B&O BeoSound 8 - the design, tech and strategy behind a £895 iPad dock and beyond

As we reported from this morning's launch, Bang & Olufsen has unveiled its first docking system - the BeoSound 8, which will dock any recent Apple portable (including iPhones and even the iPad) plus take a USB or line-in feed from just about any other laptop, phone or player.

After the launch, we had a chance for both a hands-on play with the BeoSound 8 - and, more exclusively, an interview with B&O's CEO, Kalle Hvidt Nielsen, on the Danish company's future product plans, including media-streaming support.

Flexible friend

But first back to the BeoSound 8 - the latest design for B&O by David Lewis. As is typical for B&O, there's a lot going on behind the premium looks (and pricetag).

The dock can be either wall-mounted or used on a table top, but its design - two-way speakers with a pronounced conical rear - could make for very different performance from those placements. Enter B&O's room-adaption switch - which adjusts the speakers’ performance according to whether the system is placed in a corner, against a wall, or standing freely.

The three switch positions will change the equalization of primarily the bass channel according to a room response target, based on a large number of measurements taken in different positions in different rooms.

Adapt or fry

The BeoSound 8 also uses B&O's patented Adaptive Bass Linearisation (ABL) - as used on the BeoLab 5 speakers and designed to get more bass from small units.

This uses the surplus capacity the integrated amplifiers/drive-units produce at normal listening levels to produce extra bass extension. A monitoring system ensures that when volumes or lower-frequencies peak - to the extent where sound could distort or even drive units be damaged - the bass signal is automatically dialed down.

Further technical tweaks will come via B&O's forthcoming BeoPlayer App, which will be available to Apple iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad users shortly. Its initial features will include internet radio support plus a neat clock-when-docked display.

The future of B&O

Bang & Olufsen celebrates its 85th anniversary next week (more on the company's heritage here), but as B&O's CEO, Kalle Hvidt Nielsen (above) stresses "we need to invest in the future, not stick to the past".

He describes the BeoSound 8 as "the first product where we fully embrace the open world - rather than the more proprietary past of B&O" He adds: "yes, it's an Apple dock, but we've made real efforts [such as the USB input] to open it up to other devices, too".

He also sees the BeoSound 8 as the type of product that will "sow the seeds to create new B&O customers" - like its alphabetically close rivals Bose and B&W before it, B&O understands an iPod dock is a popular, relatively affordable introduction to the wider brand.

Like those brands, it may also be a product that allows B&O to expand beyond its traditional retail environment. Though he confirmed the continued backing - and indeed expansion - of B&O's network of dedicated 'Concept' stores and shops-in-shops (including a renewed Harrods presence), Nielsen said the company will consider selling the BeoSound 8 elsewhere. Perhaps the BeoSound will follow the company's headphones into Apple Stores - we'll watch that space.

From analogue to digital

Another aspect of moving forward is - obviously - consideration of music streaming. Nielsen says research shows 70% of B&O users still use CDs, but he recognises that these and potential customers (plus those 30% that have already ditched discs) haven't necessarily found the right digital solution yet.

The BeoSound 5 music server (pictured above; reviewed here) was B&O's first fully digital product, which also linked with existing analogue kit, but it wasn't a streaming device (though the company did today hint at a forthcoming upgrade to add internet radio support).

2011 should see the launch of more network-friendly B&O products - ones that, in Nielsen's words "bring the same level of quality and ease of use as our other products to the networked world".

These streaming products - everything from NAS drives to laptops to online storage was mentioned in terms of connectivity, plus legacy B&O kit - are all part of the new open approach B&O is taking, while protecting the investments of existing customers, whom "are there for life", Nielsen suggests.

Review on the way

And there we had to leave it, with promises of a review sample of the BeoSound 8 winging its way to us very shortly - watch out for our verdict on how the B&O compares to B&W's Zeppelin, Arcam rCube and more.

In the meantime, you can see the BeoSound 8 with its different finishes - including speaker-cover options - in B&O's promo video here.