We at What Hi-Fi? tend to spend a few days testing a pair of speakers: B&O’s engineers spent the best part of 12 months trying out different tunes - everything from Foo Fighters to Frédéric Chopin, Rage Against The Machine to Rihanna.
It sounds like a lot of fun, but was all that petrol money well spent? We take the UK’s best-selling car for a spin to find out.
Bang & Olufsen isn’t new to the world of in-car audio, but its lifestyle arm, B&O Play is. The Ford Fiesta is the first car to offer a B&O Play option.
But it’s not just a B&O Play speaker set-up on offer. If your dedication to the brand know no bounds, you can even buy a specific B&O Play Series Fiesta. They’re available in either Zetec or Titanium trim and come in two exclusive colours: Bohai Bay Mint and Chrome Copper.
The system comes as standard in those cars and also comes as part of the Titanium X and Vignale trim packages. Or it's available as a £300 or £600 option, depending on the trim level chosen.
The 2018 Fiesta comes with a six-speaker sound system as standard, but the B&O Play ups the speaker count to 10. Amplification totals 675W. The set-up includes a 63mm centre speaker on top of the dash, and 25mm tweeters pushed right into the corners of the dashboard.
There are 16cm woofers in the front doors and a combination of 25mm tweeters and 16cm woofers in the rear door enclosures. A 20cm subwoofer delivers bass from the boot, and the whole set-up is controlled using sound processing specific to the Fiesta's interior.
The system’s appearance has been designed to mirror B&O Play’s lifestyle products, so the woofer grilles and centre speaker get button-sized aluminium B&O logos and also feature a special radiating hole pattern which has been used on other products in the B&O stable.
Although you don’t need to spec the most advanced infotainment set-up to get the B&O Play Sound System, in all likelihood you will. Dubbed Ford Sync 3, the operating system comes with a touchscreen, the size of which varies between trim levels.
Our Vignale test car came with the 8in display. It’s designed to appear as though it’s floating, but it’s hard to disguise that it’s just attached to the front of the dashboard.
It may not be the most elegant solution, the screen performs extremely well. It’s relatively smooth and responsive when scrolling and swiping between screens. The big, bold icons lack a bit of sophistication but they’re easy to target with your fingers.
Some of the more expensive systems we’ve tried can be quite fiddly with confusing menus that spoil the user experience. It doesn’t look as fancy as the screens you get with certain BMW, Mercedes and Volvo models, but it’s just as intuitive. Simpler, sometimes is better. And at this pricepoint, the approach is difficult to fault.
While we wouldn’t necessarily go out of our way to tick the box for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in any car, if you opt for the Sync 3 operating system, both of these are included.
Wireless and hands-free are available over Bluetooth, while there are a couple of USB inputs for connecting a smartphone. DAB and FM radio are both included but a CD player (tucked away in the glove box) is an optional extra. A sign of the times, perhaps?
As for menu tweaks, the Fiesta allows you to play around with treble, mid-range and bass, while balance and fader are also there to help you shift the audio around the cabin if required. After a quick blast, we take the treble down a notch – it sounds a bit prickly and over-enthusiastic for our tastes.
You’ve also got the option of switching between stereo and surround-sound. Stereo doesn’t change the number of speakers being used, just the levels and equalisation between them all.
Both options work well – surround immerses you more and blends instruments and vocals into a rich and well-organised soundfield. Stereo mode brings extra focus and precision, but the trade-off is that your bubble of sound becomes deflated. We settle with surround.
Scrolling down the menus, we also make a beeline for the adaptive volume setting and turn it off. It’s designed to increase or decrease the volume of the system as car speeds up and slows down, but we find it can also skew the balance of the audio.
We spend some time with both the Fiesta’s standard set-up and the B&O Play Sound system and we have to say we were impressed with both.
We weren’t expecting much from the stock system, but it’s perfectly listenable. It still sounds lively and entertaining, and if you didn’t want to spend extra on the B&O, then you’d still be able to live with it for day-to-day driving.
Still, the jump up to the B&O Play system does bring an improvement in sound. It’s not a dramatic leap (which is further testament to the quality of the standard system) but you can hear more detail, the soundstage is bigger, dynamics more prominent and there’s a greater sense of immersion.
The system sounds at home with a wide range of musical genres. It communicates the mellow, easy-going nature of Easy by The Commodores without trouble. Dynamics are expertly rendered everywhere, from the rise and fall of Lionel Richie’s lead vocal to the percussion that stamps out the song’s punctuation.
Shift up the gears through rock and dance music and the B&O Play system laps it all up. Low frequencies are tightly controlled – the subwoofer in the boot does its thing without imposing.
Bass notes sound weighty and the system is capable of cutting a surprisingly deep groove. Combined with the mids and highs, the system is able to cut through any road noise and you don’t lose the essence or the timing of what you’re playing.
This is all helped by the integration between the speakers. You’re never aware of one element dominating the sound and if you want to concentrate on one element of the music you can, even in this relatively noisy environment.
Play Delphic’s PPP and the system sounds full of beans. The track’s playful high frequencies are complemented by its tuneful bassline. It has just enough meat on its bones to sound weighty, but not weighed down. The system gets the foot-tapping nature of the track spot on.
Some higher-end systems can extract more detail. Others can deliver dynamics with more subtlety. But, there aren’t many that sound as fun.
The B&O Play Sound System handles any genre of music you throw at it and its breadth of musical abilities keep you coming back for more. For the money, it’s a bit of a no-brainer.