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With once-powerful brands like Nokia (Finnish) and Ericsson (Swedish) diminished in stature, one might hesitate to consider Europe a hotbed of consumer technology. But European companies, particularly those in England, continue to make an impact when it comes to sound, and a number of newer firms are bringing a fresh sensibility to design.
British brands like Bowers & Wilkins, KEF and Meridian have set themselves apart, catering to those who demand the most accurate audio reproduction possible when listening to music. These consumers typically favor a more balanced sound rather than the bass-heavy experience many American counterparts offer—especially when it comes to headphones.
“One cannot help but notice that the number of U.K. companies involved in acoustics is strangely large,” says Johan Coorg, head of brand development at KEF, who cites the influence of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), a hip music scene that began with the Beatles, and academic engineering wizards who thought high-fidelity sound reproduction was cool. “It’s a movement that still lives on today.”
Some English companies have evolved into other areas of sound. Meridian, for example, is designing car audio in grand fashion, developing a sophisticated system (called Trifield 3-D) for Range Rover’s Autobiography SUV. But not all of the action is in the U.K. In France, Withings turned ordinary bathroom scales into smart devices—an idea that now includes a wide range of personal-healthcare devices, including the new Pulse. Devialet is revolutionizing the shape of home-audio components. And Orée makes computer keyboards chic, constructing them from a single piece of wood.
Innovations aren’t likely to stop. The European Union plans to invest $32 billion over the next seven years to re-invigorate its electronics industry across multiple segments, including home technology—which means that side of Europe may be just beginning to reinvent itself.