You might be surprised, shocked or even utterly flabbergasted to read that the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage is the company's first-ever soundbar. Indeed, the Danish brand is so late to the market, that the Stage’s birth date doesn’t even share the same decade as the very first soundbars.
Acknowledging that bewildering fact at the Beosound Stage’s global announcement at the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro in Venice yesterday, John Mollanger, B&O’s executive vice president and president of Brand & Markets, said with a grin: "We take our time."
“We don’t want to be the biggest or the fastest [audio brand]. But we do want to create the most desirable audio products,” he continued.
It’s not that B&O has neglected the AV market alongside its vast two-channel, hi-fi catalogue. It’s been doing TV since the ‘50s, remember, and in more recent years has created sets with bespoke sound solutions – as demonstrated in its latest TV, the Harmony, which launched earlier this year.
The Stage, however, is the first standalone sound solution that can be partnered with any TV. And its all-in-one, three-channel form, has been designed to be “so powerful you won’t need any other speakers or subwoofer”.
To that end, it sports no fewer than 11 drivers: four 10cm woofers, two 3.8cm midrange drivers and a 2cm tweeter for the centre channel configuration, and a 3.8cm driver and 2cm tweeter for each of the right and left channels. Each channel is powered by its own dedicated 50-watt amplifier – do the maths and you’ll find this comes to a total power output of 550-watts.
B&O specifically chose large custom woofers in an attempt to ensure deep bass, while the right and left drivers have been placed close together and at a 45-degree angle to aid dispersion.
B&O’s commitment to creating a big, immersive sound is evident in its support and certification of Dolby Atmos. Play a movie with an Atmos track, and the promise is that the Stage will decode the format and deliver its intended sense of height and scale. The company says Atmos plays a part in the product’s philosophy of achieving an immersive home cinema sound from one single box.
Unlike some Atmos soundbars, such as the Award-winning Sony HT-ST5000, the Stage doesn’t fire sound through upward-firing speakers to add height to its soundfield. Instead, when wall-mounted, it uses processing to virtually create the effect through its forward-facing, angled drivers. This is its most natural orientation (and the position in which it was demonstrated). Alternatively, It can be laid down on a tabletop so that all the speakers face upwards - the audio processing changes accordingly.
The Bang & Olufsen Stage is a slim-looking soundbar, dressed in fabric and framed entirely by a single piece of aluminium or oak, depending on the finish. It’s just over a metre wide, which means it’ll stretch nicely across a 50in+ TV, while it's also 7.7cm thick to allow for the amplifier, speakers and processing engine.
B&O hasn’t let itself down on the aesthetics, creating an attractive, architecturally interesting premium soundbar in collaboration with Danish studio NORM Architects. The smoked oak finish is particularly lovely, and unsurprisingly more expensive for it.
With the voice command capabilities of TVs these days in mind, we wouldn’t be surprised if one came out and proclaimed its gratitude at being partnered with one.
Speaking of voice assistants, which have infiltrated more or less every consumer audio product category in the past year or two, the Stage is bereft of one. B&O has chosen not to kit it out with microphones - it's of the opinion that voice control in a TV is of limited use – which, compared to wireless speakers and headphones, it arguably is. Still, that omission will no doubt leave some potential customers sore.
What won’t is the bar’s sensory control panel and the suitably fancy remote. A third means of control is via B&O’s app.
In terms of connectivity features, there are plenty. Once hooked up to an internet network via wi-fi or Ethernet, the Beosound Stage can stream music and videos over Chromecast (from a smartphone) or AirPlay 2 (from an Apple device). Both platforms open up opportunities for multi-room, and naturally B&O’s own platform and app allows the Stage to pair with other products in B&O’s ecosystem in a multi-room environment. Don't worry, trusty ol’ Bluetooth is onboard too.
There are 4K, HDR-supporting HDMI sockets to take advantage of which also include an unexpected bonus: eARC support. The inclusion of the newfangled feature means the Stage can accept Atmos audio signals from a TV via a HDMI cable – handy if you want to indulge in Netflix and Amazon Prime Video’s Atmos content.
An optical input is strangely absent, with B&O settling for analogue connections as an alternative to HDMI.
As we sit down for a demo, B&O encourages us to experiment with its ToneTouch feature, allowing us to finetune the soundbar’s TV, Music, Movie and Night modes to our preference via the app. You can make the Stage sound warmer, brighter or more “exciting” – handy and worthwhile for some, we imagine – although during our brief play we found B&O’s presets hit the spot for the content being shown anyway.
One of the demo clips is the concert scene in Bohemian Rhapsody, in 4K, HDR and Atmos. It’s a clip we’ve played ourselves many times, through many pieces of kit, this year, an easy go-to for its innate musicality, enveloping crowd and interspersed dialogue.
While perhaps we’ve heard some soundbars display a greater sense of height (such as the aforementioned Sony, and Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar), the Beosound Stage does well to convey the sonic enormity of the occasion, with crowd cheer and participation sounding big and room-filling. Does it do Atmos soundtracks full justice, though? That’s something only a full review will answer.
We’re satisfied with the clear projection and body of dialogue, and those decent-sized woofers put in their work to do actor Ben Hardy’s drum playing justice. Just don’t expect the floor-rumbling bass you could get from an external sub with a woofer three times the size – the Stage’s woofers are clearly capable, but they’re not magic.
It’s generally a musical performance, which we aren’t surprised to hear considering the company’s long and illustrious career in two-channel, and which lends itself to the electronic synth-led music by Spoon that we stream over AirPlay 2 afterwards.
We’re more encouraged than unequivocal of the B&O Beosound Stage’s talents at this point. How it fares against other premium soundbars, with its £1250 price tag, is something we can’t yet be sure of.
Two and a half years ago, Bang & Olufsen set out on a mission to create a simple, one-box speaker for your TV needs. Whether it's truly been worth the wait will be decided in a First Test, but for now we’re just glad it’s finally here.