REVIEW: Beoplay A1 Contrast Collection FeaturedWritten by Karl Erik Sylthe
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At the beginning of this year, Bang & Olufsen introduced the Contrast Collection for a selection of their models. We used the opportunity for a review of the classic Beoplay A1 model With a renewed expression.
Beoplay A1 has succeeded in becoming a classic in the market, after it was launched exactly four years ago. This bluetooth speaker that evil tongues could claim has a shape somewhat reminiscent of a hamburger, while people with a look of design would rather draw attention to the ingenious simplicity of the design, where a leather strap can easily be added as much weight as it is far more roughing the chassis. Not least after you become aware that the simple patents with the ball allow the leather strap to function as a handle that locks around the wrist. And then the natural colored leather strap also provides a lovely and warm contrast to the obviously cooler front of brushed aluminum.
Cecilie Manz Studio
Cecilie Manz is a Danish designer born in 1972, educated at the Danish School of Design in Copenhagen (DKDS) in 1997, and took an additional degree at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki in 1998. The same year she started her own design studio in Copenhagen. You will find Cecilie Manz Studio if you walk along Sandgade, a while before crossing the Kartoffelrekkerne on your way to Fredensbro. This is where interior products are designed, primarily for homes.
Cecilie Manz Studio has had a number of products for Bang & Olufsen. In addition to the Beoplay A1, which we refer to here, her studio has handled the design of Beoplay A2, Beoplay P2 , Beoplay M5 and the three Beolit models 12, 15 and 17, where the first two have now gone out of production.
A continuous trend in the products from Cecilie Menz studio is simple and beautiful alignment that points back to traditions in recent Danish and Finnish designs. You may study the design from the Ceilie Manz studio here .
As mentioned in the introduction, the review sample of Beoplay A1 is a variant in a series named Contrast Collection, a series we wrote about in January. Here, B&O has received assistance from the Copenhagen-based office Norm Architects Studio. As the name suggests, this is an architectural office, but an architectural office that has at least as many assignments in interior design.
The task of B&O this time has been to create a new range of colors under the name Contrast Collection, which points to contrasts in material handling and luminance. The series plays on contrasting materials in the gray scale.
The Beoplay A1 Contrast Collection has a speaker cabinet where the most important part consists of elegantly brushed aluminum, a design that gives a distinctive premium look.
By the way, it's not the first time Beoplay A1 comes in a Limited Edition. A year ago, B&O launched a Beoplay A1 Saint Laurent along with a similar version of the big Beoplay A9.
So far we have moved more than usual in the field of design. And it is not because the other aspects of Beoplay A1 do not deserve to be emphasized, but because the design is such an important element in Bang & Olufsen's products, both B&O in general and for Beoplay A1 in particular. And for a writer who is actually an architect in disguise, it is inevitable to focus on design when writing about a product from Bang & Olufsen.
But there are, of course, other things to write about, such as the A1 having two Class D amplifiers each delivering 30 watts, and that the speaker assembly consists of a 3.5-inch midrange and bass, while the treble is maintained by a ¾ inch treble driver.
Beoplay A1 communicates with the outside world and your iPhone via Bluetooth 4.2. Or if you prefer analog connections, there is a 3.5mm mini jack that you can plug into most Sources, at least via an adapter.
B&O's app is a useful tool for most things in the world. At least if you are going to work with a product from Bang & Olufsen. The obviously most useful exercise is to adapt the audio signature to your personal preferences.
It is also possible to combine two samples of Beoplay A1 for a stereo pair. I have not tried this, but a long life has taught me that these kinds of exercises provide a gain in the sound experience that more than exceeds a doubling of the expenses. Not least when we find ourselves in a modest price range.
In addition to the APP, a manual operation is provided. Along the rubberized bottom of the speaker, a number of controls are inserted. That is, the function icon is printed, but no buttons are visible. And here it must be admitted that I was a little fooled initially. For a reflex told me that this must surely be touch operation, even though material in use should really tell a different story. And a light touch made no difference. Not a medium touch either for that matter. Then I noticed that something in this rubberized surface gave way if I just pressed hard enough.
Ok B&O, this may not have been very intuitive. At least not before thinking carefully. For further reflection, of course, this is the obvious solution if you want a robust operation that is not exposed to malfunction by accidental touch. And that is easily done on a bluetooth speaker designed to be on the move.
On the one hand, we find a trio of buttons that respectively provide on-touch playback of the last used source, blue tooth button and a button to activate a hotline for our beloved Siri. Or Google Assist. Or you may use it for a conference call - guess you're a strong candidate for the office's most handsome conference phone owner with a Beoplay A1.
On the other hand we find the on button together with volume up and down. And midway between these are the USB-C input and a 3.5mm mini jack for wired connection to external audio sources.
Battery and charging.
Charging takes place via a USB-C input. This is a pleasant surprise, not least considering that Beoplay A1 was launched four years ago. Not for that - USB-C got on the track long before this launch, but wasn't really that widespread at first.
Charging time is given to 2.5 hours at 5V - 3A charging, and typical power consumption is stated at 15 watts during use and 0.5 watts at standby.
Bang & Olufsen stated that the battery can last up to 24 hours at moderate volume. It will probably require some lower level than I used when with approx. 50% volume made it play for approx. 19 hours. But make no mistake - that's also really good.
The landscape and the sound
The market is full of blue tooth speakers of about this size. But if we narrow the field to Premium models, there will be a far more limited selection.
The Beoplay A1 steps in the neighbourhood of my hotel-room speaker Harman Kardon Traveler, a significantly more compact bluetooth speaker that also has an aluminum housing that gives a premium feel not quite unlike the one created by A1, even though the form i s very different. But HK Traveler is, after all, a far more compact bluetooth speaker, so the Beoplay P2 would have been a far more natural rival for Traveler. In P2 we find a 2-inch main speaker, which more closely matches Traveler's double 1.4-inch. Traveler has a size and shape that makes it excellent for carrying on the inner pocket without being too striking. It can also be used as a conference phone, and indeed as a power bank. But the back of the medal is the sound. Because even though it plays surprisingly well compared to the very compact size, it falls through completely when compared to Beoplay A1.
Then Sonos One is a more natural rival when it comes to sound. Sonos One is of course a completely different concept, with other possibilities and limitations compared to the Beoplay A1. But in terms of sound quality, they are on the same track, although they perform best on slightly different halves. For the area that is Sonos One's obvious strength is where Beoplay A1 has its most obvious limitation. Sonos has good bass control, while the A1's bass rendering becomes far more diffuse and cloudy even though it goes almost as deep. This must of course be seen in the context that the volume in Sonos One is probably four times larger than in A1, and that Sonos One is created to stand still on a shelf
But the point where Beoplay A1 strikes back is on musicality. Because there's something very intriguing and musical about the sound of the A1, after having a round With the equalizer in the Beo app to tame the bass and give the treble a gentle lift.
It should also be added that Beoplay A1 plays best when it is more or less aimed at you. So while it may seem obvious to leave it flat on the table, this is not a placement that provides the optimal result for the sound. Feel free to use the great leather strap to hang the speaker on the wall, or anywhere else where it faces you. This makes the best sound.
The fiddle of Susanne Lundeng gets a nice and warm sound in Hold Dæ på Vingan . And my favorite albums by Bryan Ferry from the 80s - Boys and Girls and Bete Noir engage with their blend of elegance and subtle sound. Solfrid Mollestad's beautiful album Håpets Kappe also comes into its own with Beoplay A1, where her great voice and the sound of fellow musicians get a good sounding bottom in this bluetooth speaker.
On the whole, this works very well in terms of sound, only the music does not become too complex and demanding. Like when Beethoven's 7th symphony is performed by the West Eastern Divan Orchestra with Anne Sophie Mutter as soloist. In the strongest passages, the sense of order for Beoplay A1 is a bit off. It simply doesn't manage to keep track of events as well as a larger speaker usually masters. But then, anything else would have been spooky.
You may have guessed it already. And once again I am tempted to point to the old standard I Fall in Love Too Easily , immortalized by both Miles Davis and decades later by Keith Jarrett Trio. And recorded by countless other artists.
For it is very easy to be captivated by the Beoplay A1, with its beautiful design and great material use. And a sound that is surprisingly good from such a compact design. It once again confirms what is possible to create with the use of modern DSP in an active construction. And then A1 also confirms what can be gained when engaging talented architects and designers!
Recommended price for Beoplay A1 Contrast Collection is NOK. 2.750, -
Read more about Beoplay A1 at B&O
Karl Erik Sylthe
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