Braun Electronics products are iconic in many ways. Technically, they were ahead of the competition in many respects, and the unmistakable design language still reverberates.
Because the design language of Ive is unmistakably based on Rams Braun products, the former design boss at Braun is considered the grandfather of Apple design. For example, the iPod, the iOS pocket calculator, the Power Mac G5, and the iMac have clear parallels with earlier Braun products.
The speaker unit 1 and the LE01
Braun has now brought one of these design icons back to life. Namely, the Braun LE1, which stands for loudspeaker unit 1. Dieter Rams designed the 1959 LE1 and recently relaunched it as a smart, connected speaker dubbed the Braun LE01.
The design of the LE01 is almost an exact copy of the original LE1. In addition to the new flagship, there is a smaller LE02 and an even smaller LE03, which I could test extensively.
As little design as possible
Even if the defining foot is not present on the smallest Braun loudspeaker, the design of the LE03 is still based on the great model from the 1950s. The look is also based on the ” 10 theses for good design ” formulated by Dieter Rams in the 1970s.
One thesis is ” Good design is as little design as possible, “which means that functionality should always be in the foreground. The decorative element should never get out of hand and should always be subordinate to practicality.
The look of the LE03
All of this applies exactly to the Braun LE03: the look of the smart speaker is simple, minimalist, no frills, and completely timeless. There are 6 buttons on the top, a power jack, a 3.5mm AUX-in jack and a fixture for mounting on a floor stand on the back.
With this pompous history, the design of the LE03 is virtually untouchable. But how does it look under the hood? How does the smart speaker fare in everyday life – quite apart from its iconic look, which seems to protect it?
The sound quality
In any case, the sound is excellent for a speaker of this size. The LE03 can always fill a small room with sound. In this respect, the small speaker is primarily suitable for the kitchen, bathroom, office, or even the living room as background sound.
If it should get a little louder and more powerful, the LE03 then reveals some weaknesses, which is not surprising given the smaller design. Especially in the bass range, the speaker unit 03 from Braun is quite lacking.
So if you want to get close to a hi-fi experience, you should rather look to the larger Braun speaker units LE02 and LE01. Even if I couldn’t try these speakers, they promise significantly more power and range in sound quality.
Nothing works without Google
But what makes a smart and networked speaker is the software and the app used to operate the entire work in everyday life. Even if Braun’s LE series is positioned as a Sonos competitor, it quickly and clearly shows that there are huge differences to the top dog in networked speakers.
While Sonos has its in-house smartphone app at the heart of the ecosystem, Braun has outsourced this fundamental part to Google. For example, if you put the LE03 into operation, you start in the Braun audio app but quickly end up in the Google Home app, where the speaker is set up and configured.
The Braun audio app, on the other hand, is only used to adjust the speaker’s sound settings. This is done on the one hand via a predefined sound profile based on the installation location and the other using treble and bass sliders.
Otherwise, the Braun Audio app only provides brief instructions on playing the LE03: Bluetooth, AirPlay2, Chromecast, and AUX-In. Streaming services or the like cannot be found in the Braun app.
The connection options
Those are the ways you can get music on the Braun speaker. So if you use Spotify or another streaming app, you must rely on AirPlay2, Chromecast, or Spotify Connect.
For example, if you want to listen to the music from a YouTube video through the speaker, you can use Bluetooth, and if you want to connect a record player, you can do so via the 3.5 mm AUX input.
No dedicated desktop app
So there are plenty of options for supplying the smart Braun speaker with music, all of which work wonderfully if you use a streaming app on an iOS or Android device: If you use an iPhone, you will mainly use AirPlay2, Android -Users will do the same with Chromecast.
Controlling the Braun LE03’s music playback via a laptop or browser, on the other hand, is a bit of a hassle. This is the major disadvantage of this configuration. With MacBooks, AirPlay2 works via the in-house music app or Spotify Connect. In contrast to Sonos, no dedicated desktop app for the Braun speaker allows full access to the functions.
Multi-room and stereo pair
The Google Home app offers fewer setting options than the Braun Audio app. Only the LE03 appears as a smart home element, but no settings can be made.
However, the Google Home app creates a multi-room system from several Braun speakers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t examine this part of the range of functions under the microscope because I only had one speaker available for testing.
In addition to the multi-room capability, 2 Braun speakers can also be connected to form a stereo pair. Unfortunately, the LE03 cannot serve as a satellite speaker for a surround system.
The integrated Google Assistant, which can accept voice commands, is also a central component. According to the manufacturer, if you don’t think much of this function, you can physically disconnect from the microphone with the private mode button on the device. Amazon Alexa or other voice assistants are not available on the Braun LE03.
Brown vs Sonos
While Sonos offers its users home with the extensive Sonos app, the networked Braun speakers have nothing to offer in this form.
The Braun audio app has no streaming services, internet radio, or similar services integrated.
Inputs and connections
The networked Braun speakers come standard with a 3.5mm AUX input and Bluetooth, giving them a high degree of flexibility.
The new Era speakers from Sonos now also have Bluetooth and an AUX input. This is usually not the case with other or older Sonos components.
As is well known, Sonos is not very easy to discuss on Google – a protracted patent dispute sends its regards. The Sonos speakers can only be addressed with Amazon Alexa or the in-house Sonos Voice Control. The Google Assistant is not available.
With Braun‘s LE speakers, it’s the other way around. Since the Braun speakers are deeply integrated into the Google Home system, they can only accept voice commands via Google Assistant.
Surround, stereo and multi-room
With Sonos, depending on the model, it is possible to combine the individual speakers into stereo pairs or to use them as satellites or front speakers in a surround system. Multi-room is the flagship at Sonos, anyway.
The Braun speakers can also be connected in stereo pairs but cannot be used as surround units. They are also multi-room capable – but unfortunately, I couldn’t test that.
The sound quality
Regarding sound quality, there isn’t much to complain about with the LE03 from Braun – as long as you set the standards correctly for the small design. I cannot make any reliable statements about the larger LE02 and LE01. The sound quality of the Sonos speakers isn’t too bad, either.
When comparing prices, it depends on the respective models: The Sonos Era 100 costs 261 euros and is most comparable to the Braun LE03 at 199 euros. With the larger speakers, it looks the other way around.
Sonos Five, the largest loudspeaker in the range, costs 582 euros (RRP). The Sonos Era 300, located slightly below the Five, is available for 496 euros. The largest Soundbar Sonos Arc is available for 789 euros.
The medium-sized Braun LE02 already costs 749 euros. The Braun flagship, the LE01, exceeds all Sonos components for 1,199 euros.
With the LE speakers, Braun has resurrected a design icon whose look is truly timeless. The LE03 is compact and simple and can be integrated unobtrusively into any environment. There is hardly any criticism of the sound quality of the small speaker.
Anyone expecting an all-encompassing app to operate the smart Braun speakers will be disappointed. However, such is not necessary because the LE speakers’ connection options are completely sufficient to play all possible music sources via the speakers.
However, it would be best if you weren’t Google-shy. Because without a deep-reaching Google Home connection, the Braun speakers cannot even be put into operation. The Braun speakers are probably out of the question for those who want to have as little to do with Google as possible or don’t have a Google account.
Overall, the Braun LE03 is a compact, good-looking, connected speaker that offers a high degree of flexibility and is perfectly adequate for filling medium-sized rooms. At 199 euros, it is even significantly cheaper than many comparable smart speakers.