We now live in a world where new iPhones drop once a year and true wireless headphones and portable speakers reach fifth and sixth iterations in as many years, so a Bluetooth speaker that took four years for an update is pretty unusual by today's standards.
But Bang & Olufsen isn’t noted for following the herd. In the Danish electronics specialist’s catalogue you'll find a wheel-shaped wireless speaker, a TV that opens up like a butterfly, and an 8200-watt monolithic speaker comprising 18 drivers. Its output could reasonably be described as "premium" and "innovative".
The B&O Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) wireless speaker is no exception. It's the company's second most affordable model in its line-up – the Beoplay P2 takes the accolade for being the cheapest and, incidentally, the smallest – so to make the product stand out, Bang & Olufsen has billed it the world’s first Bluetooth-only Alexa smart speaker.
The Beosound A1 boasts similar dimensions to a large floury bap or English muffin. Thanks to its stunning pearl-blasted aluminium chassis, our ‘pink’ A1 (there are four other colourways) shimmers with a hue not unlike the premium mystic bronze finish of Samsung Galaxy Note fame. The included USB-C charging cable is the same shade too, albeit in tactile rubber – a typically higher-end touch.
Although the resemblance between the original and new A1 is striking, the latter has been tweaked significantly, both in terms of design and performance. It is slightly more svelte and, though still reassuringly substantial, a little lighter.
There is also a new control arrangement that sees slightly bigger, more clearly labelled buttons situated closer to the leather strap. To the left are play/pause button and volume controls; and to the right you'll find power, Bluetooth pairing and mic on/off buttons. The once disc-shaped metal slider for the leather wrist strap is now tubular and, thus, far less likely to snag your winter knitwear.
Voice assistant Amazon Alexa
Audio 1x 9cm woofer, 1x 2cm Tweeter
Dimensions (hwd) 4.6 x 13.3 x 13.3cm
The A1 is now water- and dust-proof to IP67, meaning it should survive being placed in water up to one metre deep for 30 minutes. Quoted battery life is a reasonable 18 hours at normal listening volume, or up to 48 hours at a more conservative level, besting given times from cheaper rivals such as the Sonos Roam (10 hours) and UE Wonderboom 3 (14 hours). If you're really careful, the A1 could even chase down the Dali Katch G2's whopping 30 hours, although this should be taken with a pinch of salt considering how frugal you'll probably have to be in terms of listening volume.
A solo LED warning light now shines out from the metal grille to indicate power and pairing status, while the A1 sports triple the microphone count of its predecessor – a three-mic array for Alexa operation and hands-free calls. Support for Microsoft Swift Pair and Google Fast Pair has been included to make conference calling easier, too.
It's worth noting that the 3.5mm headphone jack found on the inaugural model is gone, but, honestly, we don’t miss it.
Ultimately, we cannot fault the Beosound A1's build quality and finish. If you're looking for quality portable speaker that majors on both style and substance – something to pack into your picnic hamper, perhaps – this is it.
The new A1 supports Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec, and of course Alexa is built-in. You'd be perfectly in your right to simply switch the A1 on, press its Bluetooth button to pair it to your phone, and start streaming. But to fully take advantage of the A1's offering, you’ll want to get Amazon Alexa up and running.
Now, Alexa voice control requires an internet connection, which the A1 does not have. So how, you may well ask, can it work without one? Essentially, the A1 has to be Bluetooth connected to a smartphone (or other source) that is itself connected to wi-fi.
It's relatively straightforward to get set up, although you'll need to download both the Amazon Alexa and Bang & Olufsen apps. The latter immediately directs you to the former to link the A1 to your Alexa account. Once in the Alexa app, we find our A1 under the ‘devices’ tab and hands-free Alexa is activated. Simple.
The speaker must always be within Bluetooth range of your phone or source, but considering the A1 supports Bluetooth 5.1 (which claims a range of around 800 feet or 240m) that shouldn’t be a problem. Thanks to the A1’s far-field microphone technology, Alexa can be activated from up to five metres away – and during testing the voice assistant never ignores us.
Alexa is attentive, although since there’s no wi-fi or Chromecast onboard, you cannot link streaming services – you can’t say “Alexa, play Prince on Tidal”, for example. However, say “Alexa, play Prince” and you’ll get a station based on Prince from the Amazon Music catalogue.
Talk to the A1 and you’ll hear an endearing low bleep to signal that your request has been acknowledged – either a nice touch or slightly disconcerting, depending on your preference.
You can stereo pair two Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) speakers – albeit not a second-gen model with a first-gen model – which is simple enough to do through the well-designed B&O app. Open the app and you’ll get a shot of your speaker with its battery status underneath; a volume slider, with haptic feedback that clicks as you slide your finger along it; four customisable listening EQ presets; and a ‘Beosonic' circular dial that involves placing a dot somewhere on a spectrum of 'bright', 'energetic', 'warm' and 'relaxed' pointers to create your preferred sound profile.
We don't find they add to our listening experience at home, though; after a good fiddle we set everything back to ‘optimal’ (neutral).
We stream Beyonce’s Deja Vu featuring Jay-Z on Tidal, and her vocal acrobatics are relayed faithfully and with space around her voice, despite the complexity and layering of the track's production. The same song through the Apple HomePod Mini feels marginally more compressed in comparison. As the Homecoming album continues to Lady Revisited, the difficult, snappy strands in the Fela Kuti-inspired afrobeat soundscape are well handled by the A1.
Switch to Laith al Dean’s Bilder Von Dir, and Dean’s deep vocal is audible and full. The A1 proves a good time-keeper and adept with dynamics as the subdued vocal transitions into a heavy synth beat, too.
Switch over to Miles Davis’ Blue In Green, and the central trumpet is clean – never harsh – and underpinned by an expansive double bass, keys and drums. Although the HomePod Mini sounds comparatively more forward and energetic in its rendition, it’s not a mark against the A1. Thanks to the Beosound’s smoother performance, there’s an extra ounce of detail to be gleaned.
Indeed, Bang & Olufsen has succeeded in maintaining its trademark sound profile in this diminutive and affordable proposition – no small feat considering Bluetooth speakers of this size and price can easily come off heavy through the mids and harsh in the treble in an effort to offer volume and clout.
Ultimately, the Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) delivers a pleasingly comfortable yet authoritative performance that you'd be happy listening to all day. Throw in its classy, well made design, easy to use operation and the bonus of Alexa, and you're looking at a Bluetooth speaker sequel that has very much been worth the wait.
- Sound 4
- Features 5
- Build 5
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