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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Rich, detailed sound
Beautiful, sturdy B&O design
Intuitive app functionality
Prone to scuffs and scratches
The Beoplay A1 speaker is for committed B&O fans who want detailed sound, but it’s not the best option for the casual Bluetooth speaker user.
The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A1 is an experiment in bringing B&O’s world-class home listening experience to a Bluetooth speaker that fits in your bag. For the most part, the experiment is a success, thanks to the unbelievably balanced sound, crisp, detailed mids, and elegant design. Where the experiment falls short is in the size and form factor. While the build quality feels very premium, the speaker is heavy, bulky, and awkwardly shaped. I wanted to get the whole story of this $250 portable Bluetooth speaker, so I got my hands on a natural brushed aluminum unit and gave it a spin for the better part of a week in NYC.
Bang & Olufsen is perhaps best known for its extraterrestrial-looking Beoplay A9—a tripod-based circular speaker that’s meant to sit elegantly in the corner of your living room or den. Most audiophiles with an eye for visual design know B&O as a company that takes the pairing of visual and audio aesthetics seriously. The A1 tries to take that circular speaker design, shrink it down, and pull it off the tripod. The A1 doesn’t exactly look like the A9, it’s much thicker, and from a shape perspective, it looks a little like a smoke detector. But the design language is there.
The finish was what B&O calls “natural,” but in actuality, it’s a mostly brushed aluminum build that’s not dissimilar from the original MacBook unibody finish. The bottom of the unit is built of rugged rubber-plastic material that makes putting the speaker on a table feel stable and secure.
Most audiophiles with an eye for visual design know B&O as a company that takes the pairing of visual and audio aesthetics seriously.
Perhaps the oddest design choice is the leather-corded strap tied into the device. It’s a nice design touch to add some contrast, and it can be removed if you want, but it does feel weird for a device that is otherwise very minimalist. The other main gripe you might have with the build is how thick the speaker is. That has some implications for the device’s portability, which I’ll get to in the next section, but I think it’s important to note that my first impression when I unboxed the A1 is how much thicker the speaker is than it looks in pictures online.
There are also about six other colors to choose from, so if you want something a bit flashier (like Moss Green or Tangerine Red), then that option is available to you—though all of the colors do look premium.
Portability is probably the biggest negative of the A1. From top to bottom, this speaker measures almost a full two inches, making it much deeper and thicker than I would have expected from a brand that typically puts a strong emphasis on thin, sleek devices. What’s more is, rather than going for a cylindrical or rectangular design, B&O has made this a circle that measures more than 5 inches in diameter. This all amounts to a speaker that doesn't fit quite as flat or quite as easily into a backpack, and at about 1.3 pounds, you’ll certainly feel the weight and the bulk if you leave this in your bag as a permanent fixture.
The leather strap affixed to the A1 does give you something to grab on to, but the device is otherwise slippery to hold, and because the slots that the strap fits into are cut almost exactly to the width of that strap, you’ll have to be particular about a replacement strap if you choose to swap in your own. The design of this device is really nice, so I’m thinking that the use case is more “office” than it is “picnic in the park,” so portability might not be the biggest deal, but it’s clear that sportiness was not a goal of B&O here.
From top to bottom, this speaker measures almost a full two inches, making it much deeper and thicker than I would have expected from a brand that typically puts a strong emphasis on thin, sleek devices.
The Beoplay A1 has a little bit of an identity crisis and nowhere is that more apparent than on the durability side of the coin. The first-gen A1 (the one I tested) claims up and down on its marketing materials that it is splash- and dust-resistant, but there doesn't appear to be an official IP rating. IP ratings aren’t the end-all, be-all of durability to be fair, but they put a set of guidelines out so that we’re all speaking the same language.
Without one, we’re just taking B&O’s word that this speaker will be safe next to a pool or in some light rain. I didn’t notice any issues in my modest outdoor testing of course, but I can’t in good faith recommend bringing this to extra-sandy environments like the beach or leaving it out in any heavy precipitation. But as I mentioned above, this speaker looks and feels more like an indoor speaker than an outdoorsy music device.
It’s not all bad though. The speaker grille on the top of the device is a very strong anodized aluminum that provides plenty of protection to the inner workings of the speaker cones. The bottom half of the speaker is made of the strongest-feeling rubber I’ve come across in a portable speaker, and that’s saying something when you compare it to the likes of JBL’s adventure-friendly Flip line.
These two material components make the A1 feel like a tank, and I’m confident that it’ll survive your bag or a light drop. It does seem prone to scuffing and scratching, but that’s likely due to the fact that the device is a premium-looking speaker. There’s just something mental about getting any sort of mark on a luxury device.
The Bluetooth protocol at play in the first-gen Beoplay A1 is Bluetooth 4.2, giving you about 30 meters of connectivity. This is more than enough if you keep line of sight with the speaker, but because there’s no Bluetooth 5.0 here, you can’t easily connect multiple devices, and thick walls and heavy interference might pose a slight problem. If Bluetooth 5.0 is a huge requirement for you, I’d recommend looking at the second generation of the Beoplay as it’s one of the main updates B&O brought to the table.
As expected with a premium device, it launched in Bluetooth pairing mode right out of the box, was easy to set up in my iPhone’s Bluetooth menu, and has a button to reenter pairing mode to easily connect to a new device. The stability of connection was also impressive in my real-world tests—I have a lot of Bluetooth devices connecting to each other in my home office, and I had no issues with connectivity, even when my phone was in the other room. There’s also an aux input for easier wired connection.
The two features you look for in a B&O device are a beautiful design and an equally beautiful sonic response. In this case, the sound quality edges out the design by a bit. The spec sheet is pretty clear on the points of interest here: there are 2 class D amps, each giving you 30W RMS, one powering the 3.5-inch main driver, and the other powering the ¾-inch tweeter. The frequency response gives you coverage from 60 to 24,000Hz.
That low end isn’t surprising—these small format speakers aren’t particularly good at producing bass sounds, so most manufacturers don’t try to pump out much below 50Hz. What’s surprising here is to 24,000 Hz at the top end, providing more headroom and sparkle than I was expecting.
But it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the listening experience. I want to be honest about the sound quality here—the A1 doesn’t sound like a bass-heavy JBL speaker or a punchy unit from Ultimate Ears. You’re getting a much flatter, more detailed response with the A1. And that’s for two reasons: First, the speaker is designed like their home units, with an ear for well-rounded sound quality, rather than just projecting bass. Second, the speaker seems to be designed to give you the best sound quality when it is sitting flat on a table, whereas other speakers from brands like Bose or JBL tend to want you to lay the speaker on its side.
The top firing sound from the A1 gives you what they’re calling “True360” sound. But in practice, this just means that the A1 can fill your immediate space in a much more even way than other options in this class. In general, the A1 is much quieter than sportier models from other brands, but this allows you to have a much more even-keeled listening experience. There are also a lot of tweaks you can make to the sound if you connect the Beoplay app on your phone, but I’ll get to that in the software section.
In general, the A1 is much quieter than sportier models from other brands, but this allows you to have a much more even-keeled listening experience.
On paper, the battery life of the first-gen Beoplay A1 is very impressive. B&O claims you can get up to 24 hours of playback, which is the best battery life I’ve seen on a speaker of this size. While it isn’t clear how big the battery itself is, the weight of this unit would imply that the battery is pretty sizable. Unfortunately, in my real-world tests, I was getting half of that battery life. This could be due to the volume I was listening at and how much connected app features I was using, but it’s a shame to see B&O over-promising on the spec sheet.
Your mileage is going to vary a lot with this speaker, but thanks to the USB-C charging port and B&O’s adaptive charging tech, the speaker recharges itself pretty quickly. There’s also an adaptive playback function that automatically optimizes the volume when you get lower than about 20 percent charge. This is alarming at first because it changes your listening experience, but it’s a nice band-aid on an otherwise lackluster battery.
I’ve seen a lot of bells and whistles offered by connected Bluetooth apps, from speakers to earbuds, and beyond. Most of the time, these apps are either way too limited or way too complicated. I was pleasantly surprised by just how easy the Beoplay app is to use. Once you fire it up and make an account, it recognizes any connected B&O devices and puts plenty of control at your fingertips.
There are obvious functions like monitoring battery life, updating firmware, and the like, and you can also use the app to connect a second A1 for a stereo pair (a nice way to give yourself a wider soundstage). But the best feature is the intuitive EQ controls. There are five presets at your disposal, giving you ambient sound, active sound, and everything in between. But if you want even further control, B&O doesn’t force you to use sometimes-confusing EQ sliders and knobs. Instead, they give you a draggable grid that lets you shift between energetic, relaxed, warm, and bright sounds (mapped on two axes). This is a very visual, very easy-to-use way to get hyper-specific about the sound you want.
Whether you’re getting the first-gen A1 (with better battery life and louder sound) or the second-gen (with better Bluetooth and slightly more refined design), you’re going to be paying about $250, unless you find the A1 on sale. This is about double what you’ll spend from a similar-volume JBL option, but is in line with other premium brands.
That means that this speaker really is only for those who want a premium portable speaker—one that feels at home alongside your leather briefcase and your MacBook Pro. As such, this speaker is likely only worth it if the design really speaks to you. While the sound is incredible, it’s the look and build quality that really aligns with the price point here.
Because B&O is promising omni-directional sound, I can’t help but pair it against the SoundLink Revolve+ from Bose. For just $50 more you can get a deeper, louder speaker that offers a much better 360-degree spread. The battery life B&O promises is better, and the sound quality of the A1 edges out the Bose a bit in my opinion. But if you want something that will fill space a bit better for a party, the SoundLink is a slightly more impressive buy.
A premium little speaker with a few trade-offs.
The B&O Beoplay A1 is a tough speaker to recommend because at its price point, I wasn’t expecting so many trade-offs. The battery life claims are suspect and the durability without a literal IP-rating isn’t quite as definitive as I’d like for a portable speaker. And with the lack of Bluetooth 5.0 and any premium Bluetooth codecs, this isn’t the premium speaker the price point would imply. But two very effective factors in convincing you to buy this are the fact that it sounds incredibly rich and looks really amazing sitting on a desk next to you. If those last two points meet your priorities, then it’s certainly worth a look.
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