B&O Launch: ...A day on The Farm...
The second day of the Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 5 launch program took us north-west from Copenhagen to Jutland, and B&O's hometown, Struer.
Here the company has its headquarters, at The Farm, so called because it resembles a traditional Danish farm layout - and has sheep on the grass outside to emphasise the point.
But before The Farm, a visit to the place where Bang & Olufsen began: the Manor House at Qvistrup (above), home to Svend Olufsen's parents, and where he and Peter Bang started making their first products in the attic.
The house is still lived in by Peter Skak Olufsen, the nephew of Svend Olufsen and a member of the company's Supervisory Board, and his wife Susanne.
Peter explained to us some of the history of the house and its part in the company's development, while Susanne revealed the stories of the women behind the serious, industrious Olufsen and the lighter-hearted (and slightly more wayward) Bang.
We heard about Olufsen's mother selling eggs to pay the company's early bills, and of the staff working at the house becoming part of the extended family, eating and even sleeping at the Manor.
And then we were served lunch from the Skak Olufsens' kitchen - it seems they're used to large groups of strangers (and they don't get much stranger than a busload of journalists) descending on their home for an insight into the company's roots and the odd plate of food or glass of wine.
Over lunch, Peter Skak Olufsen told me that during the company's jubilee celebrations not so long back, they hosted over 2500 visitors, but he emphasised that this is no museum. This really is the family home, and Susanne - who's also a local politician - told us she's looking forward to having a houseful of family over Christmas.
In the afternoon, we moved on to the more industrial side of present-day Bang & Olufsen.
And it's only when you visit the factories and development labs that you realise how wide of the mark are those who insist that buying B&O is all about paying for fancy styling.
You're paying for quality and fanatical attention to detail, from the aluminium milling and polishing machines (above) to the huge anodising plant (below) that's at the heart of the quality and longevity built into every B&O product.
And the same care and attention goes into research and development. We had a session in the listening room (below), where the company's trained listening panels assess both its own products and those of other companies under strict blind conditions, using the acoustically transparent curtains - they're open here to show the layout better -
and also visited The Cube, B&O's unique 12m x 12m x12m (hence the name!) testing chamber, in which speakers can be measured with great accuracy.
Unlike conventional anechoic chambers, which are lined with sound-absorbing materials, The Cube works by being enormous. The reflections from the walls take so long to arrive at the measuring microphone that the software used to test speakers can ignore them, while the gantry seen here can move, lift or turn any speaker the company makes with pinpoint accuracy.
Oh, and while talking about the equipment The Cube could be used to measure, including TVs – or 'high-quality two-way active speakers with a big display' as the audio guys refer to them – it was let slip that on the way from Struer is a 103in B&O TV.
Hint: it might be a little pricey...
Next stop was the basement 'torture chamber', where finished products and components are tested in extremes of humidity and temperature, and subjected to physical abuse even to the extent of being dropped to make sure their packaging will survive in transit.
They get abused with two kinds of sweat (fresh and old!), cosmetics, bleach and even 120 cigarettes a day being smoked over them (by a machine!) to make sure they'll survive even extreme domestic circumstances.
There's even a test where products are chilled down to well below freezing, then unpacked in a warm room and switched on – not to check they'll still work, but to ensure they don't explode due to condensation and other enviromental effects.
The testers are quite happy if the product takes a while to start working properly, but this safety check is crucial – after all, up here in Jutland, and indeed in points even further north, it's not unknown for consumers to buy a new TV for Christmastime, drive it home for a few hours in the back of the car in sub-zero conditions, and then take it out, set it up and plug it in.
By the way, what's the highlight of the Danish festive viewing on those new TV sets? This ancient sketch by long-gone British comedian Freddie Frinton, which is a New Year's Eve TV institution in Denmark, Finland and Sweden.
The Norwegians, just to be different, show it on December 23rd, but all the countries enjoy it in all its 1963 black and white glory, and without subtitles.
Anyway, the torture chamber tour was almost the end of the day - but there was one more visit to come...