50 years after its founder John Bowers began pursuing the idea of ‘True Sound’, audio innovators Bowers & Wilkins celebrate half a century of success, paying tribute to a remarkable rise from cottage industry to global leader in the world of sound reproduction.
By way of marking this milestone, Bowers & Wilkins recently announced the P9 Signature headphone. Alongside the new 800 D3 loudspeaker, released earlier this year, these two products represent the pinnacle of 50 years work in audio design.
A DOT POINT HISTORY OF B&W
- During World War II, John Bowers was based at the world-famous Bletchley Park where he helped the Allied
war effort by intercepting radio signals. He also spent time behind enemy lines, and upon returning to England
in 1946 he set up an electrical shop called Bowers & Wilkins with his army buddy Roy Wilkins.
- The company was helped on its way by a generous donation of £10,000 (worth over $A220,000 today) by a
kind benefactor called Miss Knight. John Bowers had sold her a pair of the loudspeakers he was then making
at the back of the shop, and she was so impressed she left him the money in her will with the express
instructions that he should set up the loudspeaker manufacturing company that he had often talked of.
- In 1974, John Bowers brought on board one of the world’s leading industrial designers in the form of now-Sir Kenneth Grange of the famous Pentagram design agency. Sir Kenneth was responsible for the
design of such icons as the InterCity 125 train, razors for Wilkinson Sword and Kodak’s instamatic camera.
The first product Sir Kenneth worked on with John Bowers was the much-loved DM6, also affectionately
known as the ‘Pregnant Penguin’.
- The DM6 was the first Bowers & Wilkins speaker to feature Kevlar drive units, the same material used in bulletproof
vests. John Bowers realised the material had the ideal properties for good mid-range sound, even though
it took years of research to discover just why that was the case. Kevlar has been a feature in Bowers & Wilkins
speakers for over 40 years and is still used in the CM Series and 600 Series.
- 1979 saw the launch of the 801, a loudspeaker that quickly became the reference monitor for the world’s
greatest recording studios, including Abbey Road, Decca and Deutsche Grammophon. Its success enabled
a seismic shift in Bowers & Wilkins; the company was only just entering its second decade but it willingly took
on the mantle of the manufacturer of the reference loudspeaker for a major proportion of the recording industry.
- In 1981, John Bowers realised his dream of freeing research and development from the demands of
manufacturing and sales by moving the research department to the small village of Steyning in the South
Downs. Removing these constraints quickly fostered a sense of freedom at the ‘University of Sound’ that
allowed for pioneering research that not only developed technologies that changed Bowers & Wilkins
loudspeakers, but changed the way the entire industry made loudspeakers.
- Before John Bowers died, he gave his engineers the brief to create the world’s best loudspeaker, with cost not
being a consideration. The result of this five-year project was Nautilus, a speaker that is still in production over
20 years after its inception. Nautilus sound like no other speaker you would have heard, cost £55,000 ($A92,000) a pair
and can be ordered in any colour you desire.
- Engineer Laurence Dickie created the Matrix bracing system, which reduces cabinet resonance for cleaner
sound, after he was inspired by looking at the internal structure of a case of wine. Like many Bowers & Wilkins
innovations, Matrix has been copied by the competition, but never bettered.
- Bowers & Wilkins was the first loudspeaker manufacturer to use diamond as a tweeter material. Manufactured
by Element 6, part of the De Beers Group, synthetic diamonds are ‘grown’ by a technique called Chemical
Vapour Deposition using temperatures as hot as the surface of the sun. Diamond dome tweeters are used in
the 800 Series Diamond and the audio system for the all-new BMW 7 Series.
- In 2016, Bowers & Wilkins was purchased by Silicon Valley company Eva Automation, owned by entrepreneur
Gideon Yu, who was previously the Chief Financial Officer of both Facebook and YouTube.