There can surely be only a very few audio enthusiasts to whom the name Bang & Olufsen draws a complete blank. Known for their hyper-stylish, luxuriously built – and often luxuriously priced – distinctly modernist audio equipment, B&O (as it is much quicker to both say and write) are truly one of the world’s most iconic brands, even if they’re not one that everyone has personally experienced. This perceived exclusivity fortunately doesn’t extend to today’s review subject, although as we’ll find out, all of the other traits that have made the brand so successful are front and centre.
The A1 Bluetooth speaker (a name that must have taken months to come up with) is the smallest member of what B&O have called their ‘Beoplay’ range, and is part of the company’s ‘Spring / Summer 2017’ line (we told you they were a stylish lot). Now, when we say small, we mean small, with the spherical A1 looking more like a finely turned out pebble upon first glimpse. At just 13.3cm at its widest, and only 4.8cm in height, the name of the game is very much portability, particularly with a weight of only 0.6kg. As expected, the A1 still feels reassuringly solid in the hand though, and the minimalist styling, aluminium casing and neat little carry band features all the aesthetic nods one would expect from the brand.
The portability pluses don’t stop there, with the A1 offering up to a 24 hour playtime at a moderate listening level from its built-in lithium ion battery. That impressive number stands out even more when you see that the A1 is kicking out 30 watts into both its tweeter and its woofer. Such numbers ensure that these drive units are not underpowered, and go a long way towards helping such a tiny device to fill out a large space. Anybody needing a bit more power than a single A1 provides also has the option of pairing two of them together in a stereo configuration, doubling power and improving performance all around.
As mentioned, the A1 is primarily a Bluetooth speaker and supports the format in its version 4.2 guise, ensuring compatibility in high quality to a wide range of devices. As well as Bluetooth connectivity, a 3.5mm socket is also provided for hooking up older products, whilst a USB-C connection is fitted for charging purposes. B&O have made the A1 compatible with their Beoplay App (available only on Apple products currently, but an Android version is in the works), which lets the A1 talk to other B&O products and also pair two together in the above mentioned stereo setup. Finally, a built-in microphone allows the user to take calls when connected to a mobile, as well as offering compatibility with Apple’s Siri and Google Now services.
Switching on via the side-mounted touch panel buttons and adjusting the volume to near-full (obviously!) gave us our first taste of what the A1 was capable of. With a Samsung Galaxy S8 playing Tidal in lossless format over Bluetooth, the A1 gave a punchy and assured telling of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”, with a surprising amount of bass heft for such a tiny speaker. Treble was definitely the right side of forward, with enough top end to sound exciting without sounding harsh and shouty like some cheaper small models can do. The ‘funk’ of the track’s well-known chorus was full-bodied and pleasing to the ear, definitely not overwhelming the A1 with its bombast.
Switching to something with a greater focus on vocal accuracy also shone a favourable light on the A1, with Madeleine Peyroux’s sumptuous cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” offering up Peyroux’s rich and gorgeous tone wonderfully. Whilst female vocal tracks are often an easy ride for a speaker, it still takes a good quality one to really make you want to hit the repeat button and come back for a second listen, and that’s what the A1 did here. A top end that didn’t shout and draw attention to itself was perfect for this type of track, and the well-tuned bottom end ensured that the bass line was easy to follow for those not completely enraptured by Peyroux’s vocal.
B&O are sometimes unfairly saddled with the term ‘lifestyle’ in association with its products; a term that often asserts that design and aesthetics are favoured over sound quality and musical enjoyment, but that’s certainly not the case here. A perfect marriage of well thought out looks, a rock-solid build, and most importantly, fantastic sound quality make the A1 a brilliant proposition.
Author: Chris, Liverpool Store