FUNCTION FOLLOWS FORM: BANG & OLUFSEN DESIGN CLASSICS

by Daniel Giebel - Jul 13 2017

Today’s music listening habits seem to be as much an on-the-go affair as eating fast food. But there are still those who take their time to sit down and enjoy music on hi-fi sets that please the ears as much as the eyes. Pascal van Loo is one of these people – he can look back on decades of selling the products from the famed Danish brand Bang & Olufsen and has the collection and stories to really wet your appetite for some home listening in fine style.

Pascal van Loo started selling hi-fi equipment right after graduating from high school in the early 1980s. Upon meeting with the importer for B&O and organizing a sales event for him, he would soon become an ambassador for the brand in the Dutch city of Maastricht. He remembers these humble beginnings well, not least because of the personal connection that was established: “They invited me to Denmark and into the factory, where I could witness how they worked with great materials, and that their design was way more progressive than at other brands for television and radio appliances. For those, it was all about pure technology – at B&O, it was all about the design and the quality of living.”

Pascal van Loo. You will find a B&O TV and stereo in every room of his house.

Pascal went on to specifically sell Bang & Olufsen, and in 1999 he finally opened his own B&O store in Maastricht which he led until 2010. After that, he left the business for good, but he still speaks fondly of his B&O years and especially his customers: “Most B&O clients stayed with me for often more than ten or twenty years, they became ambassadors for the brand or even personal friends. I knew when they would marry, when the kids were born. I always took care of the customer relations for my own shop, so I would know when there was an anniversary coming up or someone started a new job. And then there would be some money to spend – and so a new B&O device would be acquired for the home.”

Bought to last

Regarding the production values, he states, the 70s and the 80s were the most important years for the brand. But the evolution of the brand started already in the 50s and 60s, and according to Pascal, “back then it was already the same niche product as it still is today, and it was mostly doctors, pharmacists, architects or lawyers who would afford things like that. It was a different era – in those times, a TV was bought to last ten or twelve years. Today you have to buy a new one every two years because the technology is always changing. But in the 70s, this ‘plain old technology’ still existed. Back then, such TV sets would become a part of the life at home. Today, when a telly is broken, it gets thrown out.”

Function follows form

For Pascal, it’s evident that this golden era of Bang & Olufsen designs was made possible by one man in particular: “Jacob Jensen, who also did some iconic watches later on. All other manufacturers had their own design unit. At Philips, they would develop a washing machine and then go to the designers and have the design adjusted to the technology. At B&O, they went to Jensen and just kind of asked him how he thought a radio should look. His draft would then go back to B&O and they would look into how they could adjust the technology to the design! So it was more ‘function follows form’, in contrast to the ‘form follows function’ ethos.”

Jacob Jensen become chief product designer for B&O in 1964 and is credited with developing the B&O design style, which is still used today. Through his time at Bang & Olufsen, Jensen developed over 200 products for the company. During this time he established a minimalistic, horizontal, and severe design style that became characteristic of his product designs.

Jacob Jensen’s Beolit 707 portable radio.

The portable radios from the Jensen years sum up this design ethos very well for Pascal, which is why he has collected about a dozen of them over the years: “I was always crazy about the portables, which allowed you to hear your favorite music in the kitchen or in the garden.” Nowadays, he keeps them in the basement, along with about four or five different pairs of speakers. Which in turn makes Pascal van Loo think about another interesting B&O aspect – while choosing the pieces for this feature, he noticed that the speakers resemble the design of the radios from the same vintage. “It’s all one design language!”, he raves and adds: “I also have maybe four or five hi-fi sets. Just at a time when all other brands sold stackable units with standard measurements, B&O came out with these complete, ultra-flat sets with aluminium and palisander wood. Also, in our house, there is one old B&O tv set in each room – and they all still work fine!”

 

The Bang & Olufsen Beocenter 3300. Timeless integrated design. And only the main functions are visible. The finetuning is clever hidden to not disturb the clear aesthetics.

 

Beovox 1001 speakers with perforated aluminium covers

 

While the design is as important to van Loo as to probably every Bang & Olufsen customer, he also has no qualms when talking about the sound quality of the appliances:
“My daughter is 16 and oddly enough, she buys vinyl records – two weeks ago, she brought home the new Ed Sheeran album on vinyl. I have a proper old system in the living room, and I let my kids hear the difference. The problem of today’s generation is often that even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to listen to the differences in sound. When you hear the these modern portable devices and compare them to old, high-end devices, the latter always win.” For Pascal, it’s this combination of sound and design that makes Bang & Olufsen truly stand out: “I’ve sold these products for nearly 30 years, and if they’d have been only about the design, it would not have worked as well as it did.”

 

One of Jacob Jensen’s most iconic design is the Beogram 4002 with the famous tangential tracking arm. One of the designs we cherish most and part of the Bulang and Sons classics collection.

In terms of concept, performance and technical design, this record player was very much ahead of its time. All functions were governed by computer-like logic circuits. You just pressed START, that was all. Through the unique detector arm (parallel to the pickup arm) these circuits could judge the size of the record, determine its normal playing speed and instruct the pick-up arm to lower the stylus into the lead-in groove.

 

The Beogram 8500 Turntable, part of the total BeoCenter 8500 music system. A light touch directly on Beocenter 8500 was all you needed to access its operation. The illuminated display led you logically through the programming and other functions always showing you what to do next. This ease and simplicity of use was the first impression you obtained of the music system.

 

The Bang & Olufsen Beolink 1000 remote controle already controlled your full system in the house and all devices.

The aluminium is real aluminium, and the wood is real wood

Being the true B&O enthusiast that he is, Pascal would love to see the brand gain back the importance of the good old days: “At Band & Olufsen, the aluminium is real aluminium, and the wood is real wood. That’s what has always separated them from other companies. People who recognize and value something like that will also treat other things differently.” But as far as Pascal van Loo can tell, there seem to be less and less of such people: “Average seems to be the new standard, doesn’t it?! But for me, Bang & Olufsen products have passion, a soul, a story – and the story of such classics today is worth more than the products themselves. If more people knew about the story of Bang & Olufsen, the brand would be much more present today.”

 The BeoSound 3 portable music system (2006).

Bang & Olufsen is taken care of the sound in the Bulang and Sons office. The amazingly designed and easy to use BeoSound 1 Speaker and Beoplay Headphones. Bang & Olufsen is still one of our favorite brands out there.