The BeoLab 3, shown here with acoustic engineer Peter Chapman, is a tiny sphere with a small woofer-midrange, a single Acoustic Lens tweeter, and a two on-board ICEpower amps, all in a tiny, spherical cabinet with an internal volume of 1.5 liters. It sounded remarkably close in balance to the big BeoLab 5 (the deepest bass and ultimate volume capability excluded, of course).
B&O began as a radio manufacturer in the late 1920s, operating out of Svend Olufsen's family farmhouse outside of Struer, Denmark. Its first product, the Eliminator, was designed to allow a radio to be powered by line voltage instead of a battery. The photo shows B&O consultant Ronny Kaas Mortensen next to the radio. The small box at the upper right hand corner of the radio is the Eliminator. It was not only built inside the radio itself, but also sold separately. It also cleaned up the dirty power line output of the day—the first audiophile high-end power conditioner!
The BeoVision 9 television, which just started shipping, is B&O's current flagship 50-inch plasma. The 50" set, at around $20,000, may seem pricey for a 1366x768 design (it uses Panasonic glass), and it is. But it does include a built-in center speaker with an Acoustic Lens tweeter and 5" woofer. It also features an on-board version of B&O's BeoMedia (available separately in the BeoSystem 3), which includes all of the features of a sophisticated pre-pro and more. These include full 7.1-channel decoding (expandable up to 10 channels), speaker switching and speaker assignment options that may be the most flexible on the market, and easy access to sources as diverse as CD, radio, cable TV, satellite TV, DVD, photos, digital cameras, and the Internet. And oh, yes, the entire cabinet has a motorized swivel. Very cool.
If stepping off the plane into the Copenhagen airport is a little like stepping into the world's biggest IKEA store, then stepping out of the tiny airport in Karup, Denmark is a little like transporting to the farmlands of Nebraska. But my mission to the far west end of the Jutland peninsula, together with a number of other European and North American journalists, was not sightseeing, but information. Information about what Struer, Denmark manufacturer B&O is currently about, and how the activities in its several facilities are leading to interesting new products, and how those products are influenced by the thinking and research behind them.
Founded in Worthing, England in 1966 by the late John Bowers, B&W (more formally known as Bowers and Wilkins) is now one of the best-known names in the industry. While the average man in the street might wonder when the car manufacturer started making speakers if you mention B&W, it's one of the first names that comes to an audiophile if asked to make a list of the top speaker companies in the business. And unlike many of its competitors, B&W makes only loudspeakers—unless you count its new iPod speaker system as a major departure.
Two years ago, when I visited the B&W facilities in Worthing, England, I heard a demonstration of that company's then-new flagship, the Signature 800 ($16,000/pair). I salivated at the prospect of reviewing a home theater package anchored by these impressive speakers, but ultimately put off requesting them in favor of slightly more manageable and affordable designs.
The model designation "DM" might not sound like anything special, but it has a long history with B&W. Models such as the DM 6, fondly remembered by audiophiles as the "pregnant penguin," enjoyed a modest following in the 1970s, when then-small English speaker company Bowers & Wilkins was knocking out attendees at hi-fi show demonstrations. B&W is now, by most accounts, the biggest speaker company in the UK. Its model range has increased exponentially since those early days, but the DM prefix is still very much alive.
I've never heard of the Italian loudspeaker company B2, but their Titan, which stands about 65-inches tall and weighs in at 286 lbs, sounded spectacular in a very large room. The mids and highs were particularly transluscent, thanks to a pair of ceramic-coned midranges from Accuton and a 6" ribbon tweeter. The smaller speaker on the right in the photo is the Hebe (not heard). Estimated retail prices as of show time were about $75,000/pair for the Titan and $19,500 per pair for the Hebe.