There’s a big divide in the industrial design of home electronics. On one side, you have the tech that broadcasts itself: It’s black or silver, pared back, but unmistakably something you plug in (think Sonos). On the other side, you have tech that tries to camouflage into your home, so it’s covered in textiles or other soft-touch material (think Google).
“You have two different camps,” says Benjamin Hubert, the founder at the design studio Layer. “‘I want my tech to look like a home interior project,’ and then, ‘I want my tech to look like tech, because that helps define my status.'”
Well, the new speaker that Hubert designed for Bang & Olufsen fully embraces both options. Called the Beosound Emerge, and on sale for around $715 in the U.K. today (globally this fall), the speaker features a surprisingly slim, vertical design. And it’s available in two distinct flavors. One is a textured, black plastic body with a black aluminum grill. The other wears a suit of wood and tweed.
“It’s quite binary,” says Hubert. “Softening tech to be in our lives . . . rather than offering another screen, is very much where B&O plays. But they have a sliding scale, from a bit more discrete, to a traditional audience that wants to say, ‘I’m a bit more tech.'”
Aside from the bifurcated aesthetic, however, the Beosound Emerge has a fascinating form in its own right. The Emerge simply looks like no other speaker system on the market. Instead of being a box or an orb, it’s shaped like the Flatiron building. It’s a vertical wedge, which with a trick of the eye, looks slim in the front, but actually widens toward the back to fit all the components inside.
The mid and high tones emit from the front grill. On each side is a panel, which assists with the slimming look. The panels are actually removable, so you could theoretically upgrade the system down the line as technology improves. And what you don’t see hiding under them is a woofer (for low sounds), and a sandwich of other electronics, including a few large aluminum heat syncs to dissipate warmth.
In the wood version, the Emerge’s panels aren’t manufactured boards as you might assume, but whole timber sheets, shaved to 3 mm thin. Wood has always been a popular material for large speakers, as it can help sounds resonate inside, much like a cello or other string instrument. But you don’t find much wood in more modern, smaller speaker systems, which squeeze all sorts of extra electronics inside to self-amplify and connect to wireless networks. In this context, wood is hard to rely on (it can warp under so much heat, according to Hubert). It also doesn’t benefit audio quality unless it’s used in large quantities, as with the old hi-fi speaker systems from the 1970s.
Indeed, Hubert admits in the context of the Emerge, the wood is used so sparingly that it actually has no impact on the sound. It’s purely aesthetic.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking, “The Emerge looks a lot like a Playstation 5!” It’s a slim and tall form, defined mostly by its paneling, which contrasts its central negative space.
The product is most definitely not a copy. The Emerge was actually designed in 2019, a year before Sony made the PS5 design public. But Hubert admits some similarity and says that this sort of convergent thought in design is a result of both products trying to tackle similar problems: to make a small-footprint device. That led to the Emerge’s mini-skyscraper design. Its curving panels are there to cut through an otherwise chunkier-looking, box shape. And the stand? That’s there so the whole thing doesn’t tip over.
“They aren’t the same,” says Hubert of the Emerge and the PS5, “but the principles are shared.”