Hundreds and Thousands

1st July 2005 by Tim Jarman

Numbering and naming of products is a difficult subject. Not only does there have to be some logic to the scheme, it also has to be attractive to the user and convey positive signals about the product and the company that made it. Car manufacturers know this subject the best of all, and mistakes can be costly.

B&O’s product numbering system evolved over the years, but it suffered from the same problem as every other numbering scheme: eventually all the numbers which fitted into it were used up. Before the range was popular in the UK, a simple system based on names/letters and a pair of numbers (to indicate the year) was used. This was well suited to a small range that changed every year and, most importantly, where products were designed to be used on their own and not built together into systems.

The Beomaster 900M introduced many things, including a numbering system that would last for the next 35 years. Simple product titles such as Beomaster, Beocord and Beogram, coupled with a large but simple number perfectly described the precision and accuracy of the product, whilst being easy for potential customers to remember. The system really came into its own when Beosystem 1200 was launched in 1970. Straight away one could tell which units were to work together, with the numbering providing a strong sense of unified purpose to the system as a whole.

Despite the large numbers used, the system could only really work if the numbers were memorable. In practice this meant leaving the last two digits as zeros (though in some cases the final digit was used to indicate improved versions of existing designs). There were other pitfalls, such as “unlucky numbers”. There never was a “1300” model anywhere in the range: the Beomaster 1200‘s replacement was named Beomaster 1001. The system on the whole started out well though, and the music centres of the mid 1970s were particularly well numbered, with Beocenter 1400 being replaced by Beocenter 1500 and supplemented by Beocenter 1600 and Beocenter 1800, leaving the “Beocenter 1700” tag unused for a completely logical addition to the range that never came. When this range was updated, 1000 was simply added to each number, so Beocenter 1600 became Beocenter 2600 and Beocenter 1800 became Beocenter 2800. This even held true for Beocenter 3600, which became the very popular Beocenter 4600.

However, in the end the inevitable happened and the numbers began to run out. The early 1980s saw the introduction of the second Beomaster 6000 in 7 years. The correct title for the original model was “Beomaster 6000 4channel”, so this was left to pass, but the turntable for the latter system had to be given the rather clumsy name of Beogram 6006.

A few years later a second Beomaster 5000 appeared, and although the original had been dropped in 1970, the matching Beocord 5000 recalled a model that had been in the range until very much more recently. The CD player for this system was given a non-standard title, “Beogram CD 50”, presumably so that the printing on the front panel took up no more room than that on the other units, such was the attention to detail and neatness in this range. The same period also saw the third use of the term “Beogram 3000”, a machine that was used in a system that shared a cassette deck with a more basic version, so “Beosystem 3000” was correctly constructed using the Beocord 2000. At a similar time, the large 6000/8000 ranges were in decline, with the final offering being Beomaster 6000, Beocord 8004 and Beogram 8002. Despite being more “8000” than “6000”, this setup was sold as Beosystem 6000 (having previously been named Beolab 6000). The Beocenter 7000 also outgrew its numbering, and with 7000, 7002 and 7700 all used, the final version was confusingly called “Beocenter 7007”.

Things settled down later, with the 5000 and 3000 ranges being nicely replaced with the 5500 and 3300 and a new line of numbers being started with the Beocenter 9000. Around this time the TV range changed its naming to include a prefix denoting cabinet style (LX/MX), a sensible move as it allowed visually distinctive models with the same screen size to be grouped together. Only obscure models such as the Beosystem 10 hinted that the end could possibly be near for the numbering system as it stood.

The first important model to break from the traditional numbering was the BeoSound Century. The reasoning behind this was unclear, but perhaps realising that 5-figure numbers were cumbersome and “BeoSound 100” sounded too obviously “entry-level”, the use of a name for a stand-alone product was sensible. However, this soon spread to the Beosystem 2500, which was re-named the “BeoSound Ouverture”, even though the no-cassette version retained its name of Beosystem 2300. The “old” numbering system made its last appearance on a major product with the BeoSound 9000, presumably a clever ploy to tempt owners of Beocenter 9000s who were considering replacing their equipment.

After a few years of confusion, a new numbering system has emerged. Thankfully the names have been dropped (such things are not normally sensible if the products are exported to a large number of countries) in favour of single digit numbers. This reflects the increasingly non-technical nature of the buyer of TV and radio equipment, who are more likely to recognise a potential purchase by appearance than by title. Of course, the new numbering scheme gives the product planners a clean sheet, at the expense of only allowing nine models in each range before either “recycling” or needing another new system. The sequential way in which the numbers have been assigned also brings problems, as it become very obvious when something has been discontinued or a number re-used.

From this we can predict that within the next 5 to 10 years there will be yet another method of distinguishing one model from another. The inspiration could come from anywhere – nature, legend, colours perhaps. The BeoSound Orange could be less than ten years away...