BIG BANG THE­ORY

An­dre Poul­heim is the man be­hind the wild lines of Bang & Olufsen’s Be­o­lab 90 speak­ers.

Robb Report (Malaysia) - - The De­sign Is­sue - By DARYL LEE

“Cre­ate an icon for our vi­sion of sound”, went the de­sign brief for the Bang & Olufsen Be­o­lab 90. The speak­ers, in­tended as a present for the Dan­ish elec­tron­ics com­pany’s 90th birthday, look spec­tac­u­lar, even by B& O’s lofty stan­dards.

The Be­o­lab 90 takes its place in the pan­theon of the mad­dest­look­ing speak­ers of all time.

Cre­at­ing it, both from an au­dio engi­neer­ing and de­sign stand­point, was no easy task.

“It’s the most com­plex prod­uct we and Bang & Olufsen ever did,” says An­dre Poul­heim, one of the co­founders of Cologne-based de­sign stu­dio Noto, and one of the peo­ple be­hind the speaker’s rad­i­cal form.

As with most in­cred­i­bly com­plex ob­jects, Poul­heim states that “the brief was the sim­plest one we ever got” and “we had end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties”. But, the only prob­lem is that free­dom, as Ge­orge Or­well wrote in Nine­teen Eighty-four, is slav­ery.

“If you have a car, you know it needs to have four wheels, so you al­ready have a start­ing point. But if you look at speak­ers, it could have any shape,” ex­plains Poul­heim. The chal­lenge, he adds, was “to find a so­lu­tion that would pro­vide an equally un­prece­dented vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence. What we al­ways try to do is think of what kind of

ex­pe­ri­ence we’re try­ing to de­liver. We de­fine the ex­pe­ri­ence first and think of how to de­liver it with its aes­thet­ics and ma­te­ri­als.”

And boy, did Poul­heim de­liver. In­spired by the facets of a chan­de­lier’s crys­tals (a B&O fo­cus group re­spondee named that as the favourite thing in her home), and the Frei Otto- de­signed tent-like roof in Munich’s Olympias­ta­dion, pic­tures don’t do the Be­o­lab 90 jus­tice at all.

It shim­mers and it seems to change shape when you walk around it, al­most as if it was amor­phous, like a jel­ly­fish. And its mere pres­ence, all 137kg of alu­minium, wood and fab­ric, is just as im­pos­ing as you’d imag­ine. And that’s with it not pow­ered on.

When it does come to life, well. With 18 dis­crete driv­ers per side, a 360- de­gree sound stage and an out­put of 8,200 watts, the re­sults could al­most shake the heav­ens.

Oh, and it also has some­thing B& O calls “ac­tive room com­pen­sa­tion” that can au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just for the speaker’s po­si­tion, the room’s acous­tics, fur­ni­ture and the lis­ten­ers’ po­si­tions, to en­sure that any seat is the best one in the house.

Ex­actly how the Be­o­lab 90 achieves that is best left to those with a PHD in au­dio engi­neer­ing, and trust me when I say there’s a lot go­ing on un­der­neath, what with built-in mi­cro­phones tak­ing a ‘snap­shot’ of the room and ad­just­ing the sound stage ac­cord­ingly. In­ter­est­ingly enough, Poul­heim says one of the big­gest de­sign goals was all that moon­shot tech­nol­ogy should only be heard, not felt nor seen.

And why not, I put it to Poul­heim. Af­ter all, con­sid­er­able time and ef­fort was ex­pended in mak­ing the Be­o­lab 90 a no-holds­barred as­sault on au­dio engi­neer­ing.

“There was an era, when tech­nol­ogy was grow­ing, that it was im­por­tant to com­mu­ni­cate all that per­for­mance and power. Th­ese days we know that nearly any­thing is pos­si­ble with tech­nol­ogy, so the ques­tion shifts to how we can in­te­grate it into our ev­ery­day lives,” as­serts Poul­heim.

He con­tin­ues: “But it shouldn’t

be that ob­vi­ous. It’s just there and it should just work. Bang & Olufsen make prod­ucts for ev­ery­day life, for so­cial set­tings – it’s im­por­tant that this tech­nol­ogy is dis­creet and in the back­ground.”

Is it beau­ti­ful, though? Well, let’s just say the Be­o­lab 90’s ap­peal isn’t ex­actly univer­sal, some­thing even B&O ac­knowl­edges: “It will not be for ev­ery­body, but it will be for the right some­body.”

Says Poul­heim: “For the Be­o­lab 90, we wanted to make it po­lar­is­ing, and that’s an­other way of mak­ing sure its de­sign will last a long time. Even if peo­ple hate it, they’ll talk about it. As a sym­bol for Bang & Olufsen, it’s more im­por­tant that peo­ple re­mem­ber it, and less so that ev­ery­one likes it.”

But will Poul­heim, and in­deed, Noto, be re­mem­bered as the Be­o­lab 90 will?

His name and his part­ner at Noto, Thorsten Frack­en­pohl are but foot­notes in the Be­o­lab 90’s prod­uct page, buried in a tiny cor­ner of the spec­i­fi­ca­tions sec­tion. It should also be noted that Poul­heim and Noto don’t al­ways re­ceive credit for their work. A mo­bile Wi-fi router from Huawei is a prod­uct of the minds at Noto.

This rel­a­tive lack of recog­ni­tion, how­ever, does not bother Poul­heim one bit.

“I’m not the kind of per­son that en­joys the lime­light. I just want to do my job right and with pas­sion. If I can do it with pas­sion, the re­sults will be great.” www. bang- olufsen. com ≠

“It will not be for ev­ery­body, but it will be for the right some­body.”

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