Magazine article Gramophone

Taking the Room out of the Speaker Equation: Lots of Drivers, Amplifiers and Digital Signal Processing Can Bang & Olufsen Change the Way We All Listen?

Magazine article Gramophone

Taking the Room out of the Speaker Equation: Lots of Drivers, Amplifiers and Digital Signal Processing Can Bang & Olufsen Change the Way We All Listen?

Article excerpt

Well, that was a close one! Bang & Olufsen's new flagship loudspeaker had a number of targets in mind: the company wanted to reestablish itself as a serious speaker choice for the high-end audio enthusiast, as well as tackling one of the major problems with all loudspeakers--the room in which they're used. Oh, and though it may have seemed a long way off when the project first started, more than four years ago, it had one absolute, fixed target it had to hit: the speaker had to be ready in time for the Danish company's 90th anniversary celebrations last month.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It made it, and with a little time to spare, although at the launch event in October it was clear there were just a few cosmetic finishing touches to be signed off--notably the complex shapes of the wood panels at the base of the massive speaker's main enclosure, the only part of the main structure that's actually visible below the striking fabric skin covering the whole enterprise. With all the rest of the engineering and design going on in the BeoLab 90, it looked to me like one of the simpler parts of the speaker, but apparently it was still giving the designers and engineers headaches right up to the moment of the 'reveal'.

But while the unusual shape created by the cloth cover of the speaker (the work of Cologne-based design consultancy Frackenpohl Poulheim) was getting the design journalists present at the launch very excited, what got me thinking was the clever stuff going on 'under the skin'. Bang & Olufsen had been teasing the new speakers with the Twitter hashtag #FutureOfSound, and when it became clear just what the BeoLab 90 was designed to do, I have to admit I started to understand what the company was getting at.

This isn't the first attempt to alter the way speakers interact with the room in which they're used: much as we'd all like to listen in an ideal environment, domestic compromises mean that when we listen, we're hearing not just what the speakers are doing, but how the room is affecting the sound of the speakers. As a result, many attempts have been made to compensate for that, from the kind of auto-calibration found in many home-cinema surround systems to more mathematical approaches such as Linn's SPACE Optimisation, found in its Exakt models.

However, while such approaches are all about taking conventional speakers and compensating for the way a room is making them sound, the BeoLab 90 design is anything but conventional: under that outer shape, officially described as a 'rhombus shape of black fabric covers, which like sails hover', sit seven 3 cm high-frequency tweeters, each driven by its own 300W digital amplifier; seven 8. …

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