The soundbar market is now so overcrowded, with so many entrants from high-end to bargain basement, that perhaps the most remarkable thing about the new Beosound Stage is that this is Bang & Olufsen’s first stab at such a sound system.
Mirroring the design aesthetic seen in B&O’s dancing Beovision Harmony TV that debuted at Milan Design Week earlier this year, the Beosound Stage, due to be released in late October, is what you would expect from the brand in terms of style. It was designed in collaboration with Danish studio NORM Architects with a brief to use simple geometric shapes and natural materials.
The £1,250 soundbar’s simple frame can be specced in aluminium, bronze-tone aluminium or – if you want to pony up for the £1,900 version – smoked oak, complete with traditional dovetail joints. The natural and bronze frames are both made from a single piece of forged aluminium, so no seams. The frame runs all the way around the speaker and the only visible controls are those of the control panel. The cloth covering the speaker itself, which can be upgraded to fancy Kvadrat fabric, is of course acoustically transparent.
Incidentally, if you think you’ve seen a B&O soundbar before, you might be thinking of the Beolab 3500 which became 2016’s Beosound 35. Bang & Olufsen says that while these products had a similar form factor, they were never optimised, sonically or in terms of TV-friendly connectors, to be soundbars. The Beosound 35 was, in fact, designed to be placed above a door or on a stand.
As seems to be the current fashion, B&O says it has created the Beosound Stage to be a soundbar that doesn’t rely on a subwoofer or satellites to create immersive audio for a television. To this end, B&O has squeezed in 11 speaker drivers, each provided power by its own 50-watt amplifier, resulting in a three-channel, active, DSP-based loudspeaker that you can plug into your TV.
The centre channel drivers include four custom four-inch woofers, designed to reduce distortion and allow greater movement, which in the real world should mean improved bass. The mid frequencies of this centre channel are taken care of by two 1.5-inch midrange drivers along with a 3/4-inch dome tweeter. The left and right sides have a 1.5-inch midrange and a 3/4-inch tweeters at each side, which are placed close together at a 45-degrees off-axis angle in what’s known as a baffle design to create a ‘3D’ sound effect. Speaking of 3D, B&O also ticks off one the current soundbar prerequisites with the inclusion of Dolby Atmos, going for that ‘cinema experience at home’ market.
Other familiar features include five different listening modes: TV, Music, Movie, Night Listening or None (which basically means flat EQ, leaving the incoming sound unchanged). Handily, after choosing a mode, it is then possible to fine-tune the sound using Bang & Olufsen’s simple and intuitive ToneTouch equaliser that those familiar to setting the EQ on B&O headphones will be familiar with.
The 8kg Beosound Stage can be placed flat in front of or beneath a TV, as well as wall-mounted on it’s side for a thinner profile. The sound is adjusted depending on the orientation you opt for, but you have to tell the speaker through the accompanying app which way up the Stage is in your own setup. If you want use the speaker as part of a multi-room music system, the usual suspects are included: Chromecast built-in, Apple AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth 4.2 (plus a 3.5mm stereo mini jack, too, if you want to go connected). HDMI boffins will be happy with EARC and ARC support, as well as 4K HDR support.
But has B&O come too late to the party? With so many choices out there, and some with comparable specs, much will depend on B&O finding those potential customers who care just as much about the looks of their tech as the performance. A good rival to bring up here is the phenomenal £2,199 Sennheiser Ambeo (also a first in category from the brand), which gets a perfect score from us for performance yet could never, ever be described as ‘a looker’ and is very expensive. We’d wager that most people would prefer something approaching B&O’s design sensibilities. But then you have the Sonos Beam, which is lovely to look at and costs considerably less than either of these options, though admittedly there’s no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X support to speak of.
Then there is the fact that it remains to be seen how well the Atmos system works on the Stage when you don’t physically have the speakers facing upwards to bounce the sound off the ceiling. DSP can only do so much, after all.
However, mentioning the Ambeo highlights that the Beosound Stage, for a B&O product, is not the most ridiculously priced speaker, being a whole thousand pounds less than the Sennheiser. Perhaps this is the influence of the ‘budget’ side-brand B&O Play being rolled into B&O proper last year. If it sounds as good as it looks, then B&O will have that rare thing in hi-fi, brawn and beauty all in one package.
Read the WIRED Recommends guide to the best soundbar to find out which models we rate above all others
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