B&W Bowers & Wilkins Loudspeakers Nederland
B&W heritage. Throughout his lifetime, John Bowers, the founder of B&W Loudspeakers, strove relentlessly to get as close as possible to a transparent reproduction of recorded sound.
Born in 1923, near Worthing on the south coast of England, John spent the war years as a special operations executive in clandestine radio contact with allied resistance operatives in occupied Europe. He specialised in electronics and radio-transmission and after the war he opened a retail hi-fi store in Worthing with his business partner Roy Wilkins.
One of John’s passions was classical music. An avid concertgoer, he was disappointed by the sound reproduction that the best equipment of the day offered and set about improving the quality by modifying existing loudspeakers. Eventually, he started building his own designs in the workshop at the back of his hi-fi store.
In his relentless pursuit of perfection, John quickly built a reputation for himself, and his client base started to grow as more and more people seeking better sound reproduction came to his workshop to buy his custom-designed speakers. One of his greatest fans early on in his career was an elderly lady, a Miss Knight, who was so impressed with his knowledge of classical music and so pleased with the speakers he made for her that she left him £10,000 in her will for him to develop the business and pursue his research. So, in 1966, John Bowers and his lifelong friend Peter Hayward founded a separate manufacturing company, then called B&W Electronics, transferring to part of the present site at Meadow Road, Worthing in 1972. They agreed from the outset to live modestly and plough any profits back into the business to further research into the quest for the perfect loudspeaker.
At this time, much of the interaction between loudspeakers and their surroundings was not well understood. The basic motor principle and electric circuits were common knowledge, but what happens to a cone under dynamic conditions was unknown because the movements were too small and rapid to visualise. These were the days before lasers, with their ability to detect minute vibrations. John hired extremely talented engineers and invested in the development of diagnostic tools and measurement equipment and in 1976 he opened a dedicated R&D department with a team of specialist acoustic and electronic engineers who had a wealth of modelling, testing and design tools at their disposal.
Throughout his career John enjoyed a close relationship with recording engineers who provided vital feedback on how loudspeakers could be improved. As a result of this relationship, B&W’s famous 801 was launched in 1979 and soon became the reference speaker in nearly all of the world’s classical recording studios, including EMI Abbey Road, Decca and Deutsche Grammophon.
The phenomenal success of this product pushed B&W to the fore of all loudspeaker manufacturers. In typical fashion, John Bowers used this success to fund even more research and development, and in 1982 he created a dedicated research and development facility for his team of engineers in the picturesque village of Steyning in West Sussex. Dubbed the “University of Sound”, the Steyning Research Establishment now houses some 20 graduate engineers and support staff with expertise in a wide range of disciplines.
John realised that, to have a truly successful company, it is not sufficient simply to have outstanding products. They have to be backed up by efficient sales and marketing support. Never content to rely on the home market, he always looked to develop a strong export base and quickly developed overseas markets and further the presence of B&W products worldwide.
John Bowers passed away in 1987 but the culture he created was so firmly embedded in his company that his mission remains undiluted. Now under the chairmanship of Joe Atkins, supported by a strong team of dedicated people from many different parts of the world, reflecting its global outlook, B&W has enjoyed substantial growth in recent years. But the passion for music, so deeply engrained by Bowers and remembered by many still at B&W that worked for him in the early days, remains a core value of the company he founded.
Of the many amazing products that have come from the Steyning Research Establishment, probably the most famous is the Nautilus. Launched in 1993, after 5 years development and to widespread acclaim, the Nautilus has been described as “possibly the best loudspeaker money can buy”. The technology used for this model has subsequently been used in the whole B&W product portfolio. More recently, B&W has received widespread acclaim for Diamond Tweeter domes, the result of another extended research project, which are generally acknowledged to offer the finest reproduction of high frequencies yet accomplished.
B&W Loudspeakers Nederland BV.
B&W Group Benelux