Review: Bang & Olufsen Beosound Level- For a timeless design with an emphasis on premium materials, you can always contact Bang & Olufsen. That will not change with the new Beosound Level, a wireless speaker with extensive streaming options and a finish in luxury materials. Flexibility is just as much an asset, because the Level feels just as well flat on a table as it is right on a cupboard or hanging from a wall.
It may seem strange to people who do not know Bang & Olufsen if we describe the 1,249-euro Beosound Level as one of the most affordable speakers from the Danish brand. However, anyone who sees and grabs this beautiful speaker in real life will understand that price tag better. The Level is not a plastic product or with a design that exclaims: “From me, 100,000 pieces roll off a production line in Shenzhen at a time”. It is also the case that the Level is the entry-level in a series of devices, including the Beosound Balance , Beosound A9 or Beosound 1, which aim higher than an average Sonos speaker.
The Beosound Level can best be described as a luxuriously finished wireless speaker with Chromecast, Airplay 2 and Bluetooth, down to the smallest detail. The handsome design of the wooden version is very distinctive, but it also has some other advantages. At first sight, the Level looks like a larger table model that you can place on a fixed place. Yet it is designed to be very portable and an electrical outlet is not a requirement. The built-in battery lasts 16 hours. It is also special that you can place this B&O in all possible ways. Lay it down on its back on a table, for example, or upright on a sideboard. You can hang the Level on the wall with an optional bracket of 99 euros.
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Level – Specifications
|Dimensions||13.7 W x 9 H x 2.2 D in|
|Playtime||Up to 16 hours|
|Inputs and outputs||1 x Line-in/optical combi-jack; 1 x Ethernet 10/100 Mbit; 1 x USB-C; 1 x Easy Charge Solution|
|Materials||Oak wood, knitted fabric, aluminum, polymer.|
Bang & Olufsen is often seen as a pure design brand. That point of view is too short-sighted, but if you look at a device like the Beosound Level you understand why people think it. How this speaker looks is simply special and controversial, which really seems to confirm that design-first image. Because indeed, the Level is again a wireless speaker that is incomparable in many design areas with anything else on the market.
There are two versions of the Level, of which the version with the copper-colored metal housing and oak slats is by far the most beautiful in our opinion. The second version combines a matt silver color with a dark fabric from Kvadrat. Based on the photos of the manufacturer, not ugly, but still more ‘normal’ than the wooden version that we tested.
The Beosound Level is much larger compared to a typical Bluetooth speaker. The size and shape is even reminiscent of a table radio. However, the device is not that thick, so you can easily place it on a bookshelf or on a crowded kitchen island. Those are things that you can hardly do with a deeper Sonos Five.
As you would expect from Bang & Olufsen, a lot of attention was paid to the design and finish. If you look directly at the standing or hanging Level, the wooden edition shows a series of thin oak slats that span the entire front. As far as we are concerned: beautiful. It is also interesting how those thin strips partly continue along the sides and there end in a full piece of wood with a handsome grain pattern. You can see that the slats are not separate pieces, but slots in a one-piece wood profile. You would think that those slats have a big impact on the sound quality, but B&O is simply a master of DSP adjustments. Thanks to such a sound processor, the speakers adjust their output to compensate for the oak grille. With our test device, you also saw a natural pattern with discoloration in the grid, so that the right side looked a bit darker than the left side. Incidence of light also plays a role, of course, but it ensures that our Level blends well in an interior with many natural materials. Some people may find that natural aspect less rigid.
The wooden grille fits into an equally beautiful, gold-colored frame made of pearl-blasted aluminum. It does not shine, but has a slightly duller finish that matches nicely with the oak. Also beautiful: at the top of the frame there is a dark strip with glowing touch buttons. The feeling of luxury is further fueled if you switch on the proximity sensor. The illuminated keys then dim while listening and gradually light up when you get close. It gives the impression that the Level really reacts to what you do.
Sometimes we also think: “Ok, now you are also going too far with coming up with design elements”. The charger of the Level is a good example of this. Rather than simply providing a USB-C port on the back, there’s a loose gold-colored puck that you insert a USB-C cable into and that in turn fits through a magnetic socket on the Level to charge it. Without a doubt this is a beautiful thing and the technology is well put together. And yes, thanks to the puck you don’t just have a USB cable that lies loose on the kitchen island when you take the Level with you to the bedroom. But in most situations, you’re just never going to see the puck, which makes it feel a bit like design overkill.
Quick set up with Google Home
Connecting the Level to your wireless network is done in a way that is now very familiar to us. Since this is a Chromecast-compatible speaker, setup is exactly the same as with all other speakers and soundbars that have the Google streaming function. And there are now many.
It’s very simple. You open the Google Home app on your mobile device (iOS or Android) and the Level may be found immediately. It helps if your phone has Bluetooth enabled and you are close to the speaker. Then you go through a step-by-step plan to connect the B&O speaker to your wireless network and your Google account, and give it a name. Usually that is the name of a room, but afterwards you can rename the speaker to whatever you want.
In principle, after going through this step-by-step plan in Google Home, you are ready to play music. The Level will immediately appear as an available speaker when you tap the Chromecast icon in one of the many compatible music apps. YouTube Music, Apple Music, Tidal, Qobuz… The list is very extensive. And Spotify? The Level comes with Spotify Connect, so that the speaker can be selected directly in the app of the music service.
Because AirPlay 2 is also built into the Level, you have another alternative to stream music. This option is especially interesting if you have an iPhone or iPad, and it works fine. Airplay offers you some extras if you have an Apple TV 4K, but you can read more about that in the review of that media player. Thanks to Chromecast and AirPlay 2, you also have a way to group the Level with other speakers with those streaming technologies, including devices from other brands.
By the way, you have one last way to play your music wirelessly: Bluetooth. In theory, that is in lower quality than via Chromecast or AirPlay, but it is something you can use without connecting the Level to a WiFi network. Interesting for a terrace or when you move to a holiday home, for example.
There is also an app
At the end of the Google Home step-by-step plan, you will be given the option to install the Bang & Olufsen app. You don’t have to, but do it anyway. Via the B&O app you can adjust the sound character, set the preset buttons (read: link to internet radio stations) and set the built-in room correction function. You can also bypass Google Home and set the Level via the B&O app. With the help of large photos, you will receive a clear explanation of how to set up the speaker. The disadvantage is that Chromecast or voice control with Google Assistant will not work; you always have to set this up via Google Home.
B&O nowadays provides the room correction function on most of its speakers. It sends out a very short test sound – and by short we mean: 2-3 seconds – to determine the acoustics of the room and how your speaker is positioned (loose or against a wall). With that information, the music is adjusted so that it sounds better in your situation. Curious about the effect? After the measurement, you can quickly switch between with and without correction in the app by tapping.
This way you decide whether you think this procedure is worthwhile. Since speaker placement affects the sound, it is recommended to perform the measurement again if you move the Level. As we said, it really doesn’t take long to do.
But is it effective? The impression we got after placing the speaker in different places in the house is a qualified ‘yes’. In our test room hardly any correction is made, in a large dining room / kitchen the basses were somewhat muted. When we placed the Level behind a thick curtain, it sounded extremely dull without room compensation, as you would expect. After the correction via the app, a lot of mid and high detail returned. That is somehow impressive, although we have achieved even better results with Trueplay from Sonos in similar situations . It is even better not to cover your speaker with textile, that goes without saying.
You can tune yourself
We think the sound modes that you can select via the app are still worthwhile. There are a number of fixed options as standard. Like Speech, a good choice for podcasts, or Lounge. Or you can adjust the sound yourself via the Beosonic mode. It’s basically an equalizer, but instead of changing frequency bands as is usually the case, you just slide a cursor in a circle with Bright, Powerful, Warm and Relaxed on the north-east-south-west positions. It works very intuitively and also effectively. We often find the standard B&O sound a bit too dark, this way it is very easy to make it a bit fresher.
You will also find internet radio in the app. It is the only service built into the app, for Spotify and co you have to work via the other streaming options. The easiest way is to search for your favorite stations via the app (this can be done by location and genre) and then put them in ‘My Stations’. Then you can also easily call them up via the preset buttons on the Level itself.
Preset buttons can also be found with many other wireless speakers, and that is no coincidence. We have often heard from manufacturers that a button to quickly play music is a much-requested feature. We understand that. Sometimes you don’t want to reach for your smartphone to play something. If your phone is still charging upstairs on the bedside table while you just want to hear the news at the breakfast table, for example.
Sustainability becomes a theme
The Level should also be the starting shot for a new Bang & Olufsen initiative. The company wants to appear more sustainable. In the future, it wants to ensure that products last a very long time, among other things by making them upgradeable and repairable. That is also the case with the Level. For example, it is the only wireless speaker that we know of with a streaming module that can be replaced in the long term. Which is interesting, because it is not that function that may least withstand the test of time. Who can say whether Google will still support Chromecast for ten years, for example? Or that new iPads from 2030 still use the same version of Airplay as the devices of today?
We find it less surprising that new covers or grills will also be introduced in the long term. Bang & Olufsen has been doing this for some time, at least with certain products. For the disc-shaped A9 speaker, for example, you can buy other legs and covers for quite some time.
In general, audio products have always been more durable than some other consumer electronics, although it depends on the type. Wireless earphones and headphones, for example, rarely have batteries that you can replace. Completely gluing electronics, as pioneered by brands such as Apple, is unfortunately also increasingly common with other electronics. That makes repairing and recycling more difficult, if not impossible. We think it’s a good thing that Bang & Olufsen is taking a different course.
Attention to vocals
The first thing that surprised the Beosound Level is that it sounds quite mature. It really does produce a full sound experience, ranging from basses that plunge deeper than you might expect to fairly good high detail. For example, when we tasted the brand new ‘Let My People Go’ release by saxophonist Archie Shepp and pianist Jason Moran, we were surprised by the purity of the high notes that Shepp achieved with his sax. The piano tones also sounded quite full and with a lot of texture. It’s the kind of music that clearly goes well with this speaker.
With Arlo Parks’ poetic indie pop, her voice disappears into the bigger picture, despite the fact that you notice that B&O has paid a lot of attention to vocals. It’s also a bit in the warmer tuning of B&O. Via the app we set the Level a bit brighter, after which Parks comes more to the foreground. It is a piece of control that you have as a user that you often miss with the competition. Usually the best you can hope for is a control for bass and one for treble.
With more complex, dynamic pieces of music you get a lot of emotion at the B&O, although there is compression when a gang of musicians give everything.
We notice, for example, when the entire orchestra bursts out with ‘Zu Asche, Zu Staub’, known for the tight-knit nightclub scene from the TV series ‘Babylon Berlin’. At other times in that song, such as with the drum solo that builds the tension, the Level does convey enough finesse to get you carried away.
It might be a stylistic clash to feed a beautiful design thing a bombastic techno track like ‘Tron Legacy (End Titles)’ by Daft Punk, but it is a genre that can handle the level in terms of basses and tight rhythms. You are not going to experience subsonic basses now, but it is certainly not a dull affair.
Of course, the Level remains – just like almost all wireless speakers – a single speaker that tries to create a stereo image. This is only possible to a limited extent. Don’t expect a spacious soundstage where musicians are placed. The speaker is very strong in radiating music broadly, especially if you choose ‘freestanding’ in the app. You can safely call it room-filling, which is very nice when you are looking for a soundtrack for whatever you are doing at that moment. For example, a retro playlist with the songs from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ while cooking.
Incidentally, we learn from the specs of the Level that you can combine two devices into a stereo pair. We only had one device to visit, so we were unable to test it. But usually a stereo pair offers a huge upgrade in terms of experience, even in situations where you sit down and listen consciously.
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Level – Conclusion
The Bang & Olufsen Beosound Level is an expensive wireless speaker. It costs more than even the highest models from rivals such as Bluesound, Harman Kardon or Sonos. At the same time, you have to take a look at those devices and then at the Level to see what you’re paying for: a much more timeless product that really looks good and luxurious. The fact that Bang & Olufsen also states that it wants to keep the Level (and other products) usable for decades is a plus. One that we’d like to see on more streaming audio products, by the way.
The BeoSound Level is not just a design thing, it is also a very competent wireless speaker that makes it easy to play music. Also a nice replacement for your old table radio.
Positives of Bang & Olufsen Beosound Level
- Room correction
- Handy app with an accessible equalizer
- Very successful, luxurious design
- Built to last
- Room filling, with good vocal performance
Negatives of Bang & Olufsen Beosound Level
- Higher price range
- Remote is an additional purchase