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Bang & Olufsen goes down-market, creating new brand for the masses

The Danish maker of premium consumer electronics unveils a new wireless speaker for Apple devices to launch its new B&O Play brand that will sell (slightly) more affordable gadgets.

B&O Play's Beolit 12 Bang & Olufsen

LAS VEGAS--Luxury consumer electronics maker Bang & Olufsen is launching a new brand to make gadgets for the rest of us.

The Danish maker of speakers, televisions, and home entertainment systems has created B&O Play, a sub-brand to create "cash and carry" gadgets that consumers can pick up at retailers and set up on their own at home. The first product, launched during the Consumer Electronics Show here and available January 23, is the $799 Beolit 12, a wireless, portable speaker for iPhones, iPads, and other Apple devices.

The company created the new brand, in part, to take advantage of the unexpectedly rapid sales of its BeoSound 8 docking iPhone and iPad speaker. The device, which debuted in December 2010, sold more than 60,000 of the $999 units in its first 12 months on the market. That accounted for roughly 10 percent of Bang & Olufsen's total revenue for the year.

"It fueled our tank to make more products in that arena," said Zean Nielsen, president of Bang & Olufsen America.

The company hopes B&O Play will serve as a gateway for customers who can't afford the company's new BeoLab 12 flat-panel wall speakers that cost $4,780 a pair, its ultra-thin BeoVision 12 television that's hitting the market now for $11,350, or an integrated home theater system that runs upward of $40,000. The goal for the brand is to be more playful and outgoing than the sleek, modernist style of the main brand.

"We want to cast the net wider. We want to get more people interested in what we're good at," said Henrik Taudorf Lorensen, the Bang & Olufsen vice president in charge of the new brand.

There's no set price ceiling for B&O Play products. The criteria is only that they can be purchased, taken home the same day, and set up by the consumer. The new brand will focus on four categories--portable sound systems, headphones, speakers, and televisions. And Lorensen promises the same fit and finish that's put a handful of Bang & Olufsen's premium products in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.

"Just because it's entry level doesn't mean it can't be best in class," Nielsen said.

The Beolit 12, designed for the company by Danish furniture designer Cecilie Manz, features a solid aluminium speaker grill that wraps around the device. The speaker fabric, which comes in four different colors, is seen through the grill. The top of the device, where the power and volume controls are, has a non-slip rubber insert, shaped like a tray, where users can stash the device that's playing the music. And it comes with a full-grain leather carrying strap.

The device's 120-watt digital amplifier system drives two 2-inch tweeters and a 4-inch woofer. The power cord stashes away inside the system when not in use. Its battery will run for four hours when using Airplay to stream music and eight hours when a device is running through the line-in jack.

B&O Play will sell the device from the company's 700 Bang & Olufsen stores worldwide, as well as its online shop. And Apple will carry the device in its stores and online as well.