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The first Beolit radio was Beolit 39 - introduced in 1938. It was a compact radio, a contrast to the radio furniture seen everywhere in people's houses at the time and a promise of a new era in the radio industry. It was made out of new and exciting material – Bakelite – or plastic as we call it today. In those days, all radios were made of wood, and most of them were impressive and large pieces of furniture.
Peter and Svend were driven by an urge to try out new things. Peter Bang had been fascinated by this new material – Bakelite – which he encountered on a trip to America when he was younger. Bakelite, developed by the Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland in Yonkers, New York, could be moulded and shaped in three-dimensional curves and made into all the colours of the rainbow.
However, working with it was not a simple task. Bang & Olufsen started experimenting with buttons and smaller items, but in 1938 Bang & Olufsen acquired and installed a 2000-ton press from Krupp in Essen, at the factory in Struer. It was the largest press in Europe and was transported and installed using Denmark's largest crane from the Aalborg Shipyard.
Beolit 39 was the first product made entirely out of this new Bakelite material, and it became an instant success. The design was inspired by powerful symbols of the day – instrument panels of flashy cars and the speaker grill from Buick Y, designed by the legendary Harley Earl (Peter Bangs father owned such a car). The design was a mix of a winning proposal from a contest in a Danish magazine and input from engineers at Bang & Olufsen.
Beolit 39 was the first product to use the prefix Beo – a combination of B&O (Beo) and Bakelite (bakelit).
Fun fact: The name Beolit 39 was actually misspelled in the launch products, as pressure to get the product out for Christmas was significant. This means that the very early models had the word Beolite on the front instead of Beolit.
Beolit 39, unfortunately, became the only product made entirely out of Bakelite at that stage, as the second World War broke out and Bang & Olufsen had to start using wood again. Bakelite was sourced from Germany and was mainly used in the weapons industry during the war.
The prefix Beo, however, returned and was used in 1947 in Beocord (a recording device) and 1964 in Beomaster, Beovision and Beogram and all products after that. The benefit of using a prefix was that it allowed Bang & Olufsen to launch products worldwide without the lengthy process of trademark registrations for every new product. Instead, they registered the prefix.
The name Beolit came back in the 1960s - the era of the transistor.
A new technological innovation, the transistor, came in the mid-1950s and provided engineers with many new options, and Bang & Olufsen wanted to be part of this.
When transistors replaced the bulky radio valve tubes, it allowed for new portable and compact radio designs – and the name Beolit was brought back. The first was an AM radio; Beolit 606 K was launched in 1959. It was modern, hip and just what the young generation was looking for.
Later it came in an FM version, Beolit 607.
A naming strategy from 1940 to 1964 made it possible to know when a product was launched.
The first digit was the decade, e.g. Master 412 from the 1940s. The year it was produced was then calculated by subtracting the first digit from the last two digits; 412 12-4 = 8 – i.e. 1948.
The same applied to Beolit initially; Beolit 607 - decade was 1960 – the year was 60 - 7-6 = 1 - so the launch year was 61.
However, this strategy was abandoned at a certain point, as customers started looking at the number rather than the product and only wanted the latest development.
For more than two decades, Bang & Olufsen launched an incredible number of portable transistor radios. New materials, new colours and new user situations were catered to, and the Beolit radio conquered a new generation. It was so popular that the word Beolit became synonymous with a transistor radio in the same way as Hoover became synonymous with a vacuum cleaner.
The popularity of the portable transistor radio was so immense that every radio manufacturer wanted to be part of it, and many new competitors came to the market.
This led Bang & Olufsen to contact the designer Acton Bjørn and ask him to come up with a proposal for a transistor radio that stood out from the crowd, catering to more individual needs. The result was Beolit 500.
It was a radio with five preset stations, volume control and loudspeaker. It could be placed on the table or the wall and function as a radio from there.
With its well-functioning batteries and excellent sound quality, the Beolit 500 radio was a great answer to the needs of a lot of people. To stand out, Beolit 500 was designed with a minor add-on feature, as it could be used as a local intercom system – or, more popularly, the baby alarm.
From the 1970s to 1982, much more sophisticated Beolit models were launched. Looks changed to fit people's interiors; from black goatskin, Brazilian rosewood, teak or oak. One (Beolit 1000) had a specially designed cassette for the car and could be used as a car radio. The bracket to install in the car automatically cut out the built-in power supply and used the car battery, the car aerial and extension speaker instead. Technically it was superior to most other models at the time; it was elegantly styled with all the controls placed on the top panel.
In 1972 Beolit 1000 was chosen as one of seven products designed by Jacob Jensen to be included in the MoMa design collection, representing excellent examples of the Museum's criteria for quality and historical importance. This design had influenced the twentieth century.
Eventually, Bang & Olufsen manufactured more than 100 different versions of the popular Beolit radio.
As the popularity of the transistor radio increased, the need to differentiate increased with it. Now the Beolit radio had become a design icon, and a cult object,
A new range of Beolits was launched in 1970 – starting with Beolit 600, designed by Jacob Jensen.
The sound reproduction was exceptionally good - so good that many of the Beolits are still in use today. In principle, the units were battery-powered, but the 600 version could also be connected to the mains. A novel and amusing detail was the indication of the selected station. This was shown by a small metal ball, which was encased and protected behind a glass cover moved in parallel with a magnet on the exterior control slide.
Despite its sophisticated exterior, the Beolit was extremely robust.
With Beolit 600, the designer Jacob Jensen set a new standard for the manufacture and design of transistor radios. The radio was very functional and easy to operate. The solution of the tuning scale, by means of magnetic balls - later referred to as the slide rule user interface, invented for the Beolab 5000 amplifier (1967) - was both elegant and functional even though it was later replaced by digital methods.
An example of good-quality design work is the technique that can be developed and refined through time; another is the longevity of the quality design. Jensen's Beolit 600 was special because it took design seriously.
Jacob Jensen was awarded the Danish Design Centre's ID Prize in 1970 for his work with this product range.
This Beolit 600 was one of Bang & Olufsen greatest sales success stories. So many were sold that by the end of the 1970s, it would be hard to find a home in Denmark that did not have a Beolit somewhere.
Even today, you will still find Beolits in many households – still working and still sounding beautiful.
The Beolit era lasted until 1982, when more powerful systems were introduced, and HiFi became the talk of the town.
The idea of Beolit as a portable music player reverted during the transition from analogue to digital music.
When streaming from your mobile phone became the new way of listening to music, Bang & Olufsen wanted to be able to provide the one thing you did not have when listening to music on your mobile phone – namely, excellent sound performance.
Beolit 12 was chosen as the name of Bang & Olufsen's first portable streaming speaker. It was a hint to the past due to its similar traits; portability, robust materials, multiple colours and a new era for sound – instead of being about transistors, it was about digital streaming.
It was the first attempt for designer Cecilie Manz to work in the technology product category – totally new and unknown territory. Apart from the Beolit series, Cecilie Manz has been behind many other successful portable products; Beosound A2, Beosound A1, P1, P2, P6 and M5.
With Beolit 12, the challenge from Bang & Olufsen was 'to create a solution for portable sound at an affordable price point without compromising quality or design'.
Cecilie Manz introduced a design language that was a direct reflection of the use; practical, robust and casual. It offered a basic yet discrete and elegant' unit' with rounded corners that could be placed on any surface. The aluminium speaker grill was wrapped beautifully around it, with a coloured speaker fabric visible behind it.
The top and bottom of the unit were made from robust and dent-proof plastic. The top of the unit had a non-slip rubber insert for placement of your mobile device here, e.g. while charging, which could be done utilising the large-capacity battery of Beolit 12. Four rubber feet at the bottom of the product secured stability and hid away the assembly screws.
The work process with Beolit 12 started inside and out.
Many people ask the designer where the inspiration for a design comes from. The most straightforward answer is that sometimes it lies in the project itself and your framework. Beolit 12 had to provide great sound, be portable, contain specific given components as a minimum, such as battery pack, speaker units etc., as a rather tangible starting point.
All known components, battery, cabinet volume for acoustics etc., were made using modelling foam in a 1:1 size. The 'plug-and-play' idea was central, and Cecilie also considered that things were moving towards wireless playback.
That Beolit 12 was portable set completely different demands than when you work with stationary sound/or players – both visually and functionally.
Matt shock-proof plastic in the bottom and top made Beolit 12 suited for handling knocks and being placed on a moist lawn. The rounded edges were more acceptable when carrying Beolit 12 close to your body, and it helped soften the visual look. The leather carrying strap pointed quite clearly towards portability – and its placement across the product gave balance when being moved around.
To achieve excellent sound quality was important throughout the process. The cabinet volume of the product made the work for the acoustic engineers challenging. Still, to Bang & Olufsen sound engineers, large amounts of space have never been in the specification. The shape signalled great sound - a small compact body with powerful bass.
The grid pattern was also a visual reflection of the sound; It showed from where the sound radiated. The perforated aluminium front has almost become the symbol of Bang & Olufsen quality and finish. Therefore, it was natural to apply this technique in Beolit 12. The pattern was adapted to the sound; the number of holes increases where the most sound comes out. The textiles behind it are in relative intense colours, but they get dimmed down when the eye mixes them with the grey aluminium front. The result is a subtle hint of colour.
The wish has been a product that does not scream out visually; it instead drops discretely and delicately into any situation and place where it needs to work; on the kitchen counter, the kid's room, the work place or the summer house and the terrace.
Over the years, Beolit has also been upgraded, simplifying functionality providing new visual expressions that would match the trends in interior and fashion.
Like the evolution of the Beolits in the 1960s, today's Beolit concepts constantly evolve as new technological solutions are made available.
In Beolit 15, the keyword was portable power. It was upgraded to Bang & Olufsen signature sound performance introducing a True360 degree Omni-directional sound and optimising battery performance.
With the introduction of Beolit 17, there was another sound update, utilising the space previously needed for the cable compartment for speakers. It also provided fast and intelligent charging with better battery capacity.
In Beolit 20, Bang & Olufsen improved the battery life by 30% compared to Beolit 17. With this new battery, Beolit 20 was the first speaker to introduce wireless charging of Qi-compatible smartphones, placing them on the top tray. Beolit 20 also included several design updates: the height and curvature were changed to optimise for placement of your phone on top, a new hole pattern allowing for a 45% increase in the acoustic penetration of the clear and refined sound, new colours and visual effects in the selected fabrics, and a user interface that through the integration of the buttons in the surface has become more robust.
And finally, the possibility of pairing two Beolits and achieving a fantastic stereo performance.
As with the Beolit of the 60ies, the present Beolit range of products constantly improves and adjusts to the requirements of the customer.