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.