Pure Sound from Silver and Diamonds

If music be the food of love, put your speakers on . . .

OK, sorry about mangling the quote. But those addicted to the finer things of life, know that sound in general and music in particular lies at the foundation of our most memorable experiences. When indulging in luxury travel, the soaring concert at the Met or the driving reggae beat from the beach nightclub remain entwined with our memories, giving them vibrant life.

And no sound is more pure than those produced on Bowers & Wilkins‘ high-fidelity speakers. Founded in 1966 by John Bowers and Roy Wilkins in Worthing, West Sussex, England, B&W came to set the standard for sound reproduction, driven by Bowers’ passion to re-create the experience he so loved at live concerts.

Born in 1922, Bowers joined the Royal Corps of Signals in the Second World War, acting as a special operations executive in clandestine radio contact with allied resistance operatives behind enemy lines. After the war, he studied at Brighton Technical College and qualified in Telecommunications Engineering. Then he teamed up with war buddy Wilkins to open Bowers & Wilkins.

Devoted at first to selling TVs and radios, the retail shop soon was overtaken by Bowers’ need to reproduce sound perfectly. The analogy he liked to use was that a high-fidelity speaker should be to the ear what a flawless plane of glass is to the eye, allowing the clear passage of a sensory image, uncorrupted and faithful in every last nuance to the original.

In 1966, B&W produced its first loudspeaker, P1, a four-foot high wooden model with drivers from EMI and Celestion. In 1969, Bower’s aim to build a speaker entirely in-house was realized with the DM70, which had a distinctive curved body and an electrostatic tweeter, garnering the company glowing reviews. And its 801, launched in 1979, became the speaker of choice in nearly all of the world’s classical recording studios, including EMI Abbey Road, Decca and Deutsche Grammaphon.

Bowers was always looking for ways to improve his speakers, and had close working relationships with recording engineers. Some improvements involved experimenting with different materials, like using Kevlar in drive cones, breaking “up standing waves as efficiently as it stopped bullets.” Other innovations included using silver instead of copper in speaker wire and cabling (“It’s a better electrical conductor”), and incorporating synthetic diamonds in speaker tweeters (“Until mankind develops the hearing of bats, it’s the sweetest tweeter we’ll ever hear.”)

Not surprisingly, such experimentations come at a cost.  In one Gizmodo review of the 800 series speakers ($24,000 per pair at the high end), Brian Barrett writes wistfully, “Just because I could never afford this high-end 800 Series Diamond speaker from Bowers & Wilkins doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy looking at it . . .”  And later: “This is one of those look-don’t-buy high-end audiophile systems that most of us can listen to in our diamond dome tweeter dreams.”

Apparently there are people out there who can afford such price tags. B&W keeps on flourishing and introducing new product lines. It has a full range of headphones and earphones. Its wireless music systems includes the dirigible-like Zeppelin Air – a complete speaker dock, with a Lightning connector for compatibility with the latest generation of iPhones and iPods, and Apple’s AirPlay wireless streaming technology built in. And B&W has worked with sports-car manufacturer Maserati  to develop new projects and products – including a audio system for the latest range of cars.

Not surprisingly, B&W speakers are found throughout the property (inside and out) of the most famous Jamaica luxury villa, Roaring Pavilion. Guests can serenade their senses with some of the purest sounds found anywhere.

 

 

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