As nineteen seventies hi-fi became ever more dominated by the Japanese, the more gaudy it got. Although the mass market was awash with large, brushed aluminium fronted steel boxes – festooned with knobs and flashing lights – some more discerning buyers moved to Bang & Olufsen, and it was this product that won many over.
Designed by Jacob Jensen, it was a step change in the company’s visual language, and perhaps personifies what most people now associate with B&O – a sleek and slimline profile, gentle touch-sensitive controls, hidden control panels and metal and glass surfacing. Moreover, it packaged a fine sounding stereo tuner in the same box as a 20W RMS per channel (into 8 ohms) amplifier. For 1976 this was a high power output figure, as impressive as its claimed distortion figure of 0.13%. The tuner’s preset station facility too was pure luxury and very unusual at the time, but the touch-sensitive major controls felt like the stuff of science fiction.
By today’s standards the B&O is a lovely object to look at and to use, but in 1976 it must has seemed like it had beamed down from outer space! The long and low (620x60x250mm) 1900 simply felt like nothing else ever made to operate at the time, and this was reflected in its stiff £237 retail price. Beautifully swish, it was a true ‘spoil yourself’ product at a commensurately luxurious premium. Around the back were DIN connections for two pairs of loudspeakers, a record player and a cassette recorder, and under the large top aluminium flap there were the secondary controls – for manual tuning, bass, treble, balance and preset volume control too.
The 1900 got a light update in 1979, becoming the 1900-2. It added a much needed, more finely graduated volume control which had thirty two steps instead of sixteen, plus more delicate graphics and lighting, and a lightly reworked chassis. This continued to 1982, where it was replaced by the less attractive 2300. It sold in parallel to the Beomaster 2400 which launched in 1977 and was effectively a remote control version of the same, but with a slightly different control panel.
Sonically, the 1900 wins no prizes for outright fidelity, but it’s always clean, smooth, decently open and always inoffensive. For its not inconsiderable retail price at the time, it was always possible to do better by buying British or even Japanese separates, but the sheer beauty of the packaging of the B&O convinced many that it was the one for them. A great, iconic product, amazingly the 1900 series remains very cheap to pick up secondhand now not least because of the huge popularity of the unit when new – pay between £30 and £100 depending on condition.