Bowers & Wilkins
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|Privately held company|
|Founded||1966 by John Bowers|
|Headquarters||Worthing, West Sussex|
|Geoff Edwards (CEO)|
Bowers & Wilkins, or B&W, is a British 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 distribution agreements with audio equipment manufacturer Rotel.
B&W previously offered a range of electronics, such as 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. The B&W Group sold its interest in Classé hifi electronics to Sound United LLC in January 2018.
Technology, research and development
Research and development has been a core activity within B&W, stimulated and exercised by its founder John Bowers (1922–1987). 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.
Approximately twenty staff support the research facility. 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 1990s when designing the new 800 series of speakers.
Noteworthy loudspeaker innovations by B&W:
- The patented use of Kevlar fibres, 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, minimising distortion, as Fryer determined by using laser interferometry on speaker cones.
- Phase linear transmission was realised 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.
- Dickie 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. This was in response to Celestion's SL6000 loudspeaker that was made with Aerolam cabinet walls. Dickie's response was to use the same concept but make it all the way through the cabinet rather than just the walls. Matrix has been used with great success by B&W ever since.
- The 'Nautilus' speaker resulted from research commenced by Bowers into 'perfect dipoles'. Before Bowers died, he handed this research to the young Dickie who discovered the principle of the exponential tapered tube. 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 was developed to create the optimal ratio of tweeter dome mass and material stiffness. The tweeter is grown into shape by chemical vapour deposition.
Released in 2019, the Formation Suite consists of Duo, Wedge, Bar, Bass, Audio, and Flex.
Bowers & Wilkins began as a radio and electronics shop in Worthing. It was started after World War II by 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, 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 world's 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 were introduced. Dennis Ward (a former technical manager at EMI) became a member of the board in 1969.
Bowers decided to develop a loudspeaker wholly built in-house. The sizeable 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.
In 1974, 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 three years of development, was introduced in 1979.
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 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 was built in Bradford.
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 publicised 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 800s. The EISA Award for European High End Audio Component of the Year is awarded to the 603. The PV1 receives the European Home Theatre Subwoofer of the year 2005–2006 award. The XT series introduced aluminium as a speaker cabinet material.
In 2007 the 'Zeppelin' iPod speaker system was introduced.
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 Peter Gabriel, film 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.
The headquarters for Bowers & Wilkins is in Worthing, West Sussex.
- Scandyna – The future shape of sound – Speakers, iPod docking stations and amplifiers. – The history Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Alex Balster (May 1988). "In Memoriam (John Bowers)" (PDF). Journal of the Audio Engineers Society. p. 434. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
- Bowers and Wilkins Ltd – Electronics Shop
- Bowers and Wilkins | Hifinet Wiki
- :: The Queen's Award for Enterprise :: Archived 3 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
- Allwired Home Technology Blog: B&W Announces Society of Sound
- PC World – B&W and Real World Launch Music Club
- Suede Star Online Preview – Brett Anderson Releases Album On Net: Music, Festival and Film News | Clash Music
- "Bowers & Wilkins at Abbey Road". Abbey Road. Retrieved 22 May 2020.