When it comes to audio gear, I’m more of a headphones guy, a very personal music listener who occasionally invest on high quality cans, DACs and high-res music.
So bluetooth portable speakers, which have been increasingly popular among millennials, aren’t exactly the go to audio equipment for me.
I’ve tested several bluetooth speakers in recent years, and they’ve never really persuaded me to take my headphones off.
Perhaps it’s because I like my audio listening experience wired and I’ve actually lived through the early days of wireless audio gear with badly compressed sound.
But I thought I’d give portable bluetooth speakers a chance this time around and find out how far they’ve come.
The guys at Bang & Olufsen Brunei was kind enough to loan me their demo unit of the Beoplay A1 bluetooth speaker for this full review (an official first for Geekturf!).
A premium bluetooth speaker
When you hear the name Bang & Olufsen, you just know that you’re going to get incredible sound, but out of a bluetooth wireless speaker, now that’s actually quite intriguing.
The BeoPlay A1 is the Danish company’s most affordable bluetooth speaker in its wireless speaker lineup, and is also its most affordable product in its entire catalogue.
Retailing at B$399, however, the BeoPlay A1 isn’t exactly cheap considering bluetooth portable speakers generally cost between B$100 to B$300 in Brunei.
But knowing B&O products, you do get what you’re paying for. And in the case of the BeoPlay A1, the company’s entry-level price point of B$399 makes this wireless speaker the most accessible B&O product for anyone who wish to experience the “B&O sound” for the first time.
Even by looking at the speaker itself, you can definitely tell that design and build quality are hallmarks of B&O products.
The BeoPlay A1 is the most elegantly crafted bluetooth portable speaker I’ve seen in years, it makes most of the wireless portable speakers look like a bunch of Fisher Price toys.
The A1’s aluminium casing and smooth finish gives it a very solid feel. Having an aluminium enclosure also means it can take few knocks.
The demo unit loaned to me has already taken a couple of beating from the showroom’s walk-in customers’ accidental drops, and the speaker still works just fine.
Sure the dents are there but they’re so subtle that if I wasn’t told about their existence I wouldn’t have noticed. Of course, you should really take good care of your gear which you’ve paid top dollar for.
I actually like the minimalist ‘hockey-puck’ design of the BeoPlay A1, and the way all the buttons are embedded around the rim.
This rounded design makes the speaker compact and easier to grasp. The portable speaker weighs around 600 grammes, so there’s a bit of heft to it, but lightweight nonetheless.
The demo unit I have with me is the silver model, but there are also other colours available such as sand stone, moss green and deep red, to name a few.
The leather strap also adds a nice touch to the speaker. It practically serves to let you hang or tie the A1 onto pretty much anything.
It’s all about the B&O sound
Generally, wireless portable speakers of this size can’t match a full sound system set up, so I keep my expectations realistic when testing them out. So it’s no surprise that most wireless portable speakers I’ve tested over the years just sound muddy and distorted at full volume, while others had overemphasising bass.
The A1 is an exception. After days of testing this unit, I can honestly say that this is my personal favourite wireless speaker, and the first one I would consider getting.
In recent years however, my music tastes have expanded into other genres, such as R&B, pop, hip-hop, dubstep and EDM tunes. This is where the A1 truly shines.
While there’s no stereo separation, which is a given for bluetooth speakers this size, B&O has done an impressive job ensuring clarity, weighty sound with decent bass response in their most compact package.
This is thanks to the 3.5-inch aluminium driver and 0.75-inch tweeter, powered by twin 30-watt class D amplifiers, inside the A1’s speaker grille.
And yes, this speaker can get really loud, but not to a point where it becomes overbearing. The Beoplay A1 disperses sound in all directions when placed on any flat surface.
Even at mid volume, the speaker is able to fill my entire 300 square foot bedroom with clear and crisp sound, it’s as if I have a huge set of speakers installed on my bedroom wall.
There have been instances when a family member walked into the room wondering where the audio was coming from when the speaker was actually in plain sight.
It’s a remarkable feat of engineering in B&O’s part, and made me a true believer of the B&O brand.
The B&O Beoplay A1 also has other cool features and tricks up its sleeve to further help justify your B$399 purchase.
The A1 connects to my iPhone 7 Plus automatically when turned on. I don’t have to fumble through my bluetooth settings to get the unit set up the second time.
B&O offers a supplementary mobile app to go with all its speakers, and the easy-to-use app does a wonderful job integrating the A1’s controls to my smartphone.
If you own a second Beoplay A1 or a friend who owns one brings along to your party, you can set both speakers to play your audio (via the app), each speaker function as left and right channels!
The A1 has a built-in microphone so when paired to your smartphone it can function as a speaker when you take your calls, very handy for when your phone is far from reach.
The speaker automatically shuts down when its idle, and when the battery nearly drains, an LED battery status indicator blinks and speaker beeps to indicate the low battery warning.
While playing, the speaker also lowers the volume to conserve remaining energy without actually disrupting your listening experience.
At that point, it’s off to the charging station you go. Using the reversible USB Type C port, the A1 takes about two and a half hours to fully charge.
For the A1, playing music at medium volume with occasional breaks can get you through the day. B&O advertises its product with “up to 24 hours” of playback.
The A1 speaker is also dust and water resistant.
Of all the excellent products loaned to me for review in the past, the Beoplay A1 is by far the most difficult for me to part with. I’m so in love with this portable speaker that I’m ready to fork out my next paycheck to get one for myself (that’s coming from a guy who’s never really wanted one).
This is an outstanding product for a wireless bluetooth speaker, delivering excellent audio in a portable, rugged design.
In fact, the Beoplay A1 has been around for nearly a year now, and it still holds up pretty well.
It amazes me to find a bluetooth speaker this small could produce this level of clarity you’d typically get on speakers with larger drivers.
I’m sure there are other great sounding wireless portable speakers nearly in the same league as the A1, such as the UE Roll 2 or the Bose SoundLink Mini II, but the fact that B&O has a showroom in Brunei (conveniently located in Kiarong) makes this product an easy pick for those looking for the best possible wireless portable speaker now.
Sure its more on the pricier side when compared to other wireless portable speakers out there, but B&O’s high level of craftsmanship and performance more than justify the A1’s price tag.
To put it in context, for the same amount of money or probably more, you’ll need to spend on larger speakers to match the A1, but you obviously compromise on portability.
My only gripe with the BeoPlay A1 is that there’s only one orientation to rest the speaker. If you want to prop the speaker perpendicular, you’ll want to find something for the A1’s leather strap to hang on to.
Another issue I had was the lack of accessories in the box. The A1 only comes with a charging cable and the product’s literature. It would be great if B&O could at least include a travel pouch, so that I can safely throw the A1 into my backpack.
By the way, we’re giving away a Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A1 speaker to our lucky reader/follower as part of Geekturf’s recent launch.
Simply go to our Facebook or Instagram account and find our promo ad with the A1 speaker featured in it, then like, repost it in your feed and tag three of your friends. Don’t forget to hashtag #geekturf and #bangolufsenbn and also set your accounts to public so that we’ll be able to find you.
We will announce the winner of the draw on May 4.