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B&W Celebrates Gains At Bling Bling Fling

Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) America launched a revamped 800 series speaker lineup here at its first-ever national dealer event, where the brand unveiled diamond-dome tweeters and touted speaker-sales gains despite a declining component-speaker market.

The series includes six top speakers that are the industry’s first to build tweeters from diamond, albeit man-made.

B&W’s growth could accelerate in coming years if component-audio’s potential grows as much as forecasted by executive VP Chris Browder. In the “next few years,” he said, the component audio business will experience “the biggest boon our industry has ever seen,” thanks to lower priced HDTVs that “will promote” the audio business.

Worldwide, B&W speakers enjoy $300 million in retail-level sales, said B&W America’s president Peter Wellikoff. In North America, B&W speaker sales will rise a projected 10 percent to 12 percent in calendar 2004, while sister audio-electronics brand Rotel will post a 20 percent gain, Wellikoff added.

Wellikoff attributes the B&W brand’s success to “a stronger, deeper and wider product line than ever before,” including in-wall speakers and component speakers that start at $400 for a pair of bookshelf models. Prices top out with the CT800 series, which can be used to create a $50,000 7.1-channel system. These speakers are enclosed but designed to be built into cabinets or pillars.

Wellikoff also cited a “superb distribution network of the best independent retailers in every key media market in North America.” In those stores, B&W commands almost 50 percent of the stores’ speaker sales, he said.

Vertical integrations also contribute to growth, he contended. Last year, the company bought a furniture and speaker-cabinet maker in Denmark to complement B&W’s in-house manufacturing of drivers and crossovers. Vertical integration yields cost and delivery advantages, he said. Global sales, he added, contribute to economies of scale. Eighty percent of the brand’s global sales are through group-owned distribution companies, including B&W America, he noted. As a private company, B&W is also free to reinvest a greater share of its profits than public companies.

Despite the B&W and Rotel brands’ gains, Wellikoff on Dec. 31 will replace independent sales reps with a direct-sales force in three-quarters of the B&W Group’s North American markets. In almost every case, all representatives handle all brands. The remaining reps will stay in place for the “foreseeable future,” Wellikoff said.

The goal is “to enable our management team to develop closer business relationships with our dealers,” he said. “We have to look at how we will be a better vendor. We can’t take the business for granted.”

To free up the management team to get into the field, B&W enhanced its technical support, computers and phone systems, he continued. “The whole infrastructure is reinvested.”

In a global launch here for its revamped top-end 800 series, the company invited its top 80 dealers, who heard new 800 series speakers. Besides diamond-dome tweeters, the lineup also includes the company’s first subwoofers with digital room-error correction. All products will be available Jan. 15 but the two DSP subs, which ship later in the first quarter.

Diamond-dome tweeters appear in four left-right models at $8,000 to $20,000 per pair and in two center-channel speakers at $4,000 and $8,000. Stiffer but thinner than B&W’s current aluminum-dome tweeters, the synthesized-diamond domes extend the tweeter’s resonant frequency by 2.3 times over B&W’s aluminum domes to about 70kHz from 30kHz. In both cases, the breakup frequency is above the accepted range of human hearing, but in the case of the aluminum tweeters, deleterious effects begin to appear in the audible range well below 20kHz, the company said. Diamond shifts “these buildup effects well above the limit of hearing,” the company continued.

The frequency response of the diamond dome rolls off smoothly to about 45kHz, then rises before producing two small peaks at 63kHz and 74kHz. Above that, response rolls off sharply.

The result: “Subjectively, listeners report that the diamond dome tweeter affects every aspect of performance, but most notably creates an absolute transparency and seamlessness to the whole midrange and treble region, bringing the listener closer to that elusive ideal of actually ‘being there,'” the company contended.

The full line consists of 16 SKUs with seven left-right speakers starting at $1,250, three dedicated center channels from $1,300 to $8,000, two dedicated surrounds at $1,500 and $1,100, and the three subwoofers starting at $2,500. The two DSP models are $3,200 and $4,000.