It’s a bit disconcerting walking down the road with this lunchbox-looking speaker knowing that if you get held up, you are going to have to explain exactly how you lost an US$800 product.
It’s not a particularly fancy looking speaker. In fact it doesn’t even really look like a speaker. But the stylish Bang & Olufsen BEOLIT 12 really is a piece of work. You either are intrigued by it or find it plain ugly.
The BEOLIT 12 is B&O’s Airplay speaker offering. This means that you connect it to your Wi-Fi and play music through your iOS device through the magic that allows no wires.
If you happen to not have a Wi-Fi connection — or are outside — you can connect your iOS device via a USB or aux cable.
It has a built in rechargeable battery system that B&O says will play for four hours using Airplay and eight hours using a cable. Very convenient for a day on the beach, or in a park, or even on a boat. I like boats. Just make sure you’re not going out to sea with it, cause then you will lose your very expensive speaker.
Portability and subtlety seem to be what B&O was going for with the BEOLIT 12. If you didn’t know any better you could mistake the speaker for a lunch box or a small cooler box.
The plain box shape makes for a very simple design. There’s no fuss either with only four touch sensitive backlit buttons on the top: two for volume, one Wi-Fi and one all-important power button. If you don’t like the plain grey colour, there are three other colour options. Don’t expect any of them to be outrageous though.
At the back there is a little compartment that houses the plug point for the power and the Ethernet port. The door to the compartment has a little hole for the wires so you can close it while still having the speaker plugged in. There’s also a clip in the compartment to keep the power cord in check, and when I actually was able to clip the cord in, it worked well.
There’s a strap running from one corner to the other across the top. It’s very well connected, making it a pleasure to bring around with you, be it around the house or to the park. But if you’re vegan you’re not going to like it, because it’s leather.
The top of the speaker acts as a tray to put your iPhone or other music device. It’s nice and rubber and the tray is relatively deep, so slippage is not a problem.
I can’t say that much about the Airplay, though. I’m not sure if it was my Wi-Fi at home, but I couldn’t get it to connect, so that option was lost to me. It worked in the office, with a worse wireless connection than at home, but alas, it evaded me. It was a bit of a pain in the ass to set up too. You have to connect it via an Ethernet cable, and then follow instructions on the internet to set up a connection. Once we got it working, though, it was fine.
As soon as the BEOLIT 12 set foot in our office everyone was astounded. That includes me. However, when I brought it home for a good run through of all my favourite songs and genres, the performance wasn’t as profound as we initially thought.
Don’t get me wrong; the sound quality is generally great, especially for the size. It has got two 2.1-inch tweeters and a 4-inch woofer. I used it for my house warming and my musically inclined friends were all to keen to see what ‘the little speaker that could’ had to offer.
I actually couldn’t turn the volume all the way up. It was too loud. And for that, it is one of those little marvels that you wonder at. How could anyone fit so much sound into that little box?
I’ll tell you how: B&O has had to compromise. It’s chosen to boost certain frequencies in the sound at the cost of others. There’s about a 1dB boost in the range of 3-6kHz, which is the typical vocal range and about a 2dB bass boost around 120-200Hz which is where most pop songs have their bass.
The reason for this, I assume, is to cater for the more popular music genres out there. What people look for most in speakers are a crisp high end and a solid bass. While it has these qualities for the most part, the high-mid range is compromised. And that leaves the speakers feeling a bit clinical at times and muddy at others. Having the tweeters set so close together also took a lot of the stereo separation away, leaving you thinking that there was only one speaker playing mono.
On top of this, I found that with certain songs that have a very bassy beginning that continued into the vocals or a higher frequency, the velocity of the bass was cut. It was very subtle, but noticeable nonetheless and was an unwelcome distraction.
It is generally a very crisp sound and mostly accurate. The biggest problem though, is that it auto adjusts the sound to play what it deems as the optimum sound. With some music it just didn’t suffice, but with others (classical music for instance) it was great.
In case you thought you were seeing things at the beginning of this article, yes, the BEOLIT 12 costs US$800. Look, I was being overly critical about the sound, but at the same time, if you are going to be paying that kind of money for a speaker like this (convenience and name brand included) you want something special; you want something superb.
And it isn’t. The design is a hit; portable and stylish, but the sound for my money doesn’t mesh well with me. It always left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. Thing is though, I wish I could still look over at it and say that, accuse it to its face. But I can’t anymore. And to be honest, I kind of miss it.
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