The planned obsolescence that drives the tech industry’s annual refresh cycles means that a lot of personal electronics now have alarmingly short lifespans. Back when a VCR broke, there was a thick section of the phone book dedicated to repair services. But when a modern-day Bluetooth speaker stops recharging, many consumers are likely to just cut the loss and upgrade to a more advanced model.
One company that is looking to buck this trend is Bang & Olufsen. Thanks to the Danish manufacturer’s skill at combining striking design with finely tuned acoustical performance, its high-end home audio gear tends to hold (or even grow) its value over the decades. Now, the company is taking a long-term approach to the portable speaker market with the introduction of the Beosound A5, designed by GamFratesi.
“Bang & Olufsen is part of an industry that for many years has pushed for shorter and shorter life cycles,” says Mads Kogsgaard Hansen, the company’s head of product circularity. “We want to show that there is a different way of doing things.” Part of this requires designing objects that are durable enough to stand up to daily wear and tear — and that can be easily fixed when broken.
But with so many consumers now trained to replace their tech rather than repair it, a truly future-proof design must also deliver what Hansen refers to as “emotional durability.” As he explains, “No real change will happen if consumers are not on board with keeping their products for longer.”
Enter GamFratesi, a studio known for fusing Danish craft tradition with conceptual Italian design. To satisfy Bang & Olufsen’s request for a speaker with serious longevity, architects Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi developed a modular assembly with an IP65 water- and dust-resistance rating. The design features a wireless phone charger panel on top, a user-replaceable battery on the bottom and other easily serviceable components in between.
Next came the harder part: developing an outer enclosure that announces itself as a true heirloom. For GamFratesi, achieving the desired level of emotional durability lay in creating something that felt like it was lifted from a cherished memory. In turn, the Beosound A5’s soft-edged form takes cues from both the Beolit 800 and Beolit 1000, two past Bang & Olufsen portable radios designed by Danish industrial designer Jacob Jensen in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
But GamFratesi also found inspiration from far beyond the world of stereo design. “We wanted to evoke the feeling of laid-back summers spent at the beach,” the duo says. As a result, the lighter of the two Beosound A5 models — dubbed Nordic Weave — developed as a blend of natural, tactile materials, including woven cane (inspired by Panama straw hats) and leather (a popular accent on 1960s Danish chairs). To contrast this beachy palette, GamFratesi also developed a Dark Oak model that shifts the focus from a sandy shoreline to a winter woodland.
In a sea of futuristic-seeming (yet quickly outdated-looking) speakers that favour all-plastic or all-metal enclosures, the two models convey an unconventional warmth. “Both finishes can sit beautifully inside a home or outside in nature,” says GamFratesi. Bang & Olufsen also plans to introduce additional front cover options, which will be available for individual purchase to give the speaker a subtle refresh over the years.
Then of course, there is the Besound A5’s acoustics. Indeed, key design decisions were made hand-in-hand with Bang & Olufsen’s engineering team to produce a unit that delivers 360-degree sound in a compact footprint. One key challenge: the unit’s handle. “When choosing the design, shape and size of the handle, we also had to make sure that whatever position it was in, it did not block the tweeter,” says Hansen.
Thanks to some clever component distribution, the end result is Bang & Olufsen’s most powerful portable speaker to date. And even when it is eventually eclipsed by a future model, the Besound A5 will still justify its place in the home.
With its new Beosound A5 portable speaker for Bang & Olufsen, the design duo returns to an era when home audio gear was repaired — not replaced.