About the Workshop Notebook

30th June 2010 by Tim Jarman

The Beocentral Workshop Notebook at first appears to be a simple list of faults that have occurred in B&O equipment and their eventual cures. There is however more to it that that, another function of the section is as a tribute to the writers and contributors of the British magazine Television. Television started in the immediate post-war years as a small format magazine containing mostly constructional articles. In the early years it was known as Practical Television and much of the content was geared towards constructing simple receivers from de-mobbed radar equipment, of which there was plenty at the time. There were some servicing features too, most notably Servicing Television Receivers by Les Lawry Johns, which dealt with a specific model of set and its particular failings each month and Service Notebook by G. R. Wilding.

Practical Television became Television in October 1970 in recognition that servicing was now of a greater interest to the readers than construction and rightly so; in its heyday the magazine could be found in just about every TV repair shop in the country. Johns would go on to write a humorous column each month about the trials and difficulties of dealing with awkward sets and their even more awkward owners, something which made him a well known and much loved figure in the trade who is still fondly remembered and frequently quoted by the old hands today. Wilding’s column eventually evolved into TV Fault Finding and VCR Clinic (later to be joined by CD Player Casebook and Camcorner), from which Beocentral’s Workshop Notebook takes its format. By this stage there were many contributors and the pages became the first port of call for the working repair man, there were even third-party indexes which catalogued the content of each issue by make, model and fault.

Wilding’s contribution to the field of servicing was immense. He expounded a practice called “Rapid Diagnosis” which dispensed with much of the electronic theory and mathematics that tended to dominate the teaching of repair technique and instead concentrated on the practical and mental skills that were needed to clear faults quickly and efficiently. Wilding’s doctrine demonstrated that it was not necessary to learn the skills of a set designer in order to be an effective repairer and his worked examples showed how carefully observing all the symptoms and making a few well chosen measurements could lead rapidly to the faulty components being identified, even if the manufacturer’s service information was not available. This method, although possessing considerable beauty, was not a vain exercise in aesthetics. Wilding believed that the less one had to disturb the fragile workings of a set the less likely one was to create more problems that may lead to another (probably unprofitable) service call shortly afterwards. In addition, each repair was not only treated as a job to be completed but as a lesson as well. It was not enough to clear the fault, the reasons for it occurring and the best way to trace it all had to be learned and to this end sometimes half a page of the magazine was used to document an apparently simple valve replacement or the adjustment of a minor control.

Rapid Diagnosis, when practised correctly, is the highest form of the repairing arts. It does have some limitations however, the main one being that it is only really relevant to single point faults that occur to equipment that is still operating within its design lifetime. Many of the models shown on Beocentral are many times older than the longest possible service life that the designers could have predicted or allowed for and so faults may be the result of the mass failure of a large number of similar components, e.g. the small electrolytic capacitors in the Beocord VX 5000. One the whole though B&O equipment of the classic period is well enough designed and built for Rapid Diagnosis techniques to be employed, they are always the first method to be tried in all the Workshop Notebook articles.

The Workshop Notebook is of most value if it is studied as a guide to diagnostic technique, do not be down heartened if the model or the fault you have is not yet listed. Simplistic and wasteful activities such as the blanket testing or replacement of all the components in a faulty stage or set should be avoided, there is very little that can be learned from this practice which means that in turn your technique will never improve and every task will remain a difficult one. Most of the faults in the Workshop Notebook could have causes other than that listed so it is a good idea to work through the process rather than jumping to the end and replacing the suggested component.

The decline of the organised repair trade has meant that anyone wishing to operate older equipment must become at least partly proficient in fault diagnosis and repair. Learning the use the best possible methods is a way to make these tasks less of a chore and more of a pleasure, once the basics are mastered the rest is easy.

What's happened to CD?

17th January 2010 by Tim Jarman

Do you remember the first time you heard Compact Disc? Compared to the cheap record players and misadjusted tape decks that formed the bulk of the audio equipment in use up until the end of the 1980s it was a revelation, with its clean bright treble, absent background noise and the way that loud passages of music seemed to leap out of the loudspeakers.

One undeniable advantage that CD has over the various analogue audio formats is its dynamic range: the difference between the quietest possible sound that can be discerned above the medium’s natural background noise and the loudest sound that can be recorded without excessive distortion. CD can in theory manage 96dB, in comparison to the best cassettes at 70dB and LPs at around 50dB.

The dB (decibel) logarithmic scale is used by engineers to express the difference between two quantities that vary over a wide range. When discussing the magnitude of audio signals all that you have to remember is that the signal halves (or doubles) with every 6dB of change. The dB is a relative unit, so one needs a reference value to make any sense of it. In terms of CD players 0dB is the level at which all 16 bits in the digital code on the disc are at “1”, the highest value that can be represented and therefore the maximum output level of the DAC (digital to analogue converter) in the player. In CD terms, 0dB (strictly speaking 0dBfs, or “full scale”) is a “hard limit” that it is not possible to go beyond, in contrast the 0dB of a cassette recorder is an arbitrary signal level which long ago represented the point at which, with a certain type of tape, the amount of distortion present was 2%. With modern tapes and heads one can easily record beyond 0dB without generating 2% distortion. +4dB is not unusual when using metal tape and Bang & Olufsen’s own HX Pro recording system.

The way that distortion occurs is another difference between analogue and digital audio systems. An analogue system in theory suffers from less distortion the smaller the signal it has to handle. Factors such as noise and the non-linearity of some types of amplifier work against this simple rule, but it is still valid as a general case. Digital systems are the opposite, because the resolution of the system falls as fewer of the available bits are used to represent the signal. Thus it follows that distortion becomes worse, in fact performance improves the more the signal is expanded, right up until all the bits are at “1” when suddenly it becomes horrendous. So bad is this effect that for years CDs were recorded at a fraction of their maximum possible level, under the strict guidance of the few CD pressing organisations.

Initially the advice was that the bulk of the music should be at a level no higher than -18dBfs, that is, using only 13 of the 16 bits of digital capacity. The reason for this was to allow transients, like the crash of a cymbal or the snap of a snare drum, to be reproduced accurately and completely without distortion. The trade off was of course that the overall level of distortion present in the rest of the signal was worse than necessary, giving some early CDs their characteristic steely, edgy sound. The average level was soon revised upwards to -12dBfs, doubling the available digital resolution for the bulk of the programme content but still leaving a possible fourfold increase in signal level for the loud bits.

Under these rules, the best use was made of the strengths of the compact disc system, music was crisp and clear with brilliant, breathtaking transients which no other format could match. If you look at the specifications of an early Bang & Olufsen CD playing system like the Beosystem 5000 or 5500 you will find that even though the CD player and the cassette recorder are both line level sources the cassette recorder typically produces an output signal of around 500mV RMS at 0dB where as the CD player produces 2V RMS at 0dBfs. This is not an accident, it simply reflects the fact that most of the time the CD player should ideally be playing material that has an average level of -12dBfs, a quarter of the maximum value of 2V, which is of course 500mV. Therefore when changing between the two sources the listener would for most of the time hear no change in volume, a desirable state of affairs.

These rules prevailed for all of the time that CD was mainly a format used in large (and expensive) hi-fi systems owned and used by experienced listeners. However, as cheaper players, portables and in-car models appeared the CD went from being exclusively high-end to become a mass market product. The needs of the users of these new types of player are different to those of the serious audiophile, so the way in which CDs were made also started to change. It has long been known that people respond more favourably to music that is played loudly than to music which is soft. The non-linearity of the ear in the frequency domain plays a part in this, the listener’s perception to both the high and the low frequency extremes improves greatly with increasing sound level and a lot of what makes music interesting and satisfying can be found in these ranges. Of course any CD can be made to sound louder by simply turning the volume of the amplifier up, but there is a commercial (as opposed to a technical) advantage to be had if the discs themselves simply sound “louder” without having to do this. CDs with a compressed dynamic range can also sound clearer in car players where background noise would otherwise drown out the quieter parts of the music. The last thing a driver wants is to be startled by brief, shatteringly loud passages that suddenly rise above this level.

Remembering that the average level on a CD was set to record transient sounds accurately and that the maximum level that can be recorded on a CD is fixed at an absolute point that cannot be changed, obviously something had to give. The answer was to compress the transients and raise the average level of the rest of the music. This certainly gave a sound that was loud but the dynamic range of the signal is actually less. Unlike raising the volume control to make a quiet CD loud, there was no way that the listener at home could recover the lost information. Music without vivid transients is bland and dull, it’s difficult to put one’s finger on exactly what is wrong at first but it is instantly obvious that something is missing. Even this wasn’t enough in the quest for more volume; some producers pushed the level right up to 0dBfs and beyond. Of course with CD there is no beyond, the peaks in the music crashed into the 0dBfs barrier and could go no further so they became flat topped, loosing most of the information that had been contained within them and giving a harsh, distorted sound that could be really quite unpleasant to the serious listener.

Such practices were at their peak at around 1999 and although the majority of producers have pulled back from the brink there is still a great deal of processing that takes place when a CD is mastered in order to improve how the discs sound on cheap portables and car players. To those with high quality equipment this is a nuisance as it spoils the enjoyment of music that could be obtained if only the original standards were observed. Pop records aimed at teenagers tend to be the worst, although “digitally re-mastered” albums that appeal mostly to older listeners can be just as bad, often the earlier CD releases are preferable if you can find them. Amazingly, searching out old CDs is becoming increasingly popular among some of the hard core parts of the audiophile community. Classical music has been largely left alone by studio tricks and really benefits by CD’s huge dynamic range, a well produced disc played on one of the better Beosystems can still be an absolute joy.

The CD system is under pressure from those who profit from persuading you to regularly replace your equipment and everything you play on it with “the next big thing”. Even though one of the reasons given is the limited 16 bit resolution of what is now almost a 30 year old format, don’t believe a word of it. Try to hear CD at its best before you go the trouble and expense of buying all that music yet again.

Where are the active loudspeaker bargains?

15th June 2009 by Tim Jarman

Why not put an AV 9000 system together? Back in the day it was B&O’s top-line offering, the most expensive thing they would sell you. Most of it can now be bought for sensible money and if you are selective you will still end up with something that makes the current offerings look bloated and silly. The fly in the ointment is of course the loudspeakers, you will need four to it properly and they all need to be Beolab active types.

Used Beolab loudspeakers are bizarrely expensive, why should that be? The Beolab Penta first appeared in 1987 (over twenty years ago!) but if you’d bought a pair back then and looked after them you’d still get a lot of your original stake back if you sold them today. The original Penta of course lacked the Power Link type of connection, which is required by the AV 9000 system. Power Link was introduced in around 1990 and featured on a number of B&O models, but early Power Link speakers are still rather expensive, even though a lot of them aren’t, er... very good.

The idea behind the active loudspeaker was to put the power amplifier into the loudspeaker cabinet. There were various technical reasons given for doing this but the main reasoning behind it was to free up space in the source units by removing the bulkier parts of the circuitry. In time this allowed new styling possibilities to be realised, such as the Beosystem 2500. It also made it possible to use active crossover networks but as we shall see this too can be seen as a mixed blessing.

B&O had worked hard to develop an amplifier circuit that had started life in the original Beomaster 2000 and was last seen in the Beomaster 7000. This had some very desirable characteristics and is largely responsible for the excellent performance of the larger Beomaster models. Sadly it was never used in any Beolab loudspeakers. The Pentas used a special arrangement all of their own, B&O ignored the fact that they already had, in the Beomaster 8000, a 150W power amplifier as good as any and instead designed a new scheme with paralleled Toshiba power transistors in the output stage. In fairness this worked pretty well, the only black mark was the rather poor reliability that resulted from using cheap components and a low grade material for the printed circuit board. From then on the technology behind Beolab changed, hybrid chips were the order of the day, low cost power/gain blocks from which an amplifier could be constructed so easily that you could probably do it at home (no, really).

As hybrid chips are primarily designed for smaller, cheaper music systems a lot of them are stereo, they contain two independent channels that you can use however you want. This made it easy to produce truly active models such as the Beolab 8000, where the woofer and the tweeter each get their own power stage and the signals to each come from electronic filters. In principle this is a very good idea but unfortunately B&O seemed to use the flexibility that it offers to use really poor drive units that were too small, in badly designed cabinets and still get away with a half decent sound. On a good day the Beolab 8000 can sound really nice but think how good it would have been if the basics had been done correctly.

Now we have the ICE power/acoustic lens loudspeaker generation, combining two dubious fads into one model. Class “D” amplifiers have their place, usually that of providing loads of power for not too much money. The lenses are really just a visual identifier, something to set B&O apart in the buyer’s eyes. The rest of the serious loudspeaker industry isn’t exactly falling over itself to make something similar but once again B&O’s engineers have managed to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and come up with some really quite passable equipment.

The reason that Beolab loudspeakers are so expensive second hand is not their quality but that there is no alternative. You have to have them because they are the only type of loudspeaker cou can connect to most B&O products of the last fifteen years. If you own an Ouverture, a Beosound 9000 or any number of other recent models nothing else will do. This keeps prices artificially high and restricts the listener to a limited number of possible sound experiences.

But is it really true that nothing else will do?

No! There are alternatives, in the Beolab 200 and the MCL 2P. Both of these units can be connected to Power Link equipment and will drive “proper” loudspeakers. Beolab 200s are rare, losts of them have been used to convert Beovox Pentas into Beolabs by now, but there are loads of MCL 2Ps, hidden away in the dusty corners of abandoned Beolink systems. Although fairly basic in hi-fi terms the 2P is a reasonable amplifier, it’s similar to what you get in a Beocenter 9500. You can reveal a whole new side to something like an Ouverture by using it with the MCL 2P and a decent pair of Beovox Uniphase loudspeakers like the S 80.2. It even sounds quite nice with CX 100s!

B&O never chose to mention this trick in their mainstream catalogues, preferring instead for the buyer to be tied into the costly (and therefore profitable) Beolab range. However, now you know, you are free. Why not have a go?

How to Listen

22nd February 2009 by Tim Jarman

Your Bang & Olufsen system is only the second most advanced piece of sound equipment you own. The first is on the sides of your head. Make sure you are using both to their full advantage.

Do you really listen to music, or do you just have it on it the background? You are missing a lot if you only do the latter, the is a whole world of pleasure waiting for you.

As you may know, Beocentral always recommends that you keep your equipment clean and in good working order. Plenty has been written here and elsewhere about maintaining your hi-fi, but what about your ears?

Of course you must look after them. Loud noise should be avoided at all costs, protect yourself if at all possible from very loud sounds, especially if they cause you pain or result in a “ringing” sensation that you can hear after the sound stops. If you work in a noisy environment your employer should provide you with the necessary protection, make sure you use it. Don’t use headphones to provide loud music to drown out other sounds, the levels can end up very high indeed and this can damage your hearing permanently.

Next, give your ears a clean. A chemist or pharmacist should be able to advise you which non-prescription preparations can be used to clear out all the wax and muck that can build up inside your ears. The results of the cleaning process may shock and disgust you but you should feel better for it. Don’t be tempted to use ordinary cotton buds to clean your ears, the ends can come off and get stuck inside. Special ones are available for this task if you really need them.

Some opticians can organise a hearing test for you, you may find this interesting even if you think your hearing is OK. It can certainly give you a guide as to what you can expect you hear in the real world.

Everybody’s hearing deteriorates with age. With time, your ability to perceive very high frequencies will diminish, dulling the aspects of music that give it its “clarity”. The effect can be likened to listening to a hi-fi system with the treble turned down a little, though in practice the change usually occurs slowly so you may not notice it.

In order to compensate for this, the next thing to do is to “calibrate” your hearing by listening to some real music. This is the best way to learn how to judge if your equipment at home is satisfactory. Not all music is suitable. Noisy, amplified pub rock bands won’t help you much, try to find something simpler. Small groups of a few musicians playing traditional acoustic instruments are ideal, even if this is not normally the sort of music you prefer to listen to. Attending such performances need not be expensive, provincial civic halls and leisure centres often host programmes of entertainment and you don’t have to spend much to go along.

During the performance, get used to the idea of just listening. Concentrate on each instrument in turn and take in every aspect of the sound, the tonal quality, the volume, the timbre, the texture. Once you know the character of each sound, learn to place them by hearing alone. You should be able to pinpoint each instrument, even with your eyes closed. Don’t be afraid to let the music “move” you, that’s what it’s for.

Back at home, you are ready for some serious listening. Make sure your B&O system is well set up and working properly. If the loudspeakers have become hidden behind the furniture get them out again. Also make sure your player’s stylus/laser lens/tape head is clean. Choose a comfortable listening position mid-way between the loudspeakers. Setups vary, but generally imagine an equilateral triangle with the loudspeakers at two corners and you at the third. Turn the loudspeakers slightly inwards so they are pointing at you. Try to get the tweeters or acoustic lenses at ear level too, the sound will be clearer. With the loudspeakers set up like this the balance control on the amplifier should be set to its centre position. Try to make the background as quiet as you can and remove distractions, then you are ready.

Play some music that you know well. If everything is working correctly you should soon become aware of the three dimensional sound image that the two stereo channels create. Depending on the recording, you may be able to place the instruments just like you could at the live performance. You don’t need very expensive loudspeakers to achieve a solid “stereo image”, in fact simpler types with only a small number of drive units often work best in this respect. If no image appears, it may be that the “phasing” of the loudspeakers is wrong. Make sure that the connections to one of them are not reversed. This cannot happen if your loudspeakers use Powerlink or pre-made DIN to DIN cables but is quite a common mistake for types with spring clips (e.g. RL models) or binding posts (e.g. Beovox S 80.2). You may think that headphones will give the best stereo image. This is not necessarily true, many recordings that are made for home listening are processed to sound correct in an average sized room, taking account of the reflections and reverberations that are produced. Headphones tend to give an artificially “vivid” stereo image, so don’t expect the same effect from loudspeakers.

Most hi-fi systems work best if they are not played too loud. Research shows that most people play their music too loudly at home when trying to replicate the concert hall experience. Measurements were made from the listening position at a live venue and then in listeners’ homes and it was found the too much volume was often used. Use your experience from live performances to avoid this problem.

You can also set the tone controls accurately. The more live music you hear the more you should appreciate that the booming bass and searing treble so popular with hi-fi salesmen when they give you a quick blast in the showroom is not representative of a real musical experience. Try first with the controls in the neutral setting and then adjust them by small increments until the tonal balance is correct. Of course smaller loudspeakers will be in most cases unable to reproduce the full range of every instrument in the orchestra, so don’t compromise the rest of the sound by trying to force them to.

Hopefully now you should be able to tell if the music that you are hearing is realistic and lifelike. There is not much that can be done to revive scratched records or badly recorded tapes, but now that you are listening seriously this won’t happen again will it?

If your B&O system has a remote control, leave it somewhere out of reach. That way you will not be tempted to fiddle with it, changing the tracks, playing with the volume etc. The tracks on albums are often placed in a particular order and fit together, if you skip some of them you may miss some of this detail.

Assuming that all is well, you should be able to really savour the sound that you are hearing. You may find that you are starting to discover previously hidden details in the music and are able to place each instrument, putting you right in the middle of the original recorded performance.

This is what hi-fi is all about.

Making the Most of What You Have

15th January 2009 by Tim Jarman

Do you really need a new B&O audio system? This is always an expensive route to take so make sure that the one you have is giving its best first.

Has your Beosystem lost its edge? Does it not really satisfy you any more? This could be down to a changing view of life on your part of course, but it could also be that you are not making the most of it. Complex repairs and accurate adjustments go well beyond the scope of what is written here (and if you can do them then you don’t need my help) but there are a few simple things that you can try first before you resort to writing out the big cheque.

Start by looking at the loudspeakers. A good place to start is to inspect the bass drivers (woofers). In the case of some models the cone edges are made from foam and they rot away in time. If yours are looking holed or ragged get them repaired or replaced. Tweeters either work or they don’t and are easily damaged if the driving amplifier is malfunctioning or underpowered. Replacement is the only cure if they are broken, though in some cases defective tweeters are not the only cause of weak treble. The capacitors in the crossover network can deteriorate, especially if the loudspeakers are only ever used quietly. In cases where the treble level is low (rather than being completely absent) the capacitors are the main suspect, especially if the situation improves after playing the loudspeakers really loudly for a few minutes. Replacement is a practical home proposition for those with basic handiwork skills, the parts are large and sturdy. Use quality film or polypropylene capacitors instead of the cheap electrolytics that B&O fitted and you will never have to do it again.

Once you are happy that the loudspeakers are working properly make sure they are positioned appropriately. As a rule, moving a loudspeaker from free space towards a wall increases the bass, placing it in corner or alcove increases it still further. If you feel there is too much or not enough bass try moving the loudspeaker between these positions. Treble can accentuated by placing the tweeters at ear-level and pointing them towards the listener. Loudspeakers placed directly on the floor without the appropriate stands always sound dull, a situation that only gets worse if they are masked by soft furnishings. Try and make the positions of the two loudspeakers similar so that you get the same type of sound from both, this gives the best “stereo image”.

The final point on the subject of loudspeakers is to make sure that the cables that connect them to the amplifier are suitably rated and in good condition. The cables should be of stout wire, in single lengths where possible (no joins) and of the same lengths. The loudspeaker cables B&O supply are ideal in this respect. Ignore expensive “audiophile” cables, there is no technical proof that these make any measurable improvement and can be very expensive, the money is much better spent on more records or CDs.

The amplifier is the next part to check. There is not much that you can do about any serious internal defects but there are a few things you can attend to in order to ensure that a basically sound unit gives its best. First, make sure all the connections are clean and tight. Connectors that have been plugged together for years can develop a tarnish which can be removed but plugging them in and out a few times. A small amount of contact cleaner can help here, but don’t soak everything and make a mess. Pull out the plugs by their bodies only, not by pulling on the cables themselves as this can break the delicate connections inside. Don’t ignore the mains plug, the screws inside these can work loose in time and cause an erratic contact. A hard working amplifier takes short bursts of a lot of energy, you want it to be able to arrive unhindered.

Most B&O amplifiers work on the “class AB” principle that relies on a little current flowing through the amplifier all the time, even when there is no signal. This current is adjustable by a service workshop and tends to drift off from the optimum setting over time. You need accurate instruments to check it properly but a basic check can be made at home, run the amplifier for about half an hour (one side of an LP, a decent programme on Radio 4) at moderate volume and feel the heatsinks (usually at the back, sometimes underneath). They should be warm, not hot, not stone cold. Sets which have separate and distinct heatsinks for each channel should be the same temperature on both sides. If this is not the case, and you feel that the sound has a coarse, distorted nature (especially at low volumes) get the output bias current checked by a B&O workshop.

Contact cleaner can be used to reduce the erratic operation of scratchy volume controls and source selector switches. Models such as the Beomaster 3000 benefit greatly from careful applications of contact cleaner to the switches behind the pushbuttons but remember to use it sparingly, applying too much causes all sorts of problems that can be difficult to resolve.

Some Beomasters and Beocenters have outputs for multiple loudspeakers that can be switched in and out, either by specific pushbuttons (e.g. the Beolab 5000) or slide switches (e.g. Beomaster 8000), switches inside the headphone socket (e.g. Beomaster 3300) or by electronically controlled relays (e.g. Beomaster 6500). All of these contacts can become “tired”, especially if they are not used much. Symptoms include the erratic loss of one or the other channel, weaker sound from one loudspeaker than the other (even when “mono” is selected on models which allow this) and occasional spluttering and popping noises, regardless of which source is being used. If you suspect them, try plugging the loudspeakers into another connection (often labelled “speakers 2” or similar) and see if this improves the situation. If you notice an improvement then start saving up for the necessary repairs.

Almost all B&O audio systems include a radio. FM radio is an excellent high fidelity medium, so it is wise to make the best of it. Unless you live in an area of very high signal strength an outdoor FM antenna is a desirable addition to any system. The clean stereo reception that can result is a joy to listen to, a decent antenna is one of the most cost effective upgrades that it is possible to make. Occasionally one sees indoor FM antennas advertised that claim to provide incredible reception despite their small size. These should be ignored, they are seldom any better that a piece of wire poked into the aerial socket.

All B&O receivers equipped with AM bands require an external antenna (with the exception of Beolit portables, the Beosystem 10 and the Beomaster 900 range). B&O’s own Active AM Antenna 10 works well but is expensive and difficult to obtain. Instead of this, a few metres of wire can give good results, try it in different positions to see where it works best. Modern “energy saving” lamps can interfere with AM reception, try to position both the set and the antenna away from them for best results.

Don’t be afraid to switch an FM receiver to mono if the reception is poor, this considerably cuts down the background noise and one looses little in the way of stereo imaging if the signal is poor anyway.

There is little that one can do with an under-performing compact disc player. However, before giving up make sure that the lens and the discs are clean. Discs can be cleaned using a mid solution of detergent and warm water, wiping outwards from the centre hole. Scratches can be removed with fine metal polish, though this should be a last resort, try to keep the discs clean and scratch-free to start with. It is also a good idea to keep the CD player’s objective lens and turntable clean too. The lens can be stroked clean with a cotton bud, treat it as you would your own eye, it’s fragile so don’t poke at it or allow grit and dirt onto the surface. The turntable should be kept clean so that the disc runs true, this gives the focus servo far less work to do. Fortunately, most B&O CD players have easily accessible mechanisms, the Beogram CD X and similar types, Beocenter 9000 range, BeoSound Century and Ouverture are all good examples of machines with mechanisms that are easy to keep clean. The Beogram CD 50 has a mechanism that is upside down, so this does not tend to get too dirty.

Record players offer far greater possibilities for home maintenance. If you are serious about turntable performance then a speed checking strobe disc, stylus force gauge and test record are all wise purchases, though study the instructions for each before trying to use them. As a rule, B&O pickups work best when kept slightly warm so try and site the player where it won’t get too cold. B&O catalogues make a lot of fuss about how little downforce their pickups require but treat these figures as a guide only, often a little more force is required for correct reproduction. Contrary to what you may think, increasing the downforce to remove distortion that results from mis-tracking results in less record wear, not more.

Most Beogram and Beocenter models have a facility for the user to adjust the speed. Once you have a strobe disc you can do this at home accurately. Later models with electronically governed motors often have two little holes labelled “33” and “45”, sometimes under the platter, sometimes on the baseplate. If you decide to adjust these be careful as the screwdriver slots are very delicate. Use an insulated tool and adjust the “33” one before the “45” one.

B&O record players are generally well isolated from external vibrations but even so they benefit from careful positioning. Try to put it on something solid, as far from the loudspeakers as is practical.

The tape recorder is one part of an audio system that really benefits from regular care. Ideally you should have head cleaning solvent and lint free rags on hand to clean the head and capstan(s) whenever a recording is to be made. If you have not cleaned your tape heads for a while you may be surprised how much difference it makes. Demagnetisation of the heads is not so important, most Beocords made after 1980 do it automatically and earlier designs tend to use ferrite heads that cannot become magnetised anyway. It you are serious about building up a music archive on tape then do make sure that the heads are aligned properly before you start. Alignment tapes can be bought and are quite simple to use. Checking the tape speed is not so easy as it is with records so this is best left to a properly equipped workshop. Some Beosystems are quite “fussy” about where the tape recorder is placed, the 1900/2400 spring to mind, the Beocord must be to the right of the Beomaster if the units are to be pushed together otherwise playback will be marred by a mains hum picked up from the Beomaster mains transformer by the sensitive amplifiers in the Beocord.

You may be growing tired of the appearance of the equipment you own. If this is the case, try positioning it differently. The long, sleek shapes of B&O’s designs are to allow flexible positioning on shelves (a favoured furnishing format in northern Europe), spreading the system out on different levels, mixed in with other interesting objects can look very attractive. B&O equipment also tends to look nicer in a row than in a stack, the “stack system” format so beloved by the rest of the industry does not suit B&O well. Even the 5000/5500/6500/7000 ranges can be presented in better ways than simply piling them all on top of each other, period catalogues can be a source of ideas if you can find them.

All the money you save through not having to replace your equipment can be used to make the best upgrade of all, buying more music to play on it.

1964 Again

23rd December 2008 by Tim Jarman

In the early 1960s B&O faced a problem. Their home market in Denmark, which they had previously shared only with a handful of other local brands, was coming under threat from imports from Europe and beyond as barriers to trade were gradually dismantled. B&O’s response was pragmatic: move upmarket and offer compelling products with international appeal, whilst moving away from reliance on the small Danish market and onto the worldwide scene. This was the birth of the B&O that we know today, with stylish cabinets and high performance. This was not an obvious choice at the time, nor was it guaranteed to succeed. However, the alternative was clear, and that was to slowly disappear and become just a part of history. Remember Arena? Thought not.

Today we are at a similar crossroads. The sudden and drastic slowing of the world economy has put all types of business under threat. Manufacturers of consumer products and luxury goods are amongst those that are being the hardest hit, B&O falls squarely into both those categories. Think about it – are you likely to buy an expensive TV set or audio system in the next 12 months?

So what can B&O do this time? The answer is certainly not to make smaller products, they are particularly bad at this sort of thing. A good example is the company’s mobile telephones, which are typically years out of date, remain in the range too long, are too expensive and sell in tiny numbers. This is hardly surprising, the business of designing and making mobile telephones is complicated enough to occupy most of the workforce of an organisation the size of Nokia – and even they don’t get it right all the time. Teaming up with budget brands like Samsung is also not the solution, this just de-values the B&O brand to no good effect.

But don’t panic yet. I have a plan. It is at the same time revolutionary and breathtakingly simple. Whereas the key word back in the 1960s was “quality”, the key word now should be “sustainability”. A popular B&O slogan back then was “Bang & Olufsen: For those who consider design and quality before price”. This is a tough one, it’s like saying “Bang & Olufsen: Brace yourself, it’s going to cost you”, but it worked because the message was in-step with the thinking of the time. I suggest the new slogan should be “Bang & Olufsen: Forever”.

How would this work? It’s simple: B&O must offer a range of products which they make clear will receive full support from the factory and dealers for as long as the owner wishes to keep them, something that is certainly not the case presently. This is at odds with the current “throw away” policies that dog the electronics industry as a whole and makes the ownership of home entertainment products a wasteful and polluting process. Technically this is not particularly difficult, but it requires thorough planning.

Designing new models around “industrial” rather than “consumer” parts ensures supplies for years to come; industrial equipment on the large-scale is a major investment and is expected to be maintained and to work for decades. Component manufacturers who supply this sector rarely make anything obsolete if even the tiniest demand still exists.

As long ago as the early 1980s B&O were producing models that were described as “future proof”, the range of TV sets from this period included features such as stereo loudspeakers and AV connectors which were pretty useless to most people at the time but now allow these sets to continue functioning well into the digital TV age. It seems that “future proof” was no idle boast.

Similar thinking can be applied to a new range, even if the part of development is not clear all the design team has to do is to leave some room in the cabinet and remember to make the add-on modules to fill it later. Again, this is not particularly difficult. Looking even further back, the Beolab 5000 amplifier of 1967 lacks nothing that a proper modern hi-fi amplifier has these days, which is why they are still popular and useful even now, although one can imagine that a lot of the connections on them were unused for the first few decades!

The subject of styling need not be a concern. B&O have been making timeless products for years. Quality does not date. So my plan is technically feasible, but how would you sell it? Again all that is needed is a little creativity. Most advertisements speak to the public as if they are distant, childlike morons. Devoid of facts and strong on hype, they rely on stimulating the impulse to consume rather than treating the would-be customer as an intelligent friend who may be interested in learning something. Changing to this sort of focus can be very successful. The DBB agency sold millions of Volkswagens to sceptical Americans in the 60s this way in their now classic series of press and TV advertisements, yet this technique is not widely employed by anyone today. It is easy to demonstrate how wasteful the electronics industry is today whilst at the same time offering a genuine alternative. Another campaign could be based around putting some nicely shot pictures of classic products from the past in the quality newspapers with a snappy strap line ("Is this the new Bang & Olufsen?") in such a way that the series becomes interesting in its own right.

What would the result be? There is an opportunity to be at the forefront of the new consciousness that realises that consumerism as it stands today cannot go on forever. Surprisingly, the car industry is already making some progress in this area as the buying of large, polluting vehicles slowly becomes socially unacceptable. Just as in the 1960s and 1970s when owning Bang & Olufsen showed that you were the type of person who recognised and appreciated quality, today it could show that you have a mature world outlook and a sense of grown-up responsibility.

Once again, B&O can be the “first” to do something, an event that was once quite regular but seems to have tailed off in recent times. One may argue that this policy will mean the company sells less equipment but if things get much worse they may soon be selling none at all.

Go Digital!

14th November 2008 by Tim Jarman

There are many options if you would like to use your existing equipment with the digital TV and radio sources and in most circumstances you can get very good results at minimum cost.

Digital TV

Digital TV is available from a number of sources, terrestrial broadcast, satellite broadcast and cable being the main three. Although the transmission methods are different when it comes to making the connection to your equipment they are all pretty similar.

There are three ways to get a signal into a conventional TV set:

  1. Via the aerial socket, this is called “RF”.
  2. Via an AV connector (e.g. DIN AV or SCART) using a CVBS (Chroma, Video, Blanking and Syncs) signal.
  3. Via an AV connector using an RGB (Red, Green, Blue) signal.

These are listed in order of picture quality, with RGB being the best, though all are acceptable for normal home entertainment purposes. “S-Video” is also a standard used to interconnect AV equipment but few digital TV receivers offer this signal, though some Beovision TV sets can accept it. In terms of TV broadcast, it gives similar results to CVBS.

The method you can use depends on the type of Beovision you have. All the Beovision models listed on Beocentral can be used with digital TV in the UK if they are in good working order. If you have a lot of extra equipment already they you may need a multi-way adaptor to allow you to use it all without having to swap cables about. The best of these is B&O’s own “AV Expander” but third party units are also available. Try to avoid using them if possible though, it makes your system more difficult to use.

Beovision TV Sets

Beovision hybrid models, monochrome models and solid state sets made before 1980: You will need a digital receiver with an RF output which can be connected to the aerial socket of the Beovision. Tune in an unused programme knob/key into the digital receiver and you are ready to go. You can then operate the set using the digital remote control; some even allow you to adjust the volume. If you cannot find a receiver with an RF output then you can route the SCART output through a video recorder, the vast majority of which have RF connections. Owners of very early sets (3000, 2600, 2800, 3200, 3100, 3400 etc) will notice that the interference at the top of the picture that the teletext service causes will not be present when viewing digital programmes. If you are running one of the hybrid models as an “everyday” set then all credit goes out to you but it may be time to give the poor old thing a rest, there are not many of them left now and the skills and parts needed to keep them going are becoming hard to find. Perhaps consider a used 33XX or 77XX series model as a “modern” alternative and treat your old set like the rare historical artefact that it has become.

33XX series: Most of these only have an RF input (aerial socket) so you have to use them in the same way as you would the earlier types (see above). Some however have a DIN AV socket which you can use. Get your dealer to make you a cable with a SCART plug on one end and a 6 pin DIN AV plug on the other. Make sure the “switching” line is connected, and then the Beovision will automatically select the digital signal when the receiver is turned on. Although there are none listed on Beocentral, there are some European 33XX sets with stereo sound. If you have one of these then a DIN AV connector will certainly be fitted, use it as the digital sound will be mono via RF.

77XX series: Similar comments apply as for the 33XX range, some have an RF connection only, some have a DIN AV connector, some have two DIN AV connectors and some have one DIN AV and a SCART socket. If your set has two DIN AV connectors, use the one labelled “IN”, you can use the one labelled “IN/OUT” but it is a waste, this should be reserved for a recorder or second monitor. The same thing applies to the SCART, reserve this for something more useful if you can but a simple SCART to SCART connection will work if you have no other equipment. Set the digital receiver to “CVBS”, not “RGB” for these models. The 77XX models were sold as “future proof” back in the mid 1980s and wow, did they mean it! They are also very well made and durable (more so than anything that has come since) and there are still many in use.

L/LX 25/28 00/02, MX 1500, MX 2000, MX 3000, M 20: With the exception of the MX 1500 all these sets have stereo sound so use the DIN AV socket (LX models) or SCART (MX models). Similar comments apply as regards reserving the SCART socket for useful applications such as recording apply to the early LX as they do to the 77XX models. LX TVs of this vintage can support RGB signals but they do not do it very well, the on-screen menus disappear and the normal teletext won’t work if you try, so it is best to stick to CVBS in the receiver setup. The RGB inputs were intended for 80’s home computers with 8-colour graphics and are not really suitable for TV pictures. Similar comments apply to the MX models listed, though RGB is worth a try with the MX 1500 if your set does not have a teletext module fitted.

LS/MS models: These sets only have one SCART socket and one S-VHS connector. In most cases an external switching unit is the best way to go with these if you have other equipment as well. B&O’s own “AV Expander” is the one to have it you can get one. These sets are enabled for RGB pictures so you can set up your receiver to give this output.

Later LX and MX models: These are very versatile and have fully programmable SCART inputs that can recognise CVBS and RGB signals automatically. AV2 is the socket to use, you can either set it up as “V-AUX” which will be either selected automatically when the digital receiver is turned on or by pressing <SHIFT> <TV> on the remote control, or as a connector for a decoder. In the latter mode, “Dec on/off” will then appear in the tuning menu. Choose an unused channel and turn the decoder to “on”, the digital picture will then appear when that channel is selected. You can name that channel “Digital TV” (or whatever you prefer) which will then appear in the channel list. If you find yourself running out of sockets then use the B&O “AV Expander” or similar.

A “set top box controller” is available for some of these models. This needs to be fitted by a dealer who will then set the system up for you. Before going to the expense, ensure that both your set and digital receiver are compatible with the set top box controller, many are not.

BeoVision Avant/AV5/AV 9000: These can be set up in same way as the later LX/MX models (see above). For the AV 9000 and VTR Avant, the VTR will record the CVBS picture even if the digital receiver is set to RGB.

Later sets: These will work in a very similar way to the newer ones listed above. It is worth consulting a B&O dealer about the options available concerning set top box controllers, these make the installation neat and inconspicuous and you don’t need to use the horrid plastic remote control unit that invariably comes with the digital receiver.

Beocord Video Recorders

All Beocords can be used to record digital programmes, though you may find that you run out of sockets to connect everything to. All video cassette recorders record the CVBS information only and this is present even if your receiver is set to RGB.

8800 V, 8802 V, VHS 63, VHS 66: These are mono models so there is nothing to lose by using the RF connector. Connect the VTR between the digital receiver and the TV. You may have to adjust the RF output frequency of the VTR and the digital receiver to avoid interference. In the case of the two VHS models, if you are not using the SCART socket you can connect this to the “VCR” socket of the digital receiver, select the external input (channel 0 on the VHS 63, slide the switch on the VHS 66) to record the digital programmes.

VHS 80, VHS 90, VHS 91, VHS 91.2, VHS 82, VHS 82.2: These stereo recorders all benefit from a direct AV connection to enable them to record stereo sound. If your TV set has only one AV connector then use the AV expander to allow the connection to be made. If you have an MX 2000/M 20 and either of the VHS 82 models then the VTR needs the AV cable for the remote control to work so don’t just disconnect it. If you are using any of these recorders with a Beovision with two AV sockets (77XX or early L/LX) if you connect the digital receiver to the DIN AV (IN) and the VTR to the DIN AV (IN/OUT) or SCART then the TV will make the link to the VTR for you, though the TV does have to be switched on to make a recording.

VX 5000, VX 5500: If you are using one of these then you probably also have an early L/LX TV set to go with it. If this is the case, leave the VTR connected to the SCART socket of the TV and connect the digital receiver via the DIN AV socket. If your digital receiver has a “VCR” SCART socket than you can connect this to the second SCART socket of the VX. In the case of the VX 5000, select an unused programme position and turn the “decoder” setting ON (you may have to enable this in the main menu first). To record from the digital source, simply select this programme. For the VX 5500, simply select “AUX” from the menu to record a digital programme. If you set up your equipment like this, the TV does not need to be on to make a recording from digital. If your TV is an early MX (3000, 4500, 5000 etc) then make the connection from the digital receiver to the extra SCART input of the VX recorder only. You can then watch it by selecting the appropriate input from the video recorder (see above) and then putting it into “tuner only” mode.

Later models: You will probably be using these with a later LX/MX set, in which case the TV will do all the signal routing for you. Leave the VTR in the AV1 input of the Beovision, set up the digital receiver as “V AUX” in AV2. If you also have a DVD player, connect it to AV2 as well and use the AV expander (or similar).

Digital Radio (DAB)

DAB is not really a hi-fi medium, many of the broadcasts are in mono and the quality is quite poor. However, it forms a useful alternative to medium wave (AM) broadcasts. You can connect a DAB radio or tuner to your B&O audio system via any unused input (TP, TP2, AUX , A. AUX etc, but not the “phono” one if your Beomaster/Beocenter has an RIAA stage, most do except the Beomaster 900 range, 4500, 6500 and 7000). A pocket-sized set is inconspicuous and can provide a suitable output via the headphone socket, adjust the volume on the radio (start low) so that it is the same as the other sources. Remember though that with most personal sets the headphone lead is also the antenna, so you may have to experiment with moving the cable around for best reception. Bigger sets and tuners can also be used, use the “line out” connections in preference to headphone sockets if there is a choice.

If you do not have enough inputs, consider B&O’s “CD/Tape adaptor” which will add an extra one. Third party alternatives are available if you can’t find B&O’s own. Some Beomasters have an adjustable level switch that you can use to make the phono input suitable for larger signals (Beomaster 1200, Beocord 2400 open reel etc) whist some have a second one that is of a lower sensitivity (1000, 3000 etc).

It has recently become legal in the UK to use low-powered FM transmitters to radiate the output from a personal music player on the VHF broadcast band (88 to 108MHz). You could use one of these with a small DAB receiver and simply tune your Beomaster/Beocenter into it, though the sound quality will not be as good as with a direct connection. This is a very easy method though as you don’t have to make or buy any cables.

There is a better way to enjoy digital radio, it is also transmitted via the digital TV network and the quality is much higher than it is with DAB. Many digital TV receivers have an audio-only output that you can connect to a hi-fi system; this is an excellent programme source. If your B&O equipment allows for “AV Integration” (normally the better models from the early 1990s onwards) you may find that you can already listen to video sources through your audio system. Check the user guides and see how your system is configured.

How the Revolution will be Televised

16th October 2008 by Tim Jarman

Big changes are happening in television technology. Like many manufacturers, B&O are hedging their bets by offering a choice of dislay types: plasma and LCD. What are the advantages? Why are these changes happening? Have we been here before?

Within the last few years, a combination of scientific advance and manufacturing skill has delivered one of the long term goals in television design, the large screen flat panel display. Prototypes and mock-ups of these devices were shown by all the major manufacturers for at least the last twenty years and have been a feature of science fiction films for even longer, but now they are a practical proposition that can be bought as a consumer product. That is not to say that all the problems are solved, the ideal would be a device that is as light and slim as a framed picture that can function on very little power and without any external equipment, something that the current generation of heavy, bulky and power hungry models cannot yet achieve.

The change from cathode ray tubes (CRTs) to flat panel displays brought with it a new range of Beovision models which started with the plasma BeoVision 5 and the LCD BeoVision 6. Within a few years of their introduction, B&O had phased out all its CRT television models. However, this is not the first time that the Beovision range has been completely revised to take account of new technology.

When television sets as we’d recognise them now first appeared in the late 1930s the standard screen size was 12” (or 9” for the smaller, cheaper models). Unlike the compact displays of today, an early 12” tube was a formidable piece of industrial glassware, two or three feet long and capable of explosive detonation should the fragile glass envelope be breached, causing the vacuum inside to fail. Before long, some manufacturers added smaller 7” and even 5” models to keep the costs down. Smaller tubes were cheaper to make, required less complex driving electronics and could be enclosed in smaller, cheaper cabinets. However, since this time screen sizes have grown larger and larger. At the start of the colour era in the late 1960s the largest standard monochrome tube had a screen size of 23”.

The Beovision 3000 was very much a “first generation” European colour receiver and therefore used a 25” tube. As well as offering colour, the Beovision 3000 offered a considerably larger picture than viewers would have previously been used to. The extra screen size and the complexities of colour came at a price; the Beovision 3000, like all early colour sets, was very deep and consumed a great deal of energy. However, the pictures it could produce, even at this early stage, were beyond reproach. A well preserved example can still produce results that are up to current standards of quality (and in some cases beyond). The aims of television design at this stage were threefold: firstly to reduce the cabinet depth, secondly to reduce the power consumption (something that usually goes hand in hand with improved reliability) and thirdly to reduce the cost of the complete receiver.

The Beovision 3400 answered the first of these questions with its 110 degree “Phase II Delta” tube. This made the depth of the cabinet more manageable, though those few precious centimetres came at the cost of greater complexity. Although the Beovision 3400 was undoubtedly and excellent performer it was not renowned for reliability at the time.

The next generation, typified by the Beovision 3500 and Beovision 6000, addressed the reliability issue by replacing the remaining valves in the circuitry with cool-running transistors. This halved the power consumption at a stroke and lead to sets that could function unattended for many years. The widespread use of integrated circuits (also known as “silicon chips”) in these models also reduced the component count, making for more compact assemblies and cheaper overall costs. These changes allowed the cabinets to be slimmer and more shapely; the Beovision 3500 of 1974 occupies barely any more floor area that today’s BeoCenter 6-23 and produces a larger picture.

The next big change was the “in line” tube. This appeared in the Beovision 4402 (and derived types), though smaller sizes had been available in other manufacturers’ sets for some years previously. The in-line tube, unlike its “delta gun” predecessors, did not need a set of complex adjustments to be made every time the set was moved (and as the tube aged) to give its best performance. This made the sets simpler, cheaper and easier to maintain. For the first time one could buy a set in a sealed carton, take it home, plug it in and get a perfect picture straight away. This turned the television into a simple and perfect “consumer product” because it did not need the co-operation of an understanding and tolerant dealer to keep it in good order.

Later Beovision models refined these principles. The 33XX range of 1980 offered a well developed remote control and utter reliability. The 77XX models which followed took account of the new desire to connect peripheral equipment such as video recorders, home computers, cameras, video disc players to a television. In the late 1980s, the LX models introduced the “flatter squarer tube” (FST) and digital stereo sound and the mid 1990s BeoVision Avant was the first B&O model to offer the new 16:9 “widescreen” format.

Each of these changes has addressed a problem or disadvantage that was a feature of the previous generation. It should be noted though that there was never a real breakthrough in picture quality: that has gone up and down over the years by small amounts and probably as of today peaked with the 77XX sets of the mid 1980s. What has improved fairly continuously over the period just discussed was cost and to a latter extent the convenience of ownership. Cost is only of interest to those in the market for a new set. Once paid for, the price becomes somewhat irrelevant until a replacement is required. Convenience is different matter and really boils down to reliability, replacing an old and troublesome set with a new one which functions perfectly year after year is always attractive. However, most manufacturers, B&O included, had the reliability problem licked by the late 1970s and have in most cases managed to produce a consistently reliable product ever since.

The advantage that the new generation of flat-panel sets offer is not one of greater reliability, better picture performance, improved flexibility or greatly lower energy consumption. They offer in the main the possibility of a really large picture in a package that is domestically acceptable. Even modern wide-angle CRTs become unmanageably bulky in sizes greater than 28” (normal) or 32” (widescreen). Flat panel displays only become larger in width and height, the depth remains largely constant regardless of screen size. Very large CRTs also struggle to produce a picture of perfect geometry and consistent overall focus when made very large, something that the current generation of plasma and LCD displays are not affected by. The BeoVision 4 plasma can be ordered in a 65” size that offers more than four times the screen area of the largest of the LX models. The increase in screen size is truly dramatic when one realises that the largest 4:3 screen that B&O offered was the 66cm of the 28” LX range (e.g. the LX 2800, LX 2802, LX 5500 and LX 6000) was little bigger than the 63 cm of the original 25” Beovision 3000 made over twenty years previously.

Given that the advantages offered by flat panel models are mainly concerned with screen size, one must question the wisdom of the smaller models. The BeoVision 6-22 was not much more compact than the MX 4200 it replaced and was a poor performer when compared directly. Both can be mounted on a table, on various floor stands or hung on the wall and both offer a similar range of facilities. The reason for the replacement of one by the other in this case is fashion, the years of development that have gone into the CRT set have been swept away because the cabinet is the wrong shape.

What of the future? The next “big thing” is high-definition or “HD”. HD sets offer better resolution than previous types as an HD picture is composed of more pixels than a 625 line picture produced by the PAL system that the UK uses. HD is hailed as a revolution in itself but like many features of modern life one must cut through a lot of hype to uncover the real hard facts. HDTV has been made necessary by the larger screen sizes of modern sets. The normal TV signal simply does not contain enough information to properly produce a 65” picture on a set which is to be viewed at close range, so it has become necessary to add extra information to produce a picture that can be watched comfortably. Isn’t it odd that TV sets have been getting bigger as rooms have been getting smaller? Most domestic TVs cannot even produce the full definition of the normal transmitted picture, this would make them prohibitively expensive. Even a Beovision seems cheap when compared to the cost of a grade 1 broadcast monitor!

Moving on a few years, new display technologies will emerge to rival LCD and plasma. Of these, OLED seems to offer the most promise, dispensing with the complexity of plasma and the power hungry back light of the LCD. It is tempting to think that the pace of development is increasing but in practice this is not really the case, these sets will offer some advantages over those currently available (probably they will be even thinner, lighter, use less power and provide slightly more contrast) but the improvement is unlikely to be anything like that which was made in the first ten years of colour, which started with a set that was so expensive that it could only be bought by the lucky few, required two strong men to lift and needed regular service calls to keep working and ended with compact, reliable models that could be set up and used by anyone and were cheap enough to have become a feature of most homes.

A problem that the B&O designers will always face is that because B&O sets are durable there are always older models around against which the new ones can be judged. This is how it was noticed that the first transistor colour sets lacked contrast and “punch” compared to the valve ones, that the early LXs were not very reliable compared to the 33XX models, that some of the tubes used in the Avants had a disappointingly short life and that the first LCD models were really not that good at all.

Despite these small setbacks, one can be sure that whatever technology is used, Beovision sets will show it at its best. That’s one thing that’s never changed.

How Rare is It?

7th January 2007 by Tim Jarman

In the great majority of cases, all B&O products are mass produced. Even the most exotic, the most expensive, once rolled off a production line somewhere in Denmark (if you are lucky) along with hundreds of others just like it. However, when the collector looks at the “gaps” in his collection or that one model they really want proves next to impossible to find, the subject of rarity soon comes to the fore.

B&O never set out to make anything rare. They want to sell as many of each model as was possible and so carefully gear production quantities to what they feel the market would bear. This is the only way to recover the sizable production and tooling costs that result from every new addition to the range. It does not follow that cheaper models sell in huge quantities and the more expensive ones in only limited numbers, as we shall see.

After a product has been designed, mass produced, sold and used, its rarity, compared to other, similar products is determined by a few simple factors:

Desirability: A product may be rare because it was not worth having in the first place, meaning that sales were slow. Maybe it was technically deficient, overpriced or just ugly. Perhaps all three. The Beosystem 10 is a good example of this factor, when new it was a slow seller because it was very expensive for what was really just a (very) basic radio cassette. Does something that was unwanted when new become more desirable with age?

Durability: There is a better chance of finding surviving examples of a piece of equipment if it was made sturdily in the first place. Things which fall apart or go wrong regularly are seldom kept as treasured possessions, they simply get discarded and written down to experience. The path from listening room to dustbin is a short one and even the most serious collector would be lucky to intercept anything on this final journey. This obviously makes survivors rare, but would you want to saddle yourself with someone else’s mistake? There are many examples that would fit into this category and they are there for different reasons. The early hybrid colour televisions ran so hot that in many cases they just burned themselves out. That’s why there are so few left. The MX 3000 on the other hand was a more modern design but had a poor tube that did not last long and so many built-in faults in the other sections that the designers should hang their heads in shame. The latter set is not that rare now, but it soon will be!

Domestic acceptability: To be worth spending money on, a product must fit pleasingly into the owner’s living space. Ugly styling and horrible colours work against this. B&O are generally not guilty of the former, but they certainly have offered some cabinet finishes which aren’t often seen. How about an MX 2000 (and matching VHS 82) in bright pillarbox red? Or a Beovision 3502 in aubergine (marketing-speak for “purple”)? Both of these were standard models. Pride of place must go to the Beolit 400/500/600/700, which was available in a range of colours, some nice, some not. By far the most unusual is purple and some collectors regard this as a bit of a holy grail. Think about it though, if you were buying the set new and intended to use it (rather than preserve it as an iconic curio of a bygone age) wouldn’t you have gone for the safe, if sombre, black?

Relevance: Equipment gets bought, used and sold on because it is relevant to what the owners want to do. Audio equipment that uses the wrong format is a prime example of irrelevance and the B&O range is littered with examples. The Beocord 1200/1600 open reel recorders are rare because when they were launched the world wanted cassettes. The Beocord 8800 V/8802 V is rare (though not as rare as you might think) because the Video 2000 system it used was a commercial disaster and video libraries didn’t stock the tapes. The Beogram 7000 is rare because no-one wanted turntables in the mid 1990s and so many Beosystem 7000s were bought without it. Relevance means different things to different people so just because a particular model didn’t do what most people wanted doesn’t make it bad (unless you are an accountant for B&O).

Marketing: Some models, for whatever reason, just get lost in the range and sink without a trace. It doesn’t mean they are bad, maybe they just didn’t grab the attention or were badly shown in the catalogue and showrooms. There is nothing particularly wrong with the Beovision M 20, Beocord 1700 (later model) and Beovox MC 35/MCX 35 but you don’t see much of any of them now, whereas similar models are common. It’s just one of those things. The same thing goes for certain cabinet finishes, some models are quite unusual in oak or white, probably because the dealers did not routinely stock them in these colours. People tend to buy what’s put in front of them rather than order something that may or may not look nicer when it finally arrives.

You may think “cost” should appear on this list but looking at what’s about it doesn’t seem to affect things that much. For example, there are plenty of Beosystem 6000s and 8000s around despite their colossal price when new.

A few B&O models that are not rare:

Beomaster 900: Despite first being made over 40 years ago there are still lots of 900s about. This is because it was a the right product at the right time and thousands were sold. It is also easy to accommodate and a lightly stressed design, so they just keep on working.

Beocenter 3500: This quality music centre was so solid that the passing of time just didn’t seem to affect it. It was also versatile so as technology changed it could adapt and remain useful in a system. This was an expensive model when new but there are still plenty to choose from.

Beogram 4000: In the mid 70s this was absolutely the thing to have and serious listeners everywhere queued up to buy them. Obviously beautiful and an object to covert, most were well looked after and many survive. The Beogram 4000 is just as desirable today as it was back then, there are more people who want one than there are good examples available. This does not make it rare, just difficult to get hold of.

Beosystem 5000: B&O’s first “stack” system was clearly what the market wanted as it sold in massive numbers, despite its high price. There were no particular weakness in any of the components and when they broke they tended to be repaired as it was foolish to throw two (or three) good units away because the third or forth had gone wrong. The longevity of the compact disc and compact cassette formats used by the 5000 meant that it remained desirable and relevant for a very long time.

Beovision 77XX series: These televisions reject every factor that enhances rarity. They where in production for a long time, sold in large numbers, were very well made and durable and could be expanded and added to in order to cater for changing technology. Their slim, elegant cabinets could fit in anywhere and complemented a wide range of room styles and their performance has still to be bettered.

Beovision MX 4000/6000/7000: The mainstay of the Beovision range, these sets have been strong sellers for so many years that you can never imagine them disappearing completely. They are also adaptable and last well.

A few recent models that may well become rare:

Beo 1: A brief attempt at a simple remote control that nobody wanted. Not made for long and easily thrown away out of sheer frustration.

BeoVision Avant: Surely not? It could happen! Tube failure is claiming the early models at an alarming rate, whereas the later ones are in many cases being replaced with LCD and plasma models. Too big to tuck away or use in the bedroom, one wonders how many there will still be with us in ten years’ time?

BeoVision 1/BeoVision 6: If anything goes wrong with one of these the whole chassis has to be replaced. That’s fine so long as B&O still stock them, after that the sets have just one “life” left. How long will they last?

BeoSound 2: This MP3 player was never exactly “cutting edge” and is now hopelessly out of date. A new model with a better interface and more capacity would surely see those BeoSound 2s that were sold forgotten about permanently so they could just disappear from view.

BeoSound 3: There can be few takers for a non-DAB portable radio at this price. Like the Beosystem 10 before, this is just not useful enough to gain mass appeal.

Serene: Where does one start? An ill-conceived product in a fast changing market that was problematic at launch. By the time B&O get all the problems solved the world will have moved on, leaving the Oxfam phone-bin the likely recipient of the few that could finally be persuaded to work properly. Expensive “image” mobile telephones of any make are rarely seen for more than a season (this is the way they are marketed) so the Serene’s days are numbered.

In many cases rarity is the mark of something that fell short in one way or another. It may not be very exciting to have the same thing as everyone else, but it is comforting to know that you have arrived at the same logical conclusion as so many other people and that what you have chosen has passed the test of time.

All that glisters...

10th December 2006 by Beoscribe

As a Bang & Olufsen collector, one tends to accumulate all manner of products without really thinking and only when cataloguing one’s collection does one come across pieces which, when critically analysed, are actually not very good. On an enthusiast site, nothing really is given the bird as someone always loves it, but this is usually because it is being glimpsed through rose tinted spectacles.

We need to be brave – B&O has produced some real turkeys! These fall into a number of groups and are bad for different reasons. Some indeed are not actually bad products per se but lack of the principles that make a B&O product great.

The most obvious candidate is the Beocenter 2000 and even worse, the 2002. These fall down in so many ways that I can only suggest that a visit to the Reference section of this site is required. Suffice it to say that it was a Japanese unit in both design and performance but sold at a relatively premium price: the addition of a Metal Tape selector in the 2002 smacked of rank opportunism and marketing cynicism. The follow up series to the 2000, the Beocenter 2100, 2200 and 4000, although again misguided in trying to offer B&O on the cheap by not actually supplying B&O, was at least the recipient of some inspired design from David Lewis.

Similar issues could be raised about the Beovision LE 6000 and MX 1500 where the actual B&O content was very low. The MX 1500 at least filled a space in the B&O range but the LE 6000 was merely a Philips dressed up in LX clothing and with no performance advantage over the Philips model.

Some products deserve criticism not because of their design or indeed their performance, but due to the execution of the design. A surprising choice here is the Beogram 8000 - possibly the best performing record player made by B&O. But compare it to the material robustness of its predecessor – the Beogram 4000 - and you find cheap plastics, double sided tape instead of proper fixtures and a poorly thought out service position requiring disengagement of the suspension. Problems with degradation of the timing disc merely confirm the effect company accountants can have on an innovative design.

Design should always be to assist a product rise above the mundane and on the whole B&O products manage this admirably. One exception is the fabulously designed Beo 1 remote control. For previous generations of TVs lacking Teletext or the complexities of programming a VCR, such a remote could possibly be justified. But use in a fully specified BeoVision 1, or worse still BeoCenter 1, left the average user pressing away in a demented fashion. Such use also demonstrated another failing – it marked appallingly. A ready cloth at all times or gloves would seem the only way to maintain the esoteric looks.

B&O equipment is priced at a premium because of the design and the materials used. One can question the value against other marques but most of the range will tend to use quality components and will perform well against rivals. Clearly cheaper products are available with similar and in some cases better performance but against this has to be balanced the integration possibilities of the B&O product. But what if the B&O product loses that ability and is also hamstrung by technical shortcomings? Is it then reasonable to charge premium product rates? Is the BeoLab 4PC a viable product?

Lastly and controversially, it makes me laugh when I see the huge value placed on some B&O products by the second hand market when the said products are often pretty mid range. Examples include the late tangential turntables and the panel speakers. Both are proper B&O and clever in their own way, but paying $1000 for a Beogram 7000 and more than this for a pair of Beolab 5000s shows the market to be very strange. Both items were in fact slow sellers and were often sold off cheap as the range was deleted. The late tangential decks were made from inferior materials compared to the 4000 and 8000 ranges and had reverted to the cheaper belt drive rather than the radical and effective tangential drive of the 8000.

The list could continue but the caveat remains – just because it has B&O written on it doesn’t make it great! I have bought a number of turkeys in my time including some of the above. I still like them but at least recognise them for what they are and can smile at being taken in.

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