Technical University of Denmark: Modular design extends speaker life

With a wireless Wi-Fi speaker designed according to circular principles, Bang & Olufsen (B&O) has found the formula for a product with a long service life. Beosound Level is built of modules that make it possible for the user to replace batteries and front with different fabric and wood types. And it can then be upgraded if new technologies are introduced in the future. This extends the service life of the product and helps reduce electronic waste—or so-called e-waste—which poses a global environmental problem.

For B&O, the circular transformation began with the MATChE project, in which DTU helped the company understand the business opportunities offered by a circular economy approach. B&O subsequently developed and produced the Beosound Level speaker as its first product with focus on circularity. In September 2021, B&O’s Beosound Level was awarded ‘Cradle to Cradle’ certification at bronze level—as the first speaker in the world. This is the most ambitious product standard for design and manufacture of products that contribute to a circular future.

“We want to help dispel the notion that a ‘second life’ is perceived as less attractive than new products. We know from our user survey that the feeling of being stimulated regularly by something new drives many purchases of new products. By making it attractive and relevant for users to keep their speakers for longer than average, we hope to address this feeling in a new and more resource-efficient way. This can help change consumer behaviour and be a step towards more sustainable consumption,” says Mads Kogsgaard Hansen, Senior Global Product Manager for Product Circularity at B&O.

New framework for long service life
The company today has sharper focus on how to use a circular mindset in its future work and how to embed circularity in its business strategy. This has resulted in a circular business model for long service life, which is now an essential part of the company’s product strategy.

This also applies to Beosound Level, where customization makes it possible both to change the product’s appearance and technical components such as streaming module and batteries. New features and updates are offered through wireless software updates. This gives users the feeling that the product is evolving. And even when the speaker can no longer be repaired or updated, the parts can be disassembled, sorted, and recycled more efficiently.

The circular mindset has inspired B&O to revitalize an old classic. In parallel with the development of the speaker, B&O embarked on the Recreated Classics pilot project, in which they bought 95 units of the 40-year-old iconic turntable from the Beogram 4000 series through online auctions and global dealers. The turntable was subsequently dismantled, renovated, remanufactured with original materials, and resold—with the same recognizable look. The collection was snapped up, despite a price tag of DKK 75,000.

“I see a movement of change among consumers. Customers are buying fewer things. In turn, they are making greater demands on what they invest in. They expect the products to last longer or be repairable. That part of our target group is growing, and the pandemic has not made this trend any less pronounced. Now people reflect more on what they surround themselves with and what they spend their money on,” says Mads Kogsgaard Hansen.

If he is to point out something that has surprised him in the transition to a circular economy, it is that B&O has been able to develop a speaker without compromising on quality—even if it is designed for the future.

“We’ve struck a chord with consumers. And the circular work has also meant something to our self-knowledge. It feels like we have come back to our roots with an ambition to create long-lasting products and timeless design. At the same time, the progressive style has put us back on the map by our company being the first in the world to obtain ‘Cradle to Cradle’ certification for a consumer electronics product,” says Mads Kogsgaard Hansen.

We want to help dispel the notion that a ‘second life’ is perceived as less attractive than new products.