‘Science-fiction penguins' is how one reviewer precisely nailed the looks of these Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 9 speakers. They're just under 80cm tall, and with their tapered oval enclosures and that metal ‘face', we reckon the Danish company's missing a design trick: make the removable front grilles white, and you'd have the perfect robotic Pingu.
Mind you, that just might suggest the company is all about style, with not much substance, and that you're paying for looks, not performance. Anyone who's ever visited B&O in Denmark knows this is far from the truth. In fact, few audio companies have made so huge an investment in research, development and manufacturing as B&O.
We've never seen a speaker development tool more impressive than B&O's massive 12 x 12 x 13m ‘Cube', in which speakers are positioned to the millimetre and measured.
The Cube is several stories tall, and standing in its depths is quite unnerving. What's more, B&O makes almost everything from raw materials. Where other companies buy in from suppliers, it machines and finishes metals, and moulds plastics. That's what you're paying for.
The power of ICE
That quality, and the company's ability to go its own way, is obvious in these amazing speakers. They use ICEPower digital amplification, developed by a B&O company, for the bass driver, while the Acoustic Lens technology on the top is licensed in from its US designer, and found in several current B&O speakers.
The Acoustic Lens works superbly here, controlling the treble dispersion while spreading it over a wide listening area, giving excellent high-frequency focus. Meanwhile, the bass can be adjusted for one of three positions – with the loudspeakers against a wall, in a corner or out in free space – and is always tight, rich and powerful, giving music remarkable scale and a sense of total effortlessness, not to mention real punch and drive to more hard-hitting music.
Yes, the speakers do boost the bass a bit at low levels, but the effect is far from intrusive: it merely stops them sounding a bit feeble when playing quietly, and soon rolls off as things get louder.
It's the detail that impresses most about these really rather magical speakers. They project a soundstage way up above their top-plates, and deliver wide-open and highly credible pictures of instruments and voices almost regardless of where you sit in the room. The strike of finger on an acoustic guitar string is just as readily revealed as a pounding bass and drum combo.
And they're not limited to use with the company's own music systems. Adapter cables are available to connect them to any preamp, or indeed anything else with volume-controlled preouts.
Yes, £5000+ will buy a serious amp/speaker combo, but these are an excellent active speaker choice, their amazing form dictated by function, not convention or tradition.