Tech review: B&O BeoPlay A1 – small, portable Bluetooth speaker that packs a punch

The stylish A1 has a long-lasting battery, is portable and sounds great indoors, but falls a little short outdoors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 May, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 May, 2016, 1:13pm

Stylish and portable, this latest Bang & Olufsen (B&O) Bluetooth speaker is a good-looking toy for music lovers on the go. Just stay out of the rain.

Design

The BeoPlay A1 follows the design language set down by Cecilie Manz who is also responsible for the looks of their debut Bluetooth-enabled speaker, the A2. The A1 is dome shaped and is akin to an oversized hockey puck with its 132mm diameter.

The top of the A1 is covered in a perforated, thick layer of aluminium which certainly contributes to its premium and elegant look. Meeting the aluminium roughly half way down the body is a base made of rubber material that houses all the control buttons. The soft-push controls provide some tactile feedback.

The circle button, for now, is used to reconnect to your last playback device and start playing music. As a contrast to the hard industrial design, B&O throws in a full-grain leather strap.
Features

The A1 is capable of pairing up with another A1 to produce stereo sound. There is a 3.5mm headphone jack. Its microphone allows it to also be used as a speakerphone for calls too, which is a nice touch.

The A1 will last many hours on one charge and I actually had a hard time running down the battery over multiple days of non-continuous usage. Official specs claim that a single charge can last up to 24 hours. The downside is a big built-in 2200-mAh battery that pumps up the weight of the speaker to a hefty 600 grams.

It’s nice to see B&O keep up with the times by using the newer USB-C standard for charging. There is an app for Apple iOS that allows for equaliser adjustments in what they call “Tone Touch”.

Rather than using scales in the typical hertz range, B&O keeps it simple and presents it all on a four-axis graph, calling the segments: warm, excited, relaxed and bright.

It’s another clever touch clearly aimed at consumers who care enough to want to customise how they hear their music, but are not audiophiles.

 

Sound quality
Speaking of how the music is presented, I actually started testing without using the app. I was on an Android phone, and at the time of testing, it was not yet available at the Play store. And yet, there really wasn’t a need for it. As for the sound quality, the vocals are clearly emphasised, classical has good high-low separation and any heavier stuff will start rumbling your table.

For best results, place it on top of a wooden box to give the bass room to resonate. All this, and yet it never sounds as though the processing is overdone.

The DSP (digital signal processor) does well to keep everything sounding clear even when cranked all the way up. It’s incredible what the little tweeter and 3.5” woofer combo are capable of.

After playing it at maximum volume for a while you realise that some of the bass is kept at a relatively tame level to avoid distorting and muddling the music. At low volumes, the bass is prominent, still boomy but never overbearing. However, the A1 does have its limits.

Everyone in the room was impressed. Then I took it outdoors. All that airy bass and crisp highs never quite rose above the ambient noise. And this has nothing to do with volume levels but rather the number of walls it can bounce the soundwaves off.

In this case, it was zero and the result was more akin to an average sounding Bluetooth speaker. Not to mention it isn’t IP (ingress protection) rated for weatherproofing; instead it’s “splash and dust resistant”.

Conclusion

It’s easy to be seduced by the A1’s gorgeous exterior and exceptional sound. When compared with its competitors, the speaker begs you to own it and carry it around with you, as though it was a fashion item. B&O has always been a brand to trust when it comes to design and audio quality and for the A1, it’s no different. It’s perfect for indoor use, even in large spaces. If you’re looking to use it outdoors, then know that at least it ought to be at a quiet picnic or have some sort of surface to bounce sound off.

 

The BeoPlay A1 costs HK$1,998 and comes in natural (silver) and moss green.