B&O muscles into the home with high-end all-around sound
Danish high-end audio and video manufacturer Bang & Olufsen has launched two stylish wireless 360° speakers at IFA 2016 in Berlin today. The BeoSound 1 is a portable speaker that's promised good for up to 16 hours of cable-free playback, while the BeoSound 2 audio thrower sacrifices portability for increased output. Both sport a circular touch panel to the top that senses where a user is standing and adjusts the orientation of the controls.
Like other 360° speakers from the likes of Sony, Samsung and Libratone, Bang & Olufsen's (B&O) new BeoSound additions are designed for freedom of placement in a room, so that users are not restricted to finding a stereo sweetspot in a traditional living room hi-fi setup. B&O promises a similar kind of listening experience standing in front, behind or to the side of the speaker or wherever in the room the unit is placed. But, as it's B&O, that experience comes at a steep cost.
The BeoSound speakers are wrapped in a stylish conical aluminum housing that's raised slightly to allow a downfiring bass driver to thump out the low end. The tweeter also fires downward and out thanks a reflector sat in the middle of a gap to the top which disperses the sound evenly around the unit.
B&O says that both models are built around a new audio engine that allows for Google Cast, AirPlay, DNLA and Bluetooth connectivity, offering users a choice of playback from smartphones and tablets or online streaming services like Spotify and Deezer via the home Wi-Fi network.
They also make use of proximity sensors to adjust the capacitive touch controls so that they will always face the user. Essentially this means that if you stand behind the unit and skip to the next track by swiping left to right, and then move to the front, another swipe from left to right won't move to the previous track, but will also skip to the next track.
The BeoSound speakers are powered on and off by tapping the top surface, and the upper part of the housing also acts as a mechanical volume dial.
The BeoSound 1 has a built-in battery that's reported to be good for 16 hours of moderate listening or 4 hours when turned up to the max. At 3.5 kg (7.7 lb), it's not the lightest portable streamer on the market, and at 161.8 mm (6.4 in) diameter at the base and 327 mm (12.9 in) high it's not the smallest. A small groove under the top allows users to grab it and move it from the living to the kitchen or out onto the patio without leaving greasy finger marks on the shiny housing.
Within the cone-shaped housing there's a 4-in woofer driven by a 20-watt Class D amp, and a 1.5-in full-range driver at the top powered by a 40 W Class D amp. Frequency response is between 35 Hz and 24.3 kHz, it supports hi-res playback up to 24-bit/192 kHz, and ticks many common audio format boxes, including MP3, AAC and FLAC. Wireless connectivity comes in the shape of 802.11b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.
This unit is available now for a recommended retail price of US$1,495.
The BeoSound 2 looks and behaves similarly to the BeoSound 1, but is bigger and mains-powered only – having a 200 mm (7.9 in) diameter at the base and being 431 mm (17 in) high, and tipping the scales at 4.1 kg (9 lb).
As with the BeoSound 1, all of the drivers get their own amps, but this time it's a three driver setup. The 5.25 in woofer is driven by a 20 W Class D amp, two 2 in midrange units are each powered by an 11-watt Class D amp, and a 40 W Class D amp drives the 0.75-in tweeter at the top.
This model sports an Ethernet port for direct connection to a home router, and there's a line-in jack, too, to physically plug in external devices like a non-Bluetooth MP3 player or CD player.
The BeoSound 2 will be released in late October, and will retail for $1,895.
Up to eight speakers can be wirelessly connected throughout the home, or used alongside other B&O audio/video products, with the company promising one touch join and playback operation. You can, for example, have the audio from the game on a BeoVision TV also play through a BeoSound speaker in the kitchen or bathroom, so you can keep up with on-the-field action throughout the home. Multiroom setup and operation can be further controlled through a mobile app.
B&O has created different finishes for the IFA launch, though only the naked metal option is available for the moment. Whether the various colors will reach the market will depend on the response to the idea from the public.
We got the opportunity to have a quick listen using our own music over Bluetooth. The B&O rep told us that the test model hadn't yet undergone B&O master tuning, so the sound should be further improved once that's been done. That said, even with the annoying background noise from early IFA booth construction, the BeoSound 2 dispersed the sound smoothly, was very loud and clear. It also seemed to ooze the sonic quality that B&O is well-known for delivering.
However, we'd need to get one of these on the review bench before committing ourselves to a final verdict. Early impressions were positive though. Shame about the high price of admission.
The new B&O speakers are introduced in the promo video below.