BeoCom 1401 phone by Bang & Olufsen
Bang and Olufsen is a firm that has long made audiophile components with a very strong sense of design. So driven was their zeal toward audio and design purity, that it somehow escaped me that they would ever introduce a phone in the 80's. The stylishness didn't surprise me as much as their claims that it had better fidelity. Fidelity? On a 4K phone line?
I didn't think that I'd ever experience the phone since the B&O mark carries stratospheric prices, but that changed when I got one of these phones (that today can still command around $100) for $2 at a thrift store. The model I found was the Beocom 1401, pictured here.
First the obvious points, it's terribly thin. So thin that it was a little uncomfortable to hold for extended periods, too thin to pinch between ear and shoulder (the way that chiropractors tell us not to). The base was neat, but actually makes the phone look a little too Miami Vice for my tastes - it does have a hidden compartment for post-it notes (special B&O logo backed post-it notes I might add - very shi-shi). small footprint made it extra nice.
The increased fidelity? It didn't seem to make a great deal of difference on my end. People I spoke to said that it enhanced my already bass toned voice (which is good as I do voiceover work). Cell phones still sounded like talking through a bucket. The difference came in (drum roll) music-on-hold. Hold music sounded great. I don't know who would get a spendy B&O phone just to make Muzak sound terrific, but if you're an instruments-only Lionel Richie fan, this is the phone for you.
While a few folks who have seen my Beocom phone have snorted "that's so 80's" at it, perhaps they don't remember the same 80's that I do. In the US, the phone companies were de-regulated and many people were buying their own phones for the first time. Many were copies of the diving-bell inspired phones they were meant to replace, but I remember the 80's also being chock full of really cheap phones made by hair drier companies, phones with wood grain stickers on them... Ugly phones.
B&O continues to make phones, but since the advent of low cost prototyping and computer design, even the most mundane appliances look pretty good today. Sure, a B&O phone is going to look better... but $500 better? Perhaps the phone can be your entree to an entire network of enthusiasts who want to help you along your path to investing in really expensive aluminum stereos.
*ring* It's for you... BeoCom 1401 page at Bang & Olufsen