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All that glisters…

10th December 2006 by Beoscribe

As a Bang & Olufsen collector, one tends to accumulate all manner of products without really thinking and only when cataloguing one’s collection does one come across pieces which, when critically analysed, are actually not very good. On an enthusiast site, nothing really is given the bird as someone always loves it, but this is usually because it is being glimpsed through rose tinted spectacles.

We need to be brave – B&O has produced some real turkeys! These fall into a number of groups and are bad for different reasons. Some indeed are not actually bad products per se but lack of the principles that make a B&O product great.

The most obvious candidate is the Beocenter 2000 and even worse, the 2002. These fall down in so many ways that I can only suggest that a visit to the Reference section of this site is required. Suffice it to say that it was a Japanese unit in both design and performance but sold at a relatively premium price: the addition of a Metal Tape selector in the 2002 smacked of rank opportunism and marketing cynicism. The follow up series to the 2000, the Beocenter 2100, 2200 and 4000, although again misguided in trying to offer B&O on the cheap by not actually supplying B&O, was at least the recipient of some inspired design from David Lewis.

Similar issues could be raised about the Beovision LE 6000 and MX 1500 where the actual B&O content was very low. The MX 1500 at least filled a space in the B&O range but the LE 6000 was merely a Philips dressed up in LX clothing and with no performance advantage over the Philips model.

Some products deserve criticism not because of their design or indeed their performance, but due to the execution of the design. A surprising choice here is the Beogram 8000 – possibly the best performing record player made by B&O. But compare it to the material robustness of its predecessor – the Beogram 4000 – and you find cheap plastics, double sided tape instead of proper fixtures and a poorly thought out service position requiring disengagement of the suspension. Problems with degradation of the timing disc merely confirm the effect company accountants can have on an innovative design.

Design should always be to assist a product rise above the mundane and on the whole B&O products manage this admirably. One exception is the fabulously designed Beo 1 remote control. For previous generations of TVs lacking Teletext or the complexities of programming a VCR, such a remote could possibly be justified. But use in a fully specified BeoVision 1, or worse still BeoCenter 1, left the average user pressing away in a demented fashion. Such use also demonstrated another failing – it marked appallingly. A ready cloth at all times or gloves would seem the only way to maintain the esoteric looks.

B&O equipment is priced at a premium because of the design and the materials used. One can question the value against other marques but most of the range will tend to use quality components and will perform well against rivals. Clearly cheaper products are available with similar and in some cases better performance but against this has to be balanced the integration possibilities of the B&O product. But what if the B&O product loses that ability and is also hamstrung by technical shortcomings? Is it then reasonable to charge premium product rates? Is the BeoLab 4PC a viable product?

Lastly and controversially, it makes me laugh when I see the huge value placed on some B&O products by the second hand market when the said products are often pretty mid range. Examples include the late tangential turntables and the panel speakers. Both are proper B&O and clever in their own way, but paying $1000 for a Beogram 7000 and more than this for a pair of Beolab 5000s shows the market to be very strange. Both items were in fact slow sellers and were often sold off cheap as the range was deleted. The late tangential decks were made from inferior materials compared to the 4000 and 8000 ranges and had reverted to the cheaper belt drive rather than the radical and effective tangential drive of the 8000.

The list could continue but the caveat remains – just because it has B&O written on it doesn’t make it great! I have bought a number of turkeys in my time including some of the above. I still like them but at least recognise them for what they are and can smile at being taken in.