What home amenities are most desirable to today’s millionaires and billionaires? Twenty years ago, the answer might have been finishes like Carrara marble and gold leaf. Or a formal dining room that seats 20. Today, however, the ultimate luxury in a home lies behind the walls. In fact, technology has become one of the most sought-after high-end residential features. According to a 2015 survey from Coldwell Banker Previews International®/NRT and Ipsos MediaCT, 41% of high-net-worth individuals want a fully automated and wired home environment, and, by comparison, 31% said they wanted a home theater. Whether it’s the ease of being able to turn on motorized window shades with a touch of a button or being able to entertain guests with total acoustic control, it is clear that affluent homebuyers want a seamless living experience that comes with all of the latest gizmos and gadgets.
One company that continues to push the boundaries when it comes to audio and video solutions for the modern home is Bang & Olufsen. The 91-year-old Danish luxury consumer electronics company — named after founders and engineers Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen — is known for “quality media delivery via striking objects,” Wired magazine once hailed, making everything from adaptive televisions to state-of-the-art digital loudspeakers and sound systems that could double as works of art.
“We have stayed true to the vision of our founders in many ways by adhering to their ‘never-failing will to create only the best’ motto with the same passion, pride and persistence that drove them in the early days,” says Marie Kristine Schmidt, corporate vice president and head of brand, design and marketing at Bang & Olufsen. “It started with a desire to make a better radio in the infancy of radio. Today, we desire to solve problems that confront our clients and make their lives simpler with our products.”
In some ways, Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen are not all that distant from founders Colbert Coldwell and Benjamin Arthur Banker, who established Coldwell Banker in 1906. They were all innovators, pioneers and trailblazers in their own right, and to this day, continue to stay true to that heritage in the modern era by developing new ways to improve people’s lives through simplicity.
We recently had the rare opportunity to sit down with Schmidt and discuss the company’s approach to technology, innovation and the latest trends driving today’s audiophiles and cinephiles at home.
In what ways has your company evolved since 1925?
Marie Kristine Schmidt There have been 90 years of evolution and sometimes revolution. It could take a few hundred pages to capture it as we have done in Jens Bang’s “Spark to Icon” for our 80th anniversary. To over-simplify it, we have held true to a belief that technology is here to serve man, not the other way around. We have embraced new technology with a skeptical eye and been careful not to follow fads. We have always made choices to focus on the benefits of any new technology to those who use it. What does it do for the consumer? Is it really a benefit, and how can we simplify its use in our implementation?
You celebrated the 90th anniversary of Bang & Olufsen last year, in 2015. How did you commemorate the milestone?
Marie Kristine Schmidt We began the celebration early in the year by introducing a limited-edition Love Affair Collection, selected from some of the most iconic products in our portfolio. This collection received a special Rose Golden anodized treatment and laser engraved “90” logo, along with new wood and fabric colors to emphasize the material and design competencies built up over the 90 years leading to today. We hosted events all over the world, toasting to the Roaring Twenties when Bang & Olufsen formed, to introduce the Rose Gold collection to our clientele.
Then, on the anniversary date of November 17, 2015, we celebrated by hosting events in 50 locations around the world to introduce the appropriately named BeoLab 90. Decades of research and development with active loudspeakers have gone into fulfilling the wildest dreams of our acoustics department, creating the future of sound embodied in BeoLab 90. We also introduced a new Alastair Philip Wiper book, “The Art of Impossible: The Bang & Olufsen Design Story,” at these events.
What would you say is the one quality that unites all of your products — from past to present?
Marie Kristine Schmidt That would be the combination of our core competencies embodied in each product: design, materials, integration, sound, picture, mechanical movement, user interface and quality, an overall level of craftsmanship in production.
What does “taming technology in the service of simplicity” mean in the context of your latest product launches, like the BeoSound 35 wireless music system and the BeoLab 90 loudspeaker?
Marie Kristine Schmidt BeoSound 35 tames the world of cloud music and streaming in a clean line of aluminum and fabric on the wall. The elegant interface allows you to turn on your music with one touch, with an easy-to-read display, without having to find your smart device, without interruptions from notifications, messages or phone calls.
All you need for musical enjoyment is in one place: embedded sources, active loudspeakers, OLED display, wireless network connectivity, all contained in a beautifully crafted package with flexible mounting options.
BeoLab 90 has the pedigree to compete with the finest loudspeakers in the world. Yet it does so without the need of massive amplifiers and external cables considered the norm in the world of audiophile loudspeakers. Bang & Olufsen has a guiding principle known as “domesticity,” one of Bang & Olufsen’s Core Identity Components identified by Jens Bang in 1972. Domesticity means our products fit into the way people live in their homes, even if that product is a very high-end loudspeaker. Listening rooms might be custom designed around some high-end loudspeakers. BeoLab 90 simplifies the experience and allows you to place the loudspeakers and yourself more freely in the room while still enjoying the ultimate in sound performance. Our new technologies like beam width control, beam direction control and active room compensation allow for freedom in how a room is used. You can have a dedicated listening room and theater all in one that can make everyone happy at the touch of a preset sound selection.
You debuted the BeoSound 35 at CES earlier this year. What makes your all-in-one wireless music system unique, compared to others currently on the market?
Marie Kristine Schmidt BeoSound 35 is a complete all-in-one audio solution that has the ability to be expanded through our BeoLink multi-room technology to additional BeoSound 35 or to our other BeoLink multi-room concepts.
How do you stay at the forefront of domestic technology, especially when it’s moving so fast?
Marie Kristine Schmidt We have to be aware of trends in the market and proactively look toward the future. To do so, we regularly conduct consumer insight studies to see what “pain points” exist in people’s lives when dealing with technology. We then develop solutions that help domesticate and improve the relationship with technology. The key is in understanding the needs of customers in their daily lives.
Which of your current products are your top sellers? Why do you think they appeal to so many?
Marie Kristine Schmidt We would not dare pick a favorite child. Our clients are attracted to the timeless designs of our products. They appreciate our use of genuine materials and state-of-the-art technologies crafted into bespoke solutions for them. There is a true pleasure of ownership with Bang & Olufsen that begins before you even turn it on! Then, the superior sound and picture performance, combined with ease of use, keeps them coming back for years to come.
Scenario: you’re building a cutting-edge smart home. Which Bang & Olufsen system would you recommend, from speakers to TV and seamless home integration?
Marie Kristine Schmidt The beauty of Bang & Olufsen is that you cannot make a bad decision when picking one of our concepts. You have the freedom to design a system at your own pace over time and mix and match the components to fit the way you want to live in your home. You may choose to begin with a BeoVision television and mounting option that best suits the design of your room. Then, add one or more pairs of BeoLab loudspeakers to create the theater of your dreams.
All BeoVisions feature powerful, built-in center channel loudspeakers and surround processors that will satisfy the needs of the most discriminating theater aficionado. Thanks to our immaculate wireless sound technology and built-in amplifiers, our loudspeakers allow for the ultimate freedom of placement. Finally, you may pick from one of our BeoSound music systems to complete an integrated solution that can serve up all of your audio and video needs with one touch from BeoRemote One.
Add to this a whole-house lighting system, motorized window treatments, IP cameras, irrigation systems, virtually any smart home system and a BeoLink Gateway will allow you seamless integration with Bang & Olufsen. Now you have complete control over your environment from a touch on a keypad, a pressure sensor in the driveway, a button on a remote, a voice command — the options are endless.
And if you’re a serious audiophile?
Marie Kristine Schmidt I am a music lover, and music plays an important role in my life. I am also quality conscious and appreciate listening to music as the artist intended. This is what you get with Bang & Olufsen — and I must admit that I have grown an acquired taste for sound in the past four years.
Can you talk a little about the importance of acoustics in setting the mood in a high-end home?
Marie Kristine Schmidt We have found through focused market studies that people use music to set the stage and create the scene for many events in their lives. Music can move you and transport you to a place and time with focused listening, or it can be calming and reassuring in the background or motivating and inspirational to achieve a goal. Music is a part of our lives, and we make options for everyone to allow music to take the place in their homes that best fits their lifestyle. Isn’t it part of creating an entire lifestyle for a sophisticated homeowner? It is indeed. We believe that you should be able to bring Bang & Olufsen into your home and easily create the soundscapes to match you and your family’s personal needs.
If you could look into your crystal ball, what will the world of seamless home integration and smart home technology look like in five to 10 years?
Marie Kristine Schmidt It’s really beginning to happen already today, but it will be the internet of things. We will have homes where the devices can anticipate needs and offer options before you have to think too hard about it. Connected products today can start to recognize usage patterns to help with ease of operation. Think of the digital assistant who really knows you and your family’s schedules, habits, needs, and moods, and let it take the repetitive daily choices out of your life so you can focus on what is most important in life.
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