Bang & Olufsen: Hugge, Beer, and Beolabs

Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 50
Bang & Olufsen: Hugge, Beer, and Beolabs

Unlike brands like Carlsberg, Bang & Olufsen has only tangentially made a big thing of being Danish. The company may exemplify Scandinavian elegance and may be one of the most important employers in Jutland, but its outlook and direction is principally international. Perhaps this is why the company has managed to become such a big hit in the home audio, home video, and automotive sectors: B&O is not so ‘Scandiwegian’ that it only appears in Volvos or minimalist homes.

But the company’s latest campaign is surprisingly Danish in approach. It’s latest ‘Press Pause and Play’ campaign is very ‘Hugge’ in approach, but is not based on an attempt at shoe-horning an audio company with the Danish shared way of eating cupcakes while chilling out in hats that was absurdly popular last winter. In fact, Bang & Olufsen worked with York University in England to determine the emotional influence of music on the listener. In a paper entitled “Compose yourself: The Emotional Influence of Music” the team of researchers, commissioned by Bang & Olufsen, found that (perhaps not surprisingly) ‘sad’ songs induced ‘sadness’ in listeners and ‘happy’ songs made people feel ‘happier’.

Where this research stops being a candidate for an IgNobel Prize (awarded each year to the most pointless and patently obvious ‘we concluded that water is wet’ style research in science) is that alongside asking the 20 volunteers about their emotional state while listening to music, experts from the university’s Music, Science, and Technology Research Cluster (MSTRC) used their bespoke Audience Response System to assess peripheral nervous system activations and motion capture. They also monitored listeners’ heart rates and skin conduction, which are both indicators of the arousal of the autonomous nervous system. And the results of that test indicate that some styles of music had a physiologically calming effect on listeners and could therefore be used to help address emotional issues. On average, skin conductance (a measurement used to monitor arousal to stimuli) was lower while music was playing than during the silent pauses in between each piece. Dr Hauke Egermann, Director of York Music Psychology Group at the University of York oversaw the research and compiled the report. A TEDx speaker with a PhD in Music Psychology and Neuroscience, the findings underline his existing theories and research regarding the powerful psychological potential of music. He comments: “These findings provide further evidence that music can form an important part of our overall mental wellbeing, helping us to regulate our mood. In particular, we have shown that music can override the negative impact of feeling sad and actually allow us to enjoy this emotion in a safe environment.” Working with York is also fine on the Scandiwegian front too, as the town used to be called Jórvík, and was a popular tourist destination for 9th Century Vikings.

A slightly more tenuous link comes with the limited edition beer brewed in association with a local brewer, Mikkeller. Bang & Olufsen wanted to infuse the beer with the music of Danish artists, so the company placed a (sealed) B&O Play loudspeaker inside one of the tanks of a brewery making India Pale Ale, and played music to the proto-beer. Not being master brewers, Bang & Olufsen were unclear whether this was applied to the mash tun, the lauter tun, the boil kettle, or the fermentation tank. While this sounds more like hype and nonsense, there is a slight nugget of potential truth in all this: back when brewers in England were trying to send beer to troops in India, they discovered an extremely hoppy brew, fermented and agitated by the action of a slow boat around the Cape of Good Hope, and the agitation caused by sound waves through the beer mash might constitute a similar effect. If you believe this, I have a bridge to sell you. Regardless, the resultant Beobrew IPA is a pretty reasonable microbrewery beer, with the taste of a session IPA but at 6.8% ABV, with the kick of premium bitter.

Kicking back with a beer, a short session by Faroese singer Elvor (whose work was used in the York University research), and a quick description and listen to the new Active DSP BeoLab 50 loudspeakers in West London’s Metropolis studios, maybe Bang & Olufsen have a point. The BeoLab 50 loudspeakers – a more real-world, domestically-chummy spin-off from the company’s extremely clever BeoLab 90 – features an advanced sound customisation system that requires room measurement on installation, and works on-the-fly to compensate for room anomalies. It also allows the listener to move between ‘hot spot’ and group listening thanks to an adjustable and powered Acoustic Lens at the top of the loudspeaker. This speaker is already in the stores and costs £22,930 per pair. We hope to be able to look at these soon.

Domestic loudspeakers in the studio environment are always going to sound good because the control room is acoustically designed for the task of critical listening. Nevertheless, the BeoLab 50 did make an admirably good job of playing music with the kind of dynamic range, scale, and bass performance that is extremely honest and hard to live without, and yet the loudspeaker isn’t the kind of product that is hostile to design led interiors.

As Steve Devonshire, Product and Training Manager for Bang & Olufsen, said in a short interview at the product launch, “People now want more intuitive products that are easy to use, not more features. We want to make an alternative to the smartphone as music source. There’s nothing wrong with smartphones, but we think music should be a part of allocating time for yourself, especially if we can make music as the artist intended.”

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