The challenge in answering Bang & Olufsen’s request to design the first product of the newly created portable audio brand B&O PLAY was massive for Cecilie Manz.

She may be young, at 39, and female, in a world that, despite everything, is still greatly dominated by males, however, she is also Danish, like B&O, hence very well aware of the responsibility towards a brand that, rather than a mere logo, is almost a national anthem.

The new audio system is called Beolit 12, a clever name that says a lot about Manz’s desire to pay tribute to Danish as well as B&O tradition, as Beolit was the name of Bang & Olufsen’s ever-popular transistor built in the 1960s. 

Drawing inspiration from the classic unit, Manz created a compact, sturdy-looking form, made gentler by the aura of subtly feminine details, such as an Italian full-grain leather carrying strap that is diagonally mounted for stability when the unit is carried.

Through the solid aluminium loudspeaker grille, seamlessly wrapped around the unit, the loudspeaker fabric is visible, allowing for different colour options. The top of the unit, with its volume, power and network controls, has a non-slip rubber insert, where users can safely place mobile devices.

Featuring Apple AirPlay for wireless music streaming, when connected to a wireless network, the unit is able to play music wirelessly from iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac or PC. It has a built-in power supply and a rechargeable battery, with a power cord that packs neatly away inside the system when not in use, making the device totally portable.

The battery also has the capacity to recharge iPhones and iPads, as well as other connected devices, and play back music for up to eight hours at normal sound levels.

Despite its compactness, the quality of the output sound is top of the range. The unit’s 120 Watts digital Class D power amplifier system drives a 4-inch woofer and two 2-inch tweeters to produce excellent sound performance for a middle-sized room.

The sound system was designed and tuned by the same sound engineers that created BeoLab 5, the award-winning loudspeakers from B&O.

Targeted at a very specific group – mobile, digital, quality-conscious customers – the reasonable price tag of €699 (low in B&O’s terms) reflects the company’s desire to expand its client base in this rapidly growing market.

Curve Europe editor, Laura Traldi, spoke to Cecilie Manz about the challenge of designing Beolit12, a sleek and wireless audio system to fit the modern age and her future plans.

How would you describe the Beolit 12 in a few words?

It’s a sound bento box. Great sound quality in a compact shape, usable everywhere.

Your designs are always beautifully uncomplicated – do you think this is what the company was after when it approached you?

It may well have been. After all, it is known that the underlying approach to everything I work with is to try to simplify – forms, functions, materials – as much as possible, while at the same time keeping ‘something’. And this ‘something’ is the essence of what I am attempting to make.

I work with things that have a meaning to me. My general idea is always to have a clear argument legitimising the designs I make. Function is essential, and if I cannot formulate a good reason for a new product, it is better to refrain from making it.

Hence, even for a complicated project such as Beolit12, I started off by making things simple. What I was going to make was a ‘sound machine with a handle’ – nothing more, nothing less. This focus helped me to come up with one of the main design features of the audio system – the lack of a traditional dock. I always find these very complicated and unfriendly looking. So why not just have a tray, a mere smooth surface on the top?

What was working with technology like for a designer who had no experience in this field?

I guess the point was not to get intimidated by the technical aspect of the project – should I have given in to that, I would definitely have got frustrated at once. As a solution, I tried to keep it in my own sphere, apply my usual down-to-earth approach, avoid all nerdiness. It turned out extremely interesting for me to work with.

Beolit12 has a subtle feminine feel – was this part of the brief or, rather, your own decision?

As I said, I can only work on things that make sense to me. This means that my own designs should first of all speak to me. And obviously, being a woman, it is only natural that my projects fit into my personal flavour range.

So, yes, it was my own twist to the original brief that envisaged an easy-to-use, nice-to-look-at sound system. One that would steer away from the generally high-tech looking, nerdy and very masculine solutions available today. One that, because of this, would obviously also appeal to women.

How did you define the colour palette and materials?

Materials were discussed throughout the project, as were colours, which were kept in ‘lower cases’ – not shouting out – rather, discrete, with a hint of colour behind the aluminium grille.

In what way do you think the economic crisis will affect design in the long term?

I believe we should be even tighter in selecting what to launch and what not to. Hopefully a word like ‘functionality’ would play a bigger role again.

What’s your next challenge?

I don’t plan what kind of projects to do next. Sometimes an experimental piece or a try-out lands on me as if it were sent from heaven. The two ways of working (on production items and on research-focused ones) equally fertilise each other.

Regardless of the nature of the project, though, materials have always been important to me: texture, feeling, even smell. I can’t help reaching out as an impulse. At this very moment I am very much into digging into materials and I am also busy arranging a new small workshop next to our office. 

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