B&O Launch: An evening at the opera...

Bang & Olufsen chose the Copenhagen Opera as the venue for the launch of its new BeoSound 5 digital music player, due on sale in March next year.

The player itself comprises the striking-looking main control unit, with its stacked aluminium controls on the post to the right and a comprehensive display panel, and a hideaway black box containing the 500GB hard drive and connection panel for audio and data.

Rotating the main dial on the top scrolls through the options on offer, while a lever below it operates a 'light beam' display used to select modes, Below that a third ring, with a knurled edge, accesses volume control.

Concept and prototype developer Oliver Wallington, seen above demonstrating one of the development units used in creating the system, explained that the first concept of the system took just two weeks to put together, using items such as tablet PCs, computer mice and bits of Lego.

Another week was spent implementing the MOTS (more of the same) software at the heart of the system. Developed by the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence, this system allows the user to 'sow a seed' by selecting a track or album and allow the system to programme more music based on an analysis of that track and the other content stored in the system's memory.

The MOTS system isn't something the user needs to select: it runs all the time, and will just keep on making selections unless you overrule it.

The company enthuses about having friends round and letting them 'sow their own seeds' by choosing a track, then seeing where the system takes the party. It's all part of the concept of freeing users' music collections, it says.

Wallington talked about the feel of the controls, and the way the electronic display and mechanical controls appear to be one and the same. and he also discussed usability issues - apparently it's important that the system can be worked with a glass of wine in one hand - perfect for late-night listening.

Another presentation was given by designer Anders Hermansen, who gave us an insight into the concept of the user reaching into the unit to operate it. That's what that wireframe model at the centre of the picture is all about, and shows how deeply the company considers the way its users will interact with its products.

Finally, we heard from Geoff Martin, B&O's Tonmeister and sound design specialist, who gave an enthralling primer on data-reduced music, including demonstrations at the piano in the Opera's huge orchestra rehearsal room, and a demonstration of what's lost when different levels of MP3 data reduction are employed.

His personal belief? That 256kbps MP3 is good enough for most listeners, with minimal losses to the music.

And he answered those critics who were already muttering that a 500GB hard disk was no longer enough on a product of this kind.

As he said, at full CD quality the system will hold 79 days of music, while at 256kbps that rises to just under 190 days of non-stop playback, which should be more than enough for most users.

More on the company behind the BeoSound 5 here.

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.