Bang & Olufsen’s new speaker lets you become the designer

Changing the way we design speaker systems, Danish design studio Bang & Olufsen have launched their latest masterpiece - the customisable, luxurious BeoSound Shape.

Words by Sam Forsdick

In many ways Bang & Olufsen have advanced the idea of what a speaker should be. A black cube that sits in the corner of a room will no longer suffice – a speaker should be a statement piece, akin to a piece of furniture or artwork, that elevates the room and shows your style. From the classic zeppelin to the unorthodox and angular Beolab 90, Danish designers Bang & Olufsen are not afraid of taking risks.

The latest edition to their range is the BeoSound Shape; a customisable wall-hanging speaker-stroke-art-piece, it brings together the worlds of interior design and sophisticated audio technology, with a starting price of £2,700. A risky sounding proposition perhaps, but the results are impressive.

It may seem complex, but in reality the concept for the BeoSound Shape is rather simple. If you want a booming sound system, click more of the speakers on; if you are in a room with poor acoustics,add sound dampeners. Each hexagonal block houses a different component - it’s up to you to decide how they fit together.

Acclaimed designer and founder of Slaatto design studios in Copenhagen, Øivind Slaatto, was brought in by B&O to work on the project. He compared his work on BeoSound to another Danish invention, saying, “I think of the modular design as creating the LEGO brick. I have made the components and now it’s up to people to use their imagination to create".

One thing Øivind does admit is that too many options can be overwhelming; in response, only four different modules will be available: a speaker, a sound dampener, an amplifier and the BeoSound core that connects all the elements together. The basic structure of six components will set you back in the region of £3,000. The 44 speaker set up at the BeoSound Shape launch party - with 11 amplifiers and various dampeners - would cost about ten times that, setting the innovative Bang & Olufsen innovative speaker within the the luxury market or corporate sector.

“The beauty of the module is that it can be used to create any expressions; from strict & rigid – as you can see here tonight – to free and floating. Personally I tend to prefer the latter - but I don't want to dictate how people express themselves,” says Øivind at the launch. This creative process is helped with the B&O Shape website, which allows people to experiment with the layout and colours of their speaker system.

Every element of the speaker can be personalised - from the colour of the cover to the fabric type, even down to whether or not the B&O logo is added. Four different Kvadrat fabrics were created for the B&O collaboration; the project represented a new challenge for the Kvadrat team, who had to consider airflow in order to prevent muffling the sound. The textured fabrics completely disguise the speaker - if it wasn't producing sound, it could easily be mistaken for an art piece.

Image: Antonio Salgado

For Øivind, modular design also means sustainable design. “I do not like throwaway,” he says. “Everyone queues up to get the newest phone and a year later you may as well use it as a doorstop. A high quality speaker is something more permanent". The natural world is important to Øivind and his design philosophy; previously he worked with B&O on the A9 speaker, a circular design that mimicked the way sound travels through air. His lampshade for Louis Poulsen was inspired by sunlight and Fibonacci’s golden ratio.

“Nature produces the most efficient designs through evolution,” explains  Øivind. “I cannot say I achieve that but I do take inspiration from it.” He sees the repeating hexagonal pattern of his speakers everywhere in nature – from bees producing honeycomb, to snowflakes and lizard scales. "Instead of becoming a slave [to] trends, I try to ignore them and take lessons from life. Life is a process that has been refined over of billions of years - we can't ever stop learning from this".

Talking about his design process, Øivind explains, “I like to work in digital and analogue. Both media run parallel during the entire design process. It’s not just about appearance, it’s about touch and smell and the feeling in your stomach. You can’t design a chair only on a screen; you have to sit in it". 

Discussing the design for the BeoSound Space speakers at the launch, Øivind revealed that he began the design process by folding paper.“There’s a lot you can learn from folding paper," he admits. Although this first draft was more conical in appearance, the hexagonal shape and symmetry of the final product was apparent from the start. Then again, Øivind might be the designer of the BeoSound Shape modules – but the final design is up to you.

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