Bowers & Wilkins is 50 years old in 2016. As part of the celebrations of these five decades in the world of high-performance audio, we are running a series of blogs that investigate our history, our people, our technologies and our products. In this blog we look at how our engineers invent new technologies, and in particular developed the ground-breaking Nautilus loudspeaker.
Bowers & Wilkins’ engineers have long been at the forefront of acoustic developments. For 50 years they have continually researched, refined – and redefined – the limits of acoustics knowledge. They have also been responsible for many firsts, not only for Bowers & Wilkins, but for the whole world of acoustics.
This is because there always comes a point, after all the measuring and all the computations, where invention kicks in. It is a point where someone needs to make something that has never been made before.
Possibly the most radical reinvention of speaker design ever undertaken resulted in the ground-breaking Nautilus – something so ahead of its time that it still looks current over two decades later. It looks so different because of the project that started it, and because the people involved in its creation approached things from a completely different angle.
A programme had been set in motion to develop a loudspeaker that benefited from an acoustically ‘invisible’ baffle about 18 months before John Bowers was taken ill and sadly died. Bowers had initiated that looked into all aspects of loudspeaker design with a fresh approach, and intimated before he died that he very much wanted to project to be continued.
Much of the work involved radical shapes such as sunflowers, and was already achieving good results, and after Bowers’ death Laurence Dickie and the rest of the R&D team continued the work, not only looking at enclosures, but also the drivers themselves and how they were mounted.
Bowers & Wilkins already had some history with tube-loading loudspeakers, and Dickie believed that tapering the tubes would deliver a better result. He was proved right, but it raised a dilemma: the length of each tapering tube needs to be proportional to the size of the drive unit it encloses – and in the case of the Nautilus’s 300mm bass unit, the pipe would have to be around three metres long. Not exactly ideal for a recording studio, let alone a living room.
So it was back to the drawing board – and another stroke of inspiration. Experiments showed that bending the pipe into a continuous curve would save space without compromising its performance. The spiral was born – and with it, possibly the world’s most famous loudspeaker.
Nautilus is the most obvious aspect of Bowers & Wilkins’ ability to invent. But everything from the opposed drive units of the original PV1 subwoofer, to the way the spikes work on the base of the new 800 Series Diamond speakers, to the way the P7 headphones fold up is a testament to the Steyning engineers’ ability to solve problems, improve sound quality and enhance the customer experience with every product they develop.