Ultimate over-ear headphones
Digital devices and streaming were game-changers and the foundation for the B&O PLAY sub-brand. For some years, there had been talks about introducing a sub-brand consisting of product category that catered to different needs and use cases – suitable as wearables and for on the move user situations. The reason was simple: a younger, broader crowd of technology adopters had emerged, with all the trappings of future Bang & Olufsen loyalists. The mission of B&O PLAY became to capture the hearts and minds of these customers in their 20s, 30s and 40s and through the B&O PLAY product line increase their awareness of the mother brand.
B&O PLAY’s Beoplay products, like Bang & Olufsen, were designed to evoke customers’ senses and elevate the experience of listening to a song or watching a movie – but B&O PLAY could deliver the experience in either a stand-alone product or in a slightly more daring package.
B&O PLAY was here to help users get more out of their media and enrich their encounters with sound, sight and story in fresh ways, using modern devices.
Digital streaming had become the new way of listening to music, and it was decided to embrace the latest technology and incorporate it into this new line.
Although many other high-end brands have introduced affordable sub-brands with great success, many people at Bang & Olufsen were concerned about the consequence for the main brand. The concept team had to prove that such a product could be the promised commercial success the company was looking for without compromising the Bang & Olufsen brand.
The first attempt to create a product in this line was Beosound 8 (2011), designed by Bang & Olufsen designer David Lewis. A sound system in a simplistic but elegant design using the iPhone or iPad as source and display. It catered to a trend of having music digitally available on your phone or tablet and became one of the worlds' first iPad docks. You could stream music via AirPlay, dock the iPhone/iPad and operate it directly on the screen.
Beosound 8 provided what your iPhone could not – exceptional sound quality for your digital music. It did not compromise on any of the core values of the Bang & Olufsen brand – sound quality, design quality and craftsmanship.
Conceptually, Beosound A8 started as an idea for a new wall loudspeaker for secondary rooms. In the beginning, there was a lot of experimenting with different shapes and designs; pentagonal and hexagonal, speaker units that could be turned and tilted, but it all turned out to be too complex and too aggressive. Instead, it ended with a straightforward circular design. It had been a significant challenge to achieve sufficient space for all parts without compromising performance. Acoustically, it was the ambition to deliver a Bang & Olufsen sound performer, which was among the best in this class, and preferably surprise people with the performance compared to its size. Beosound A8 integrated two two-way speaker systems and fully integrated class-D amplifiers and a manual positioning switch. By having two cabinets placed separately, you had a relatively spacious sound stage. Beosound 8 performed at a level that corresponded to somewhere between Beolab 6000 and 8000 – which was quite significant compared to its size.
The loudspeaker cabinets were moulded in plastic elegantly shaped like cones to get as much speaker volume as possible without cluttering the design with a huge rear box. You could easily change the fabric fronts of the loudspeakers to different colours changing the look from elegant to hip - all framed by a natural anodised outer aluminium ring. The iPhone/iPod/iPad was docked at the top of the bridge between the two circular cabinets at a 9-degree angle, the same angle as the front panel. The docked product was supported by a brace and held firmly in its place. The compact and elegant design allowed you to use Beosound A8 in the office, the nursery, the studio or the teenage room, and it could easily be moved around the house.
Beosound A8 had the attainable price level and focused on the new target group. It became a huge success and sold more than any other Bang & Olufsen product before it in the first six months. This kicked off the Beoplay product category – and when the sub brand B&O PLAY was officially launched, Beosound 8 changed its name to Beoplay A8.
Beolit 12, launched in 2012, became the first product developed specifically for the Beoplay category. The name was a nostalgic hint to the past - the game-changing Beolit transistor radios from 1939, revitalised with the invention of the transistor radios of the 1960ies. It was designed for a younger generation and provided portable sound for casual listening with modern technology. Designed for casual and convenient use and based on new streaming technology – in this case, provided by Apple AirPlay.
The designer Cecilie Manz designed Beolit 12 from inside and out. It was her first product in the tech category. Many people ask designers where they get their inspiration from; the most straightforward answer is that sometimes it lies in the project itself and the framework you have. Beolit 12 had to provide great sound, be portable, contain specific components (driver units and battery) as a minimum – something that was somewhat tangible to start from.
That Beolit 12 was portable set completely different demands than when you work with stationery products – both visually and functionally. The matt shock-proof plastic in the bottom and top made it suited for handling punches and being placed on a moist lawn. This was one of the reasons it did not have a compartment for the battery in the bottom. The rounded edges were more acceptable when you carry Beolit 12 close to your body, and it helped soften the visual look. The leather strap for carrying signalled quite clearly – immediate portability – and its placement across the product provided balance when carried around. Also, the Italian full-grain leather strap gave some warmth to the product.
To achieve excellent sound quality was a must. The volume of the product made the work for the acoustic engineers easier. A small compact body with room for powerful bass. The pattern of the grid also was a visual reflection of the sound. The aluminium front was almost the symbol of Bang & Olufsen quality and finish throughout. Therefore, it was natural to apply this technique for the speaker front. The pattern was made so the number of holes increased where the driver units were placed.
The textiles behind the grill were made in relatively strong colours but dimmed down when the eye mixed them with the grey aluminium front. The result is a subtle hint of colour - a product that does not scream out visually; instead, it drops discretely and delicately into any situation and place where it needs to work; on the kitchen counter, the kid's room, the workplace, the summer house or the terrace.
Since its launch in 2012, the Beolit has been updated with new technology several times – Beolit 15, Beolit 17 and Beolit 20 - but the conceptual idea remains the same.
Beoplay A2 (2014) was the second B&O Play product. It was engineered as a powerful portable Bluetooth speaker with True360 sound technology. It provided a 360-degree spreading of the sound and a battery that lasted 24 hours as it was based on Bang & Olufsen's own Adaptive Power Management technology. Beoplay A2 became another success that surpassed even the wildest expectations. It took quite a while to develop due to the challenges of getting quality sound from a loudspeaker of such compact design, using Bluetooth technology and running on batteries. But it was time well spent, as it proved to attract a significant number of new younger customers to the Bang & Olufsen family.
Although a compact and portable product, Beoplay A2 was powered by a digital sound processor that ensured a well-balanced sound profile featuring a rich bass. It was perfectly aligned with the Bang & Olufsen Signature Sound approach - authentic and clean, just the way the artists intended it. With Bluetooth streaming, there was no need for an access point, and you could easily connect and stream in high quality without access to the mains. This made Beoplay A2 a perfect solution for the beach, the locker room or other places where people meet for music and fun.
Featuring a unique flat design with a solid aluminium core for acoustic stability and durability – and a polymer shell designed to withstand the ruggedness of a life on the go. A short premium leather strap lets you carry Beoplay A2 with you wherever you go. 24 hours battery life keeps the party going The rechargeable Li-ion battery featured Bang & Olufsen Adaptive Power Management technology that ensured up to 24 hours of battery life – enough to keep the party going all day and night.
Beoplay A2 remembered up to 8 users and could play from 2 devices at a time. This was a perfect feature for sharing the music experience with your friends – you could team up and take turns being the DJ. Beoplay A2 provided Bang & Olufsen with a strong starting point and platform for the continued development of products in the market for portable sound and streaming speakers.
Over the years, Bang & Olufsen has made many different headphones, some of which are still icons today. The U70 (1978), designed by Jacob Jensen, or the super lightweight Form 2 (1983), designed by Steve McGugan. With Beoplay H6 (2013) the product category was revitalised after many years of no new headphones to match the increasing demand from smartphone users for quality headphones.
The focus in H6 was attention to detail, quality materials and exceptional sound performance. Designer Jakob Wagner had an uncompromising approach to every detail of Beoplay H6. He was working with things like how the light was reflected in the aluminium and to how soft and comfortable it was to wear. Ergonomically, Beoplay H6 should stay securely on the head even during vigorous movement. Pressure from the earpads should not bother but feel secure. When you needed to take it off, you could let it rest comfortably around the neck as the ear pads could be turned and placed, so they were lying softly and comfortably against the collarbone.
U70 (1978) was a stereo headphones developed to provide a private listening experience when connected to your HiFi system. They were designed by Jacob Jensen and weighed just 300 g, making them very comfortable to wear even for more extended periods. The ear cups could be individually adjusted both vertically and laterally and locked into position. The softly-padded ear cups were semi-open: they excluded most external noise but were not completely sealed.
Form 2 (1983) was a sleek and colourful, lightweight (90 g) headphone specifically intended for the Walkman generation. It was a dynamic, semi-open on-ear headphone, giving you great sound on the go while letting in some of the sounds from your surroundings too. It was updated technically and revitalized with inline microphone and music controls in 2015 as Beoplay Form 2i, a fashion headphone you can almost forget you are wearing. Form 2 was added to the permanent collection at MOMA in New York in 1991.
The moving mechanics in Beoplay H6 were also essential elements. How you move the slider in the headband out or in, the resistance, the way the ear cushions move around the headband axis, not too loose and not too tight. It required a lot of attention to detail to get just the proper sensation. Most other headphone brands were only concerned with performance, so Bang & Olufsen took the trend of wearing headphones to new levels with Beoplay H6.
Technically the acoustic engineers were looking for an authentic, transparent and forceful sound performance that did not add or subtract anything from what the artist intended with his or her music.
It offered a truly natural and authentic sound performance with a focus on getting good and clear midrange and a balanced bass and treble performance. It included a 40 mm custom-designed driver with a neodymium magnet in a closed headphone design. It had a bass port that optimised the bass performance, and the drivers were slightly angled to get the best distance and sound direction into the ears.
Beoplay H6 had two jack sockets, one in each earpad. The reason for having two was to let the users decide which side they prefer to have the wire on and give them the option of sharing music by daisy-chaining from one headphone to another.
Beoplay H6 became the start of a new and long line of headphones, playing with design, materials and performance – constantly challenging convention – so there could be a Bang & Olufsen headphone for any taste and wallet.
With the reintroduction of headphones came a demand for Bang & Olufsen in-ear solutions as well. B&Os first attempt for an in-ear solution was Beoplay H3. It had to continue the legacy of the A8 Earphones from 2000, which had in the Bang & Olufsen portfolio for more than ten years. To get the best possible sound experience with an in-ear earphone, it is important to be able to shut out surrounding noise. Therefore, it was essential to obtain an airtight and comfortable fit. However, to the designer Jakob Wagner it was also essential that device was not to be conceived as a hearing aid or a medical device.
Beoplay H3 should fit comfortably into the ear and remain securely rested when you move around. The round shape seemed at first to be an obvious choice, but after some investigation and a multitude of 3D modelling and testing, it was clear that the inner part of the ear is not round. You have to find a shape that matches the actual shape of the ear better. Also, you have to find some common ground to work from as the individual ear shape and size vary almost endlessly. To achieve a perfect fit, an earbud of very soft rubber in different sizes, was included.
Although small, Beoplay H3 in-ear headphone includes a dynamic, full tone sound design integrating a custom-designed 10.8 mm driver providing a surprising sound performance for its size. The acoustic design consists of a miniature bass port in an internal cabinet, providing excellent performance in the low frequencies. It also avoided the uncomfortable inner ear pressure some experienced when using in-earphone The 26 holes in the housing function as air vents when the driver is moving and the music is playing, but the design is made, so you get minimal sound leakage both in and out, resulting in exceptionally natural sound reproduction.
In such a small device, even the smallest details can change the overall expression significantly. When the acoustic construction with a bass port required holes for air ventilation, a suitable hole pattern had to be designed. In the same way as a pair of wheel rims can change the look of a car from totally conventional to hip and cool in an instant, the whole pattern of Beoplay H3 also added character in a very subtle way to the final product design. It became an important element in signalling both attention to detail and acoustic performance at the same time.
The A8 Earphones was designer Anders Hermansen's take on a mix between today's in-ear earphones and headphones and fantastic sound performance for semi-open acoustic design at the beginning of 2000. Crafted in robust aluminium and hard rubber, they weighed only eight grams each. Initially designed for use with the Beosound 2 music player and eventually combined with the other music players and mobile phones and an excellent match for the ever-popular iPod range. The dynamic, full-tone loudspeakers mounted on telescopic bars were constructed according to the open loudspeaker principle. It allowed you to hear a non-intrusive amount of surrounding sound at lower volume levels. Altogether, the A8 Earphones combined the best of everything; sound performance, style, and comfort. A8 could be adjusted to fit the contours and curves of the individual ear. This ensured that regardless of whether you were relaxing, walking or jogging, they always sat comfortably and firmly in place. The best of the best - on the move. The sound quality was so good that it earned a five-star review in BBC Music Magazine, the world's best-selling classical music magazine.
Beoplay A9 was a convenient and powerful sound provider and part of the B&O PLAY category as the 'high-end' sound system of that category. It was the first time Bang & Olufsen had moved away from a conventional stereo solution in the loudspeaker range. Bluetooth speakers emerged everywhere – all looking like traditional speakers. In the Beoplay category, you could play around with convention – and Beoplay A9 was an example of an unconventional solution in many ways. Most people would probably never guess that Beoplay A9 was an all-in-one streaming speaker if you did not know. This was a deliberate choice from the designer Øivind Slatton, who explained his design like this: "I'm really concerned about our natural resources and how we throw things away. I'm looking to recycle and reuse and use as few resources as possible when you develop something. I was looking for anything but exclusive – I wanted to be inclusive. I think it is cool not to be cool. I want warm and inviting – I'm not fascinated by technical things; I want them to disappear – things just have to work. Cutaway anything that is not necessary, reduce and reduce as much as you can. Poetic simplicity are words I enjoy. It's a discovery - what happens if you wipe the slate clean and start all over? You have to make things that move people and communicate with them. I'm aiming at a design that does not require a user's guide or complicated explanations - something that just is, or better still is not". This is how Øivind ended up with the basic shape of a circle. As a musician he noted how many ‘circle’s were visible and related to music; the shape of the drum, the end of a trumpet, oboe etc, volume knobs on amps, records, CD etc. They circle was uncomplicated and convenient, standing out from convention yet fitting in and disappearing at the same time - using basic materials such as fabric and wood that could easily change. It was tidy and unobtrusively simple. No complexity - not the shape, not the mounting, and not the use.
Unobtrusive, as it looks, once you touch Beoplay A9, however, you would get the full benefit of the five driver units and the impressive five class-D amplifiers built-in. The tweeter and midrange units were concealed behind a perforated plastic front with a Fibonacci pattern*) that ensured stability and perfect acoustic performance when the front fabric was on. It also helped to conceal the driver units behind the fabric, that would otherwise be visible through the fabric. Beoplay 9 also featured an impressive 8-inch bass unit pointing backwards and used the integrated handled on the rear as bass port. *) Fibonacci 0, 1,2,3,5,8,13,21...The Fibonacci number sequence is the basis of many harmonic patterns in nature, such as the seeds of sunflowers.
On the top of the rear edge, there was an integrated pattern in the plastic that held a capacitive touch sensor for volume control, join and mute. With a light touch of your hand, you had a magical and intuitive operation; pause, play, next/previous (tracks or radio stations) and standby. Together with Beoplay A6, Beoplay A9 was among the first B&O Play products designed to be part of the Beolink multiroom setup. Since its launch back in 2013, Beoplay A9 has been updated both visually and technically several times, but the basic idea remains the same. It has become one of the iconic products that has stood the test of time and is as popular now as when it launched.
Beoplay A6 was designed as a one-point music system with a well-balanced sound profile to fill a small room with a wide, staged sound. The triangular shape was inspired by the sting ray – narrow at the outer edge, but deep in the body which would help acoustically. Beoplay A6 communicated its use; a social, inclusive and almost inviting speaker with a room-filling spacious sound. It featured easy connectivity with mobile devices and integrated access to music streaming services.
Beoplay A6 featured an intuitive touch interface. By using intuitive hand gestures, you could control music selection and volume.
The unique appearance made it fit into your interior like no other product at the time. The speaker body was made out of robust polymer. Polymer is a material that could withstand a lot of everyday handling and allowed for good acoustic stability. The textile on the front cover was produced in close collaboration with the Danish fabric manufacturer Kvadrat – and the focus was to provide both acoustic transparency and visual appearance, achieved through the use of delicate and sophisticated multi-coloured threads. Designed to fit an ever-changing daily life where everything and everyone is in motion, Beoplay A6 could be placed on a wall bracket or on a shelving system or taken with you as you moved around the house filling the space with a surprisingly great stereo sound.
Bang & Olufsen has always been renowned for its unique TV solutions providing both sound and picture in a class of its own. Beoplay V1 was an attempt to create a TV solution appealing to the younger generation with its informality, multiple placement options and rustic design.
V1 was positioned casually leaning back placed on the floor, but it could be set up and used in many different surroundings. The flexibility and convenience were offered through the many stand options, and for every new stand or placement option, the character of the TV changed. • Placed on the floor, casually leaned back, easy to move around. • Hanging from the ceiling suspended in wires. • On a floor stand on wall bracket for more conventional placement. • Floor stand with wheels for greater mobility (35% of sales for this variant) All options were intended to appeal to a more casual way of having a TV in the room. Beoplay V1 was designed to be an accessible, simple plug-and-play solution for new customers looking for excellent quality with a minimum of fuss.
Beoplay V1 represented a fresh approach in line with current furniture trends applying a mixture of modern raw steel materials and old craftsmanship traditions. Designed by Anders Hermansen and reflecting a trend towards minimalistic industrial design – in steel - promoting the functional elements to design details. Below the screen, the loudspeaker grill was stamped directly into the front and decorated by a coloured fabric sleeve behind the punched holes. The coloured fabric sleeve was available in different colours to provide customers with choices to match their interior.
Beoplay V1 had a picture and sound performance that did not differ much from the core Bang & Olufsen TV solutions. With integrated speakers and surround sound module, you could choose to upgrade to an impressive sound performer if you wanted to. The LCD screen applied picture technology features similar to other TVs in the Bang & Olufsen portfolio, and one remote control was also part of the concept. The only thing left out at the launch was the Master Link integration – making Beoplay V1 a stand-alone TV.
Beoplay V1 became the first and the only TV in the Beoplay category. It was simply not possible to get sufficient qualifications in the separate B&O PLAY distribution to handle sales and installation of TV to the expectations of the customer group looking for such a product – this was ideally handled by the core Bang & Olufsen retailer. After the launch of Beoplay V1, it was decided to keep the Beoplay category and distribution focusing on over- the-counter, portable products such as streaming speakers and headphones.
B&O PLAY as an independent sub-brand with its separate organisation and distribution channel was abandoned in 2018, as the mission of attracting the new target group had been accomplished. Today there is room for both affordable over-the-counter products and high-end Beohome solutions, so the need for a separate B&O PLAY setup has become obsolete.
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