B&O Play Beoplay A1 review: Beautifully crafted sound
High-end audio brands such as B&O are famous for charging through the nose for the most basic of products, so it came as some surprise to find that the firm’s latest offering cost less than £200. Admittedly, the B&O Play Beoplay A1 is only a pound less than £200, and the product in question is a fairly basic-looking hand-sized Bluetooth speaker, but still – it makes a change.
It’s also nice to come across a product from the bottom end of a manufacturer’s range that doesn’t skimp on design values and build quality. Aside from audio quality, companies like B&O and its rivals most pride themselves on build quality and design, and the Beoplay A1 hits that particular nail strongly on the head.
B&O Play Beoplay A1 review: Design
It’s truly a beautiful-looking thing, measuring 133mm in diameter it’s finished in anodised silver on the top and a muted grey plastic on the base, which has been finished in what feels like suede. Indeed, it looks and feels considered, as if a designer has agonised about the size, placement and shape of every detail. There’s even a leather leash attached to one side so you can carry it around without fear of dropping it.
As you’d expect from a name like B&O, the look is pleasingly minimalist – so much so that it’s not immediately apparent where the controls are. Look closely, though, and you’ll see that the volume, play/pause, Bluetooth pairing and power buttons all sit concealed beneath tiny icons around the speaker’s base.
The bottom half also houses a 3.5mm auxiliary input and the speaker’s USB Type-C charging port, with a Type-C to Type-A cable and charger included in the box. Once charged, the A1’s 2,200mAh battery will last 24 hours at “moderate” volumes, which is pretty good for a portable Bluetooth speaker.
Finally, a small pinhole and icon reveal the presence of a built-in microphone. As with most portable Bluetooth speakers, the Beoplay A1 can also be used for conference calls when connected with your phone via Bluetooth.
B&O Play Beoplay A1 review: Features and sound quality
So what can this hi-tech pincushion do, exactly? Well, most people will be connecting their phones and tablets to it via Bluetooth, and on that front, it’s straightforward enough to set up. Just hold the Bluetooth button to put it in pairing mode, select the speaker on your Bluetooth setup screen and you’re good to go.
If you’re feeling flush, you can pair the speaker with another B&O Play Beoplay A1 for stereo playback, but in terms of features and connectivity, that’s about the limit of its capabilities. Since the A1 has no Wi-Fi, there’s no support for Apple AirPlay or Spotify Connect, and you can’t add the Beoplay A1 to a multiroom setup either.
Something else the A1 doesn’t have is support for aptX, the highest-quality Bluetooth codec, and considering the firm’s audiophile heritage that’s a big disappointment. Fortunately, even connected with the standard SBC codec, the speaker sounds pretty good.
According to the specifications, the A1’s frequency response rolls off at 60Hz, so you won’t be able to reach down to the very lowest bass notes. A quick play of Trentemoeller’s remix of “Les Djinns” shows that to be the case, with the sub-bass thump that kicks in after around a minute largely inaudible.
But for most other material, the speaker’s aluminium-core woofer and separate tweeter – each of which is paired with its own 30W Class D amplifier – work together to produce a remarkably sweet, full-bodied and controlled performance.
Staying with Trentemoeller but moving to “Moan” – a track that’s a little more forgiving on bass performance – and the Beoplay A1 delivers a fabulously juicy bass line. It doesn’t boom or reverberate unpleasantly, even if you crank up the volume.
My spoken word and vocal jazz test tracks were delivered with velvety smoothness and good instrument separation, while Stravinsky’s “Augurs of Spring” was presented with an airy sense of atmosphere and tonnes of crisp detail.
The only negative point here is that the Beoplay A1 isn’t the loudest of things. A kitchen full of yelling children or adults in animated conversation will soon get the better of it, so it’s not the best party speaker. Stick to small rooms and reasonably quiet environments, however, and you’ll love the way it sounds.
In all, there’s very little to dislike about the B&O Play Beoplay A1. It’s true that you can’t connect via Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect or aptX – and I’m going to knock off a star for those shortcomings – but as a speaker to complement your phone or tablet on your travels, it’s perfect.
It sounds fantastic, looks amazing, and although £200 may sound like a lot of money for a speaker this small, once you plug it in and have a listen you’ll forget all about that price tag. It’s a very, very lovely thing.
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