Bowers & Wilkins: Why iPhone beats CD

The value of experience

Much of B&W's manufacturing is still in the UK – based down in Worthing – so how are the key technologies manufactured and integrated?

"B&W is unusual in that it makes the whole loudspeaker itself: all the drive units, the cabinet, and the assembly," Haikin explains. "Moreover, a lot of the technology and methodology of how we make things is very specific and fiddly, having evolved over many, many years of manufacturing.

"For example, if you take a Kevlar cone, although these are now off-the-shelf items so you see them in many products, the way B&W produces them is totally unique and relies on years of experience in defining the material's exact weave and weft, and the applied damping properties.

Bowers and wilkins, unusual

"So part of our production line is a totally hand driven process where this is conducted and each cone has to be individually weighed," he adds. "We make about 600,000 a year! Other parts, like our Matrix bracing, rely heavily on CNC machining and are precise in a different way altogether."

2011 and the "new media stuff"

In 2011, the focus has shifted towards what B&W reps refer to as "new media stuff" and products such as the latest Zeppelin Air, MM1 and P5 headphones, as well as the latest high-end 800 series of speakers.

"We moved into personal audio products in 2007 as it seemed highly natural for us to expand our acoustic expertise into these areas," explains Haikin.

"Ultimately – as Zeppelin and P5 have proven – there are many consumers who are concerned about how things sound outside of the traditional stereo market. This sits very comfortably in our business as the personal audio products have dramatically improved our brand and category awareness, which then assists the traditional part of our business too."

Another aspect of this move into personal and digital audio over the last few years has been B&W's development of the Society of Sound, a download service that has been "created to bring exceptional sounding recordings to customers so each recording is only available in the highest quality such as Apple Lossless or 24 bit studio quality."

Right now, Society of Sound is more added-value marketing than a money-making scheme for B&W, in that anyone purchasing a B&W product can enrol and get the archive of albums for free or, even if you are not buying new hi-fi hardware, you can still join up for £33.95 a year.

The future for B&W

Finally, what of the future?

The B&W marketing director remains understandably circumspect when it comes revealing too many details about his company's plans for later in 2011 and beyond, other than telling TechRadar:

"We're launching a new speaker on June 6 which I think is the freshest thing we've made for years. It's really small and quite expensive but sounds incredibly good.

Bowers and wilkins - the future...

"We'll continue to push at both the higher-end speciality and mass market segments with more interesting, better sounding products. We're not interested in, and don't need, rapid growth so can do things at our own pace and in our own way which, generally speaking, keeps things vital and interesting.

"Which is what got us here in first place."

Adam Hartley