Bowers & Wilkins, or B&W, is an English company that produces audio equipment, most notably loudspeakers. B&W was founded in 1966 by John Bowers at Worthing, West Sussex, England. Currently, B&W, while still based in Worthing, is part of the B&W Group Ltd, which also includes audio equipment manufacturers Rotel and Classé.
B&W previously offered a range of electronics, like amplifiers, under the Aura brand, but it was discontinued in 1997. Other sub-brands were 'John Bowers' for the Active One loudspeaker and preamp and 'Rock Solid' for a lifestyle speaker range. The B&W 'Blue Room' brand for 'Pod' speakers disappeared as these are currently produced and sold by Scandyna. From 1988 to 1996 B&W ran their own record label.
Technology, research and development
Research and development has been a core activity within B&W stimulated and exercised by its founder John Bowers. From the start of the company, earnings were invested in new product development.
In 1982 the company opened a dedicated, purpose-built research centre titled 'SRE' or 'Steyning Research Establishment' in Steyning, about 10 miles from Worthing. The buildings were fit for audio-related work since they were previously used by SME, the English tonearm designer who felt the downturn in tonearm sales due to the introduction of the new digital media CD. SRE housed a prototype shop and listening rooms, ranging from semi-anechoic to typical small living rooms. Also available was advanced equipment like a laser interferometer and PDP-11/35 computer.
The staff of the research facility counts around 20. Engineers of note who have worked there in R&D include Ray Greenwood, Dr. Steve Roe, Dr. John Dibb, Dr. Glyn Adams, Dr. Peter Fryer and Laurence Dickie.
The design of B&W loudspeaker cabinets has been done by industrial designer Kenneth Grange since 1975. Morten Villiers Warren became manager of design in the late 90's when designing the new 800 series of speakers.
Noteworthy loudspeaker innovations by B&W:
- The patented use of Kevlar fibers, impregnated with a stiffening resin, resulting in B&W's distinctive yellow speaker cones started in 1974. This composite material proved to provide controlled rigidity and internal damping, minimizing distortion, as Dr. Peter Fryer determined by using laser interferometry on speaker cones.
- Phase linear transmission was realized in the DM6 from 1976. In the DM6, the speakers are mounted in different vertical planes.
- In 1977 the DM7 introduced a tweeter separate from the main speaker cabinet. This has been a feature of many B&W speaker designs since.
- B&W invented the 'Matrix' enclosure which reduces cabinet sound colouration. This bracing topology resembles a wine-case, providing multiple thin panel-braces, spaced throughout the enclosure, improving rigidity.
- The 'Nautilus' speaker resulted from research commenced by John Bowers into 'perfect dipoles'. The Nautilus project was one of the most extensive research and development projects undertaken. Instead of open-backed drivers, it uses drivers loaded by reverse-tapered horns, or exponentially diminishing tubes, to absorb the rear radiation. The construction is based on fibre-reinforced plastic enclosures. The result of the distinct speaker shape was a near perfect response and near-zero enclosure colouration.
- The 'Flowport' is an improvement that reduces friction in the air moving through the bass reflex vent. This is realised by covering the surface of the vent with dimples, just like a golf ball.
- The diamond tweeter is developed to create an optimal ratio of tweeter dome mass and material stiffness. The tweeter is grown into shape by chemical vapor deposition.
Bowers Design Build Video
Home audio systems
B&W offer a full range of speakers and home audio systems including the Nautilus speakers and Panorama home theatre systems.
Computer and iPod speakers
The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod speaker system incorporates Apple's wireless Airplay system and the range also features MM1 range to connect to either desktop pcs or laptops.
Headphones and earphones
Bowers & Wilkins have a range of high quality headphones and earphones.
Since 2007 Bowers & Wilkins have been in partnership with Jaguar to develop in-car audio systems for cars in their range, including the XJ, XK and XF. Bowers & Wilkins currently works with Maserati and provides the sound for their Quattroporte and new Ghibli. Bowers & Wilkins also partnered with Volvo to develop an optional premium in-car audio system for the upcoming 2016 Volvo XC90. A Bowers & Wilkins sound system is also present in the G11 BMW 7 series.
Bowers & Wilkins began as a radio and electronics shop in Worthing. It was started after World War II by John Bowers and Roy Wilkins who had met while serving in the Royal Corps of Signals during the war. The shop expanded to include televisions retail, a rentals business and a service department run by Peter Hayward. When the shop began supplying public address equipment to schools and churches in Sussex, John Bowers became increasingly involved in the design and assembly of loudspeakers, eventually setting up a small production line in workshops behind the shop.
In 1966, Bowers started a separate business - B&W Loudspeakers Ltd. and was no longer involved with the shop itself. The first production line was established in the workshops in the shop's backyard. The shop still exists to this day, and the remnants of the original production line can still be seen. The shop is now owned by and managed by Roy's son Paul Wilkins, who together with Chris Hugill used to run the UK distribution arm of B&W, B&W Loudspeakers UK Ltd. They also acted as the UK distribution of the aforementioned Aura range of electronics, and Nakamichi, regarded as the worlds foremost manufacturer of compact cassette decks and associated electronics.
The 1967 P1 was the first commercial speaker from B&W. The cabinet and filter were B&W's own, but the drivers came from EMI and Celestion. The profits of the P1 allowed Bowers to purchase a Radiometer Oscillator and Pen Recorder, allowing for calibration certificates for every speaker sold.
In 1968, Audioscript in the Netherlands became the first international distributor appointed. The DM1 (Domestic Monitor) and DM3 are introduced.
Dennis Ward (a former technical manager at EMI) became member of the board in 1969.
In 1970, the ionovac-tweeter equipped P2 speakers produced were licensed by Sony, produced in Worthing to be distributed in Japan.
John Bowers decided to develop a loudspeaker wholly built in-house. The sizable DM70 from 1970 combined electrostatic mid- and high range on top of a traditional bass unit. The distinct shape of the loudspeaker won a British Industrial Design Award. Good press reviews made exports starting to rise.
In 1972 a new production facility was opened in Meadow Road, Worthing. Housing anechoic chambers and extensive Bruel & Kjaer measurement equipment, the research team investigated phase linearity and speaker cone construction using laser interferometry.
1972 also saw the introduction of the DM2, a three unit system, comprising an 8 inch bass/mid-range speaker rear loaded with an acoustic line, a Celestion HF1300 tweeter and a super tweeter.
B&W received the Queen's Award for Export in 1973, and built programme content monitors for the BBC.
In 1974, Kenneth Grange was appointed as industrial designer.
The 1976 DM6 loudspeaker introduced Kevlar cones and phase linear filter and enclosure design. The Steyning research facility is opened and a PDP11/35 computer is acquired.
The 1977 DM7 showed a tweeter separate from the main cabinet and a passive radiator.
After a tenfold increase in export since 1973, the second Queen's Award for Export is awarded in 1978.
The 801 loudspeaker, taking 3 years of development, was introduced in 1979. The 801 and following 800 series are a reference standard that, in later incarnations, have been used in recording studios around the world such as Abbey Road Studios, Skywalker Sound and Sony Music Studios - NYC. They are also used by classical music labels such as Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Philips and Decca in their studios to monitor recordings.
Research into amplifiers and active filters leads to the Active One loudspeaker, branded under the name of John Bowers in 1984.
The 800 loudspeaker range was improved into matrix versions with a very rigid cabinet construction in 1987.
In December 1987 John Bowers died. In the same year, John Dibb joined the company, later to become responsible for many speaker designs, notably several signature models.
The 1987 'Concept 90' CM1 loudspeaker was the first B&W speaker with a plastic matrix cabinet.
Silver Signature loudspeaker was launched to commemorate the company's 25th anniversary.
Increasing demand led to by opening an additional production site at Silverdale, Worthing, West Sussex in 1992.
The 1993 'Nautilus' speaker still remains the company's flagship product. In 1998, Nautilus technology was introduced in the somewhat more affordable Nautilus 800 series.
In 2002 B&W moved its Worthing production, warehousing and head office to a new £7 million location on a former landfill site in Dale Road, Worthing. A second plant is built in Bradford. Under Managing Director Paul Stanforth, staff counted around 500.
B&W took over its own production factory for cabinets Agerbæk, Denmark in 2003. In the same year, the Bradford location was left for new premises in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire. In 2005, Bowers & Wilkins replaced its top-of-the-line N800 range with the new 800D range. The most publicized change was the introduction of diamond dome tweeters on some models 2005 also saw B&W receive the Queen's Award for Innovation for the tube-loaded drivers on the 800's. The EISA Award for European High End Audio Component of the Year is awarded to the 803D. The PV1 receives the European Home Theatre Subwoofer of the year 2005-2006 award. The XT series introduce aluminium as a speaker cabinet material.
2007 saw the introduction of the 'Zeppelin' iPod speaker system.
In 2008, the "Jaguar XF Audio System" was introduced, a car audio setup with 14 speakers and a powered 440 Watt Class AB DSP amplifier.
Bowers & Wilkins' latest project is the Society of Sound. Launched in June 2007, it is an online community focused on issues and discussions relating to high quality sound. The Society of Sound has a number of celebrity "Fellows", who contribute material. Fellows include rock star Peter Gabriel, movie composer James Howard, musician Dave Stewart, jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, and industrial designer Kenneth Grange.
In May 2008, Bowers and Wilkins started the Bowers & Wilkins Music Club - now known simply as Society of Sound, returning the company into the music business. The Society of Sound is a subscription-based music retail site. Albums are currently available in either Apple Lossless or Flac format. The site is a partnership with Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, and artists to be featured have been Little Axe, Cara Dillon, Gwyneth Herbert and Portico Quartet. Former Suede frontman Brett Anderson had his solo album Wilderness released through the Society of Sound before being available for retail.
In 2010, the P5 Mobile Hi-Fi on-ear headphones and the MM-1 computer speakers were released.
On 5 January 2011, Bowers & Wilkins announced the Zeppelin Air, their first speaker to include Apple AirPlay to make it into a wireless iPod speaker.
For the 2010 season, they sponsored the FAZZT Racing #77 of Alex Tagliani in the IZOD IndyCar Series, which became the Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry for 2011, winning the pole position at the Indianapolis 500. Because of a 2011 IZOD IndyCar World Championship at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway promotion, Tagliani was temporarily replaced for the Kentucky Indy 300 by Dan Wheldon, who would be killed at Las Vegas in the car Tagliani put on the pole at Indianapolis, while Tagliani was driving for Las Vegas the #98 William Rast Bryan Herta Autosport car that was another Schmidt-prepared car.
June 2011 saw the launch of the C5 earphones and in May 2012 Bowers & Wilkins launched their P3 headphones at Abbey Road Studios, London.
In March 2013 they launched their Z2 wireless speaker system as a sister product to the Zeppelin.
September 2013, B&W introduced the P7 over-ear headphones.
In 2014, B&W partnered with the automobile company Volvo to have their in-car audio systems featured in the all new Volvo XC90.
In September 2014 B&W released the updated P5 Series 2 on-ear headphones and C5 Series 2 earphones.
In October 2014 B&W introduced the T7 wireless speaker, being their first portable Bluetooth speaker.
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