Bowers & Wilkins CEO On Great Sound and The Power of Marketing
It started out as an electrical store in Worthing, West Sussex. That was the shopfront. However, at the back, John Bowers and his friend Roy Wilkins would hand-assemble speaker systems for their clients. One of their clients, an elderly lady named Miss Knight, was so impressed with both Bowers' knowledge of classical music and the loudspeakers he made for her that when she passed away in 1966, she left him £10,000 to start his own business.
Fifty years later, Bowers & Wilkins releases, in our opinion, some of the best and criminally underrated audio systems in the world. From its large audio speakers to its smaller headphones, Bowers & Wilkins' products are worth every penny you pay. We chat with the company's current CEO Lars Hundborg regarding its quest for the perfect sound.
In Bowers & Wilkins, what constitutes great sound?
The sound should be authentic. With authenticity, I mean it should feel and sound like you are right in front of the artist. Nothing beats the live performance - especially within acoustic and classical music. If you can get the same feeling when listening to loudspeakers, then you have succeeded.
What are the greatest misconceptions about sound and equipment that you would like to correct?
This is a difficult question. Sound is very subjective. Some people like a lot of bass, some people like a neutral sound. The misconception is not about how much bass, neutral sound, or loud you can get. The intention should always be to come as close to the original sound as possible. The original sound is when you are right in front of the artist hearing the artist play live. At Bowers & Wilkins, we strive to get as close to the original sound as possible.
Technologies have developed over the past many years, so what was considered the best 10 or 20 years ago might no longer be the best. I am back to authenticity here. The aim should be to get the real life music experience in to your own room. Our engineers listen to a lot of live music to be able to understand how a violin, a bass, a piano, etc, sounds like in real life – and replicate this with the materials we have in current times.
Tell me more about the 800 Series Diamond. It took seven years to produce, which is a lifetime in a tech world so used to being fed yearly releases of a product. Why did it take so long to produce?
The 800 series is what put Bowers & Wilkins on the global map – it is a very unique series of loudspeakers. The 800 series is one of the audio industry’s rare institutions. It features all the latest technologies and we have shown over time that we are the first with new technologies. Developing new technologies takes time – and investment. When you strive for the best it takes time re-inventing yourself.
We would never launch the new 800 (above, picture) if we didn’t believe this series would set new standards for the high-end audio industry. We needed to ensure that it remains an inspiration for all, for a very long time.
How important do you think marketing is in the audio business? For example, it’s widely acknowledged that Beats is a terrible product, sound-wise, and yet people keep buying it.
Marketing is very important. If potential customers do not know your brand, then it is difficult to reach them. There are different ways of marketing and getting the brand seen by your target audience. We are trying to reach a broader customer base by adding new products such as headphones, Bluetooth speakers, etc. We also have global car partnerships with Volvo XC90, BMW 7 series, and Jaguar. We also have just launched a new partnership with Burberry recently.