a few years later was among the first mass-produced products to be made from Bakelite, the tough, moldable plastic polymer that would become ubiquitous over the subsequent decades. Its curvaceous design was a fairly radical break with the baroque, mostly wooden console radios of the time and still looks remarkably contemporary. It also ushered in the “Beo” prefix that still denotes much of its product range today.
Over the following decades, B&O continued to make design advancement a top priority, but they also made several novel technical advancements in acoustics and performance. Their concepts for automatic record changers (above) were handsome, smartly designed precursors to the technology that has spun records in jukeboxes around the world since the 1950s.
In the mid 1960s, designer Jacob Jensen began to collaborate with B&O and was key in ushering in the stark Modernist ethos that the brand is still known for. He was the pencil behind everything from the sleek, imposing Beomaster hi-fi system, to the gorgeous Beogram phonographs and the diminutive, superminimal Beolit portable radio. In 1978, MoMA held a retrospective exhibition on the brand centering on Jensen’s work, as the fifth brand ever to have a show there dedicated to its work after Olivetti, Chemex, the famous bentwood chair maker, Thonet, and Braun.
British industrial design David Lewis took over after the early 1980s. Through the remainder of the 20th century, the company continued to stay well ahead of industry trends with continual refinements to its classic models while pioneering new categories like sleek, lightweight headphones and newfangled gadgets like wireless telephone handsets, slimline CD players, and mp3 players.
Earlier this decade, the highly contemporary B&O Play line was launched to compliment the core line. As ever, the new products designed to be more than the sum of their parts: they blend mobile connectivity with insanely high-fidelity audio quality (just one Beoplay A9 was enough to rock out the giant space we held last week’s Human Being Journal launch party in L.A. and we jam with an wireless A2 in our studio), wrapped, as always in the most beautiful packages in sound.