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Bang & Olufsen: A Brief History

  • Words by: Tag Christof
  • Images by: B&O Archives
  • File Under: Life
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B&O Beogram by Jacob Jensen

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 in the 1960s and 1970s, Braun nailed sober German simplicity in the heyday of Dieter Rams, and today Apple and perhaps Audi and their signature radiused curves are the reigning 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 Beolit 39 Radio with Bakelite Case

Bauhaus-Inspired B&O Hyperbo 5 Radio

B&O was founded in Denmark in 1925 by by Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen. The company was among the first to adopt alternating current when DC and unwieldy old batteries were the norm, and the early Hyperbo radio was clearly influenced by the Bauhaus—it was Marcel Breuer’s iconic Wassily Chair in audio form. The Beolit 39 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 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 introduced the “Beo” prefix that still denotes much of its product range today.

Illustration of B&O Technology That Later Made Its Way into Jukeboxes

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 were handsome, smartly designed precursors to the technology that has spun records in jukeboxes around the world since the 1950s.

P2 Speaker in Black by B&O PLAY

B&O Radio with Bakelite Case

In the mid 1960s, 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.

Early Beomaster Hi-Fi System

After the early 1980s, British industrial designer David Lewis took over. 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 gadgets like wireless telephone handsets, slimline CD players, and mp3 players.

David Lewis-Designed Beosound Century, a Mid-90s CD-Based Hi-Fi System 

Earlier this decade, the highly contemporary B&O Play line was launched to compliment the core B&O brand. As always, the new products were designed to be more than the sum of their parts: they blend mobile connectivity with insanely high-fidelity audio quality, wrapped, as always in the most beautiful packages in sound.

A9 Speaker in Black by B&O PLAY

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