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Review: Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9 wireless speaker

Review: Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9 wireless speaker
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Even for a brand specialized in high-profile, iconic design, the A9 speaker is the odd one out. Its large, round shape on three wooden legs is guaranteed to make a splash in every interior. But the Bang & Olufsen A9 is also one of the most powerful wireless speakers on the market. The BeoPlay A9 has been around for a while, in this review we look at the most recent mk.IV version. For the first time there is a microphone for Google Assistant and the smart Active Room Compensation function on board.

Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9

With Bang & Olufsen the temptation is always to see the Danish manufacturer as a kind furniture designer and not as an audio brand. Unjustified and really very briefly, because in terms of audio technology, they have a great deal of know-how available. At the same time, you cannot deny that almost everyone with this BeoPlay A9 will be the first to talk about design. Understandable, because it looks like no other (wireless) speaker. Both the shape (round) and the size (immense) are outliers. Yes, the Teufel Power HiFi that we tested a while ago is towering higher. But in pure watts, this BeoPlay A9 is even colossier than the giant of Teufel. 950 Watt, according to the specifications.

The fourth generation of the BeoPlay A9 adds another piece of innovation to the concept. Version three has already received a major update in terms of sound and this new A9 is the same in that regard. The streaming options that the generation three received (Chromecast, AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth) also remain the same. What's really new with the fourth generation is support for Google Assistant (with built-in microphone) and a function that determines the acoustics of your room based on test sounds – and compensates for them. Thanks to this Active Room Compensation, the A9 gen4 should sound good in any room.

Talking design

The design has hardly changed in this generation four compared to the very first A9 that was presented around eight years ago. . Still it remains surprising and fresh, which is a characteristic of a truly iconic design. If you fall for the A9 design now, chances are that you will still find it good in a decade.

That this fourth generation of the A9 was presented at the Venice Biennale – a high mass for art lovers – may say enough. The design is therefore quite controversial, not least because the A9 from far away does not look like a typical speaker. The large circular shape of about 70 cm diameter reminds you of a satellite receiver from a distance, but you get rid of that delusion quickly closer. The A9 has nothing technological in appearance, thanks to the choice of organic building materials. The three wooden legs on which the A9 rests are even reminiscent of an easel, while the speaker itself is almost completely covered with a speaker cloth. This is Bang & Olufsen and so the curtain is not just over the outer edge of the A9. It slides over a slightly smaller inner ring, so that the speaker cloth itself is surrounded by a metal loop. The supplied power cable is also slightly more chic thanks to a fabric cover. These are details, but it is those small things that give you a high pride-of-ownership feeling.

Many colors and finishes

Do you not want to disturb your interior with a large column speaker? The A9 is not small, but B&O ensures enough color and material choices so that you can adjust the speaker to your furniture and interior colors. There are several versions of the BeoPlay A9 fourth generation on the market, so many that it becomes difficult to name them. The range includes a white version with oak legs and a white cloth that is surrounded by a shiny aluminum ring, a pitch black A9 with a black or gray cover and a black metal border all around, standing on legs from dark walnut, and Versions with light gray or taupé cover made of a fabric from Kvadrat. Yes, the Danish furniture fabricator is already there – we have seen Kvadrat fabrics appear in the last few months everywhere among audio manufacturers. With these special editions, the legs are made of grayish smoked oak and the metal ring around the A9 is in a copper color. The version you choose does have a strong influence on the price. The cheapest BeoPlay A9 costs 2,500 euros, the most expensive 2,750 euros.

If these editions are not entirely your thing, you still have options to completely personalize the speaker. There are currently eight covers available that you can also purchase separately, four rings and four leg versions. Enough options, and you can even choose to remove the legs and hang the A9 on the wall with a bracket. Personally we prefer it on the three legs, bending slightly backwards.

On the positive side, we find that the personalization options are not extremely expensive, certainly not in proportion to the initial purchase price of the BeoPlay A9. For example, a new cover costs around 50 euros, although the Kvadrat versions are more expensive (130 euros). A new set of legs costs 100 euros, a wall bracket the same. There are also third parties who make custom covers for the A9, for example with a photo or inscription. Skiniplay, for example, has a pretty (and also ugly) look. Also good to know is that Bang & Olufsen occasionally releases special editions, for example with covers from famous artists. At the beginning of this year, for example, the Contrast Collection was presented, including a special black and white A9.

The A9 can do more than you think

The BeoPlay A9 is packed with streaming options in its latest version. That makes it very easy to send music from your smartphone or tablet to the speaker. You can connect a source such as a CD or music player, but that is not really handy. You must find the jack input at the back, in a niche that normally has a cover. The buttons for resetting the speaker and the like are also located here.

Streaming after all. Fortunately, there are so many options that you can always have your music played from any platform. Apple users may choose AirPlay 2, so you can also group the BeoPlay A9 with other AirPlay 2 speakers. Doesn't matter which brand. Chromecast offers the same plus: you can cast from almost any music app and if you wish you can virtually place the A9 in a group with other Chromecast products. Both streaming options offer good quality: the quality between source and the A9 is lossless, at least in CD quality.

With Chromecast and AirPlay 2 you already have two ways to virtually to stream all music. If you are looking for an alternative, then you have it in the form of Bluetooth or DLNA. With the latter you can easily play your own music files from a NAS, controlled from a DLNA app such as BubbleUPnP (Android) or mConnect Player (iOS).

Although you can connect the A9 to your network via an Ethernet cable, most people probably opt for WiFi. You can easily connect the B & O speaker to your wireless network via the Google Home app or via the Airplay configuration option on an iPad or iPhone with a recent iOS version.

Compensates for the room

During configuration the A9 will also play some test tones to acoustically measure your room. Depending on what the speaker “hears”, the sound is adjusted, for example to compensate for a placement close to a corner or a window. If you later moved the speaker, this test will be performed again if you plug the B&O device back into the socket. This is necessary, because the position of the speaker strongly influences the sound quality.

Active Room Compensation is similar to features such as Sonos ’Trueplay. Just like the wireless speakers of the American brand, it makes a lot of sense with the Beoplay A9 – and perhaps even more. A design product like this one just gets a place in a room because of the visual effect. You want to park it somewhere in a nice place. But that is not necessarily a place that is acoustically the best. Due to circumstances we could not properly test the impact of Active Room Compensation in our home; our test device was found not to be equipped with it by mistake. We have therefore investigated this function in a B&O store in Antwerp.

Control via app, touch and voice

There is also a Bang & Olufsen own app. It is exactly the same app that you use for other B & O devices, such as the BeoSound Stage soundbar that we have recently tested. We then wrote that this app had limited options and even had some notable gaps, such as no volume control. We have since discovered that the defects are specific to the Android version. The iOS app can do just a little more, such as easily adjusting the volume of the speaker. It is strange that there are such differences, especially since the two versions look very similar. It is true that with Android you can use the volume buttons of your mobile device when casting.

Furthermore, the Bang & Olufsen app is quite pleasant to use. For example, you can easily switch between a number of sound presets and also personalize the sound by moving a sphere in a plane with four sound characteristics (such as 'clear' and 'warm').

It is typically Bang & Olufsen that they also have the physical have not forgotten the service. No, you don't get a remote, just like the BeoSound Stage. After all, B&O thinks in terms of a complete home that is controlled from one remote control, and they have their premium remotes for that. The integrated touch control on the top edge of the A9 is nice. By swiping your hand against or with the hands in the back, you increase the volume, for example. Just tapping around the 12 o'clock point the music pauses, while longer pressing corresponds to mute. There are still some commands. If the speaker is not playing, you can also tap to restart the last music source or otherwise have a TuneIn radio station play.

The novelty of the generation four is of course the built-in microphone . This way you can also control the A9 with your voice and, for example, activate Bluetooth pairing. You can also control other Google Assistant-compatible products via the microphone, such as Hue smart lamps.

Emits music

We have recently tested the first generations of the BeoPlay A9 and therefore know that this speaker is very surprising from the corner can come. Because of its shape and the strategically placed speakers, it produces a huge soundstage, a real wall of sound. It is worth to sit a little further away from the speaker, then you notice how great it sounds and you experience a stereo effect more. Moreover, it is a wireless speaker that is very well controlled by its DSP, so that the sound often remains well balanced and no distortion can be noted even at high volumes.

The newer A9 takes over the display a little further by the addition of extra drivers at the back. It gives the B & O speaker an even bigger soundstage. Basses also sound heavier and deeper than before, although this depends on the settings and the room correction. The newer A9 has therefore become a more versatile, pleasant speaker that has no problems with the pounding basses of Berlin techno.

Many wireless speakers are sold as being stereo products. In reality, it is almost impossible to create a stereo image from one point. The BeoPlay A9 cannot overcome that limitation, but it is getting close.

An interesting consequence of the dish shape is that music is beamed into the room very broadly, so that it sounds roughly the same everywhere in the room . For example, we installed the A9 in a large dining room and kitchen, and were able to step through this space while “Then What” by Balthazar played without it becoming noticeably brighter or brighter somewhere. Unlike a classic speaker, the Bang & Olufsen off-axis has little loss. And that is exactly what you want with a speaker who may have to offer background music at a dinner party or in a lounge.

We also compared the Bluetooth connection to casting, by first 'Seven Nation Army' from The White Stripes from Send Spotify over Bluetooth and then listen to it again via Google Cast. We did not expect it, but the difference was very big. Casting sounded substantially better. It is true that the A9 only supports the AAC codec via Bluetooth (which is disappointing for a device from a hi-fi brand, we expect aptX and / or LDAC), but such a big difference should not result there. By the way, the A9 managed to put down this powerful song with a very tight sense of rhythm. Not even if you drive through the Paul Kalkbrenner Remix by Leonard Cohens ‘You Want It Darker’, although we found it necessary at that point to reduce the bass somewhat via the app. It is worthwhile to keep yourself busy with that. The home noise of B&O may be experienced by some as a bit too dark, and increasing the brightness a little is a good step to get a little more detailed feeling. But that is perhaps personal taste.

Conclusion

The BeoPlay A9 remains a true design icon that also sounds great. The materials and finishes used are at a premium level. And it is also an excellent wireless speaker that, now more than ever, has made few mistakes. Thanks to Chromecast and AirPlay 2 you can stream almost everything, from Apple Music to Spotify. Somewhere we still find it regrettable that you cannot form a stereo pair, a comment we had with the first A9 – but according to B&O there is little demand for that. also makes an outlier in that area. You pay a lot more than with a Sonos or a beautiful Harman Kardon Citation speaker, but in return you get something more talkative and luxurious in terms of finish.

Cons

  • Android app more basic than iOS version
  • Takes a relatively large amount of space

Advantages

  • Really a design showpiece with many personalization options
  • Plays loudly without distortion
  • Chromecast (including Google Assistant), AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth
  • Multiroom possible via Chromecast, AirPlay 2 or BeoLink
  • Effective room compensation

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Source: fussy. nl

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