In 1924, Danish engineer Peter Bang was at a crossroads. A recent college graduate and the high-hopes son of a successful Danish businessman, Bang had spent the better part of six months working in an American radio factory; but following that, the promising 24-year-old returned to Struer, the small merchant town of his youth, to reassess his career.
Upon his return home to Denmark, Bang reconnected with his childhood friend, Svend Olufsen. In the months that followed, the pair spent countless hours locked away in the attic of Olufsen’s manor home, experimenting with radios and various forms of technology. Within a year they opened their business: Bang & Olufsen (B&O).
B&O is credited with the design of a radio that worked with alternating currents—a significant creation for its time, as most radios were still running on batteries alone. Nearly a century later, B&O is now best known as a producer of high-end audio, picture and multimedia consumer products; the most recent of which is a speaker system called the BeoSound Shape.
The “Shape” is a bespoke sound system designed to live on your wall as a high-quality speaker system, as well as a distinctive piece of art. At first glance, the Shape resembles a collection of cloth-covered honeycombs, organized haphazardly into an abstract figure.
Depending on where you stand in relation to the Shape, its visual characteristics change dramatically. If you stand on either side of the speakers, the individual tiles look like flat hexagons, but if you stand directly in front and observe the tiles head-on, they appear convincingly as three-dimensional cubes.
The Shape offers a unique amount of customization power in terms of the system’s appearance and audio quality. Not only do buyers choose the colors of their Shape’s tiles, they also choose how many tiles they want, whether they want more or less speakers and dampeners in their unit, as well as the exact form the abstract figure will take when it is installed on the wall.
B&O has partnered with Danish textile designer Kvadrat to develop a selection of hues and textures available for each tile—color options include Parisian Night Blue, Infantry Green, Brazilian Clay and Wild Dove Grey. The Shape is far more concerned with lifestyle and interior design than any other B&O product to date. The sheer number of tailoring options available illustrates that the Shape was designed with adaptability in mind.
The basic BeoSound Shape package is roughly $4,266 and includes a set of eight tiles—four speakers, two dampeners, one amplifier and one BeoSound Core, which functions essentially as the brain of the entire system. The Shape can be expanded to include 11 amplifiers and 44 speakers, given that you have the wall space to accommodate such an expanse.
The Shape’s audio system was designed over the course of three years by Øivind Alexander Slaatto—the man behind the success of B&O’s A9 speaker. Keeping with the themes of lifestyle, adaptability and interior design, it is clear that Slaatto did not construct the Shape with audiophiles in mind. If you are the kind of listener who wants to sit alone in a chair and deep dive into the music, the Shape is not for you.
The Shape was crafted using an algorithm B&O calls “Band on the Wall,” which spreads the soundstage across all of the speakers, regardless of their positioning, and pushes voices towards the center. The up-mixing algorithm is designed in such a way that the vocals materialize in the center and the instruments join from the sides, regardless of where you’re standing in the room. This unique, spatial design creates the uncanny sensation of live music right there in your home.
The Shape offers dual-band Wi-Fi and the streaming ability of Google Chromecast, Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect and QPlay for consumers in China. The system also has Bluetooth for playing music off your phone and BeoLink for integration with other B&O products. For physical connections, the Shape has analogue line in, digital optical and Ethernet.
As of now, the Shape does not possess a tile with a microphone and connection to a digital assistant. However, many tech blogs are predicting that a partnership between the Shape and Alexa, Google Assistant or Bixby is in the not-too-distant future.
The Shape does its best work in rooms meant for entertaining. Not only does the sound quality accommodate all corners of the room, but the Shape also serves as a statement piece and conversation starter. It’s easy to imagine that such a visually compelling sound system will soon be making its way into luxury hotels, corporate offices and high-end event spaces.
As for B&O, despite having their products sold all across the world and a gross revenue of over a billion dollars, their base of operations remains in the small merchant town of Struer, Denmark—where Bang and Olufsen first began their experiment.