Bang & Olufsen have a heady reputation for delivering high quality audio visual products. Realizing that times are changing, they have decided to expand their horizons and reach out to a new audience with the introduction of a new range of products to be released under the moniker of "B&O Play". The new line-up is expected to embody a more playful ethos and bring forth products that represent the fashion and trends of modern time.
One of the first products to be released to the public under the new banner of B&O Play is the new Beolit 12 Portable Speaker. The masses were given a glimpse of the device at CES 2012 and the Beolit 12 has been on sale for over week now in Singapore. We were given a chance to clock in some quality time with the portable speakers at the Bang & Olufsen showroom located at the Grand Hyatt on Scotts Road, Singapore.
While the Bang & Olufsen representatives present at the event were eager to stress the new playful direction that the B&O Play range is seeking to adopt, first looks at the Beolit 12 do not corroborate their stance. The portable speakers are stylish and chic, but the dark gray version we were shown looked staid and somber. Multiple color options such as yellow, silver and blue are expected in the coming months and might spruce up the product’s image to be more in line with the company rhetoric.
The portable speakers themselves sport an aluminum mesh which is a highly popular choice in this particular product category and can also be found on other devices such as the Jawbone Jambox. Build quality is top notch as one can always expect from Bang & Olufsen. A premium feel to the Beolit 12 is added by the presence of an Italian leather strap meant to that is meant to facilitate carrying of the device. Danish furniture designer Cecilie Manz is behind the design of the product and on the whole the speakers resemble a wicker basket in shape. Personally, we don't favor its design and much prefer the looks of the BeoSound 8, but beauty always lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Playback from the device is possible via AirPlay for Apple devices, wireless network, 3.5mm line-in and USB inputs. The provision of all these options meant that the Beolit 12 can be used to provide audio for a whole host of iOS, Android and other devices. Before the portable speaker can be used, they will need to be configured for your network and this is possible by hooking them up to your computer with the help of the Ethernet port provided (though we prefer if there were another option to make it even more user friendly). USB charging for your device and a storage compartment for the main power cable complete the list of features. Yes, this device isn't made with an iDevice dock in mind and instead forgoes it for a more universal approach to appeal to all users.
Under the hood, the Beolit 12 sports a 2.1-speaker system in stereo configuration. Dual 2-inch full range drivers handle audio duties and a 4-inch woofer helps out with low frequency performance. This makes the Beolit 12 one of the largest portable speakers we have come across to-date. Contenders like the Jawbone Jambox and the Soundmatters FoxL v2 are veritably dwarfed in comparison and the Beolit 12 is still approximately twice the size of the Bose SoundLink. In fact, it rekindled thoughts of the famous Canon Selphy bucket photo printers in size and form.
The large dimensions are said to have been adopted because of Bang & Olufsen’s commitment to providing the highest quality audio performance from a portable speaker. Which brings up the question, how good is the Beolit 12? Armed with our iPod Classic, we plugged in via the 3.5mm port and gave some of our standard test tracks a spin.
Low frequency performance is a struggle for most portable speakers due to their small size. Seeing that the Beolit 12 is equipped with a 4-inch woofer, we don't expect it to falter on this aspect. Listening to DJ Tiesto’s Elements of Life proved our assumptions correct as the speakers dutifully handled the techno track’s low registers to decently. Similarly, the heavy distortion on Sail On Soothsayer was reproduced in all its crunching glory. Great transient response made the shakers on Hotel California by The Eagles come alive.
However, treble performance was a bit of a mixed expectation. On our usual test tracks such as Melt My Heart To Stone, the Beolit 12 gave a good showing of itself. The mid-tones of U2’s classic Walk On were also rendered with ease. But when tasked with playing Scumbag Blues by Them Crooked Vultures, the highs seemed to be lost in the overall mix. Obviously a closer and more thorough listening session is required before we can give a definite verdict. Our suspicion is that some EQ tweaking on your source device might be required to get the most out of the Beolit 12.
The only contender which could somewhat match the proposition offered by the Beolit 12 is the Bose SoundLink. The Jawbone Jambox and the Soundmatters FoxL v2 are both too small to compete with the new B&O Play device on even footing.
Comparing the two, the Beolit 12 definitely came out ahead in terms of bass performance. Both devices handled mid ranges comfortably. We would however give the edge with regards to treble performance to the Bose SoundLink based on our limited experience at present. Soundstage for the Beolit 12 was constricted and the portable speakers from Bose came out ahead in this regard as well possibly due to their rectangular, reclined design.
With a total of 120W of power (60W woofer and 30W+30W full range drivers), the Beolit 12 is more than capable of pumping out volume for any surroundings. A battery life ranging from four to eight hours depending on intensity of use also makes it suitable for a variety of situations. Unfortunately the weight and size of the Beolit 12 would make it hard to stow away in a bag and the device will have to be carried in hand by the strap. In our opinion, the only portable aspect of this device is that it can be stowed away in your car to blast tunes all the way to your travel destination, or act as a good external gathering companion. It's definitely not a handy speaker unit.
In the choice between portability and performance, Bang & Olufsen seemed to have favored the latter heavily. This was proved by our listening tests and the fact that the Beolit 12 weighs 2.8kg. Steeply priced at S$1195, the Beolit 12 is available in stores now. It definitely offers a sturdy build quality, top drawer performance and some level of 'portability'. If you don't mind its design, have the cash to spare, a penchant for designer-class branded products and don't mind giving up on portability in return for some extra performance, the Beolit 12 could be your next companion for small gatherings and the likes.