Just before Christmas, a few of the Inspired Dwellings crew had the pleasure of visiting the B&W factory in Worthing to have a nosey round the factory floor and check out their world-famous speakers. Having only been in London a couple of weeks it gave me a chance to see a little bit more of ‘down sauf’ and also served to point out just how little I knew about the technology behind everyday products. I thought I was pretty savvy just knowing what HDMI stood for. As the guys behind the artistry of Abbey Road’s sound system, B&W speakers have facilitated some of the greatest musicians of our era; from The Hollies to Kanye West, Pink Floyd to the LOTR sound track (12 hour extended edition anyone?) Abbey Road has been an icon of the British Music Industry for the past forty years. For the small starting price of £399 (yeah, I know) your home can share a small part of that history – and it’s certainly a cracking conversation starter for your next dinner party.
One of the first stops was to look at B&W’s world famous and patented Kevlar fibres, which are impregnated with a stiffening resin to result in B&W’s distinctive yellow loudspeaker cones. The Kevlar material (usually found in bullet proof vests) provides enough controlled rigidity and internal dampening to minimise any distortion through the speakers, effectively reducing unwanted reverberations. As you’d expect, it’s pretty strong and even 90Kilos of Engineer couldn’t make a dent.
The Kevlar, bought from DuPont, arrives in its raw state and is heated to 190 degrees centigrade, thus rendering the Kevlar pliable. It is then punch-shaped to take on the distinctive shape of a driver. We walked past a long line of factory workers painting the drivers to aid in rigidity of the Kevlar. Each is then weighed (by a host of rather bored looking women) as only 1 gram of doping paint can be used per driver to prevent any extra weight affecting the speaker’s performance.
Next was the anechoic chamber, a specially padded room designed to completely absorb any reflection from sound waves and which looked like something found in a 1930s German Expressionist film. Literally meaning ‘no-echoes’, the chamber is used to test base response and help gage distortion and dispersion. Shutting the door and standing in the dark on the raised platform was a bit disorientating, especially as any noise you made was immediately muted by the triangular fibre glass foam lining the walls. That being said, it was still considerably better decorated than the majority of London one-beds I’ve seen in a recent flat hunt, so I guess you can’t be too picky.
Wandering through to the workrooms we saw the world-famous Nautilus speakers (first produced in 1993) going through the various stages of completion. First, white suited gents hand-sprayed the speakers to give a base, then on to the paint, polish and lacquer stations before seeing the gleaming finished article All in the all the nautilus clocks up forty hours of preparation, three hours of (hand) painting, two days of polishing, five coats of colour and a subsequent three coats of lacquer. With all those fumes flying around, it’s no wonder everyone at that station was smiling.
After a quick lunch in which an astonishing number of sandwiches were consumed (have you ever seen an engineer’s average lunch?!), the second half of the tour began, which involved a 30 seat dedicated theatre and several in-house tuning demonstrations. With the aid of a James Bond sequence and several samples of Jazz and Classical music, the in-house Acoustician talked us through the complex digital processing involved in matching a speakers range to the acoustic characteristics of a multi-use living space. The constant evolution and affordability of today’s technology means that the concept of automation/ entertainment in the average home is slowly overcoming the label, luxury ‘item’. Whilst this means interior designers and architects are a lot more welcoming to the prospect of incorporating a large subwoofer and multiple speakers into their carefully thought out room plan, it’s still tricky to find the perfect balance of style and function.
A quick goodbye and with goody bags clutched in our appreciative paws, we bustled out to join the rush hour traffic back to the city. An excellent introduction to a large supplier and a illuminating way to spend the day – even if you’re slightly tech-shy like me.