The Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A1 is an attempt to bring B&O’s world-class home listening experience to a portable Bluetooth speaker. The experiment, for the most part, is a success, thanks to the incredible sound balance, crisp, detailed mids, and elegant design. The experiment’s size and form factor are where it falls short. The speaker is heavy, bulky, and awkwardly shaped, despite the high build quality. I wanted to know everything there was to know about this $250 portable Bluetooth speaker, so I got my hands on one in natural brushed aluminum and used it for a week in NYC.
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Design: Elegant, albeit a bit awkward
The Beoplay A9, a tripod-based circular speaker designed to sit elegantly in the corner of your living room or den, is perhaps Bang & Olufsen’s most well-known product. B&O is well-known among audiophiles with an eye for visual design as a company that values the integration of visual and audio aesthetics. The A1 tries to shrink the circular speaker design and remove it from the tripod. The A1 doesn’t look exactly like the A9; it’s much thicker and, from a shape standpoint, resembles a smoke detector. However, the design language is present.
The finish is described by B&O as “natural,” but it’s actually a mostly brushed aluminum build similar to the original MacBook unibody finish. The speaker’s bottom is made of a tough rubber-plastic material that makes it feel stable and secure when placed on a table.
B&O is well-known among audiophiles with an eye for visual design as a company that values the integration of visual and audio aesthetics.
The leather-corded strap attached to the device is perhaps the oddest design choice. It’s a nice design touch to add contrast, and it can be removed if desired, but it feels odd on a device that is otherwise very minimalist. Another major issue with the design is the thickness of the speaker. That has some implications for the device’s portability, which I’ll discuss in the next section, but I think it’s important to note that my first impression of the A1 when I unboxed it was how much thicker the speaker is than it appears in online photos.
There are about six other colors to choose from, so if you want something a little more vibrant (like Moss Green or Tangerine Red), you have that option—though all of the colors appear to be high-end.
Portability: Bulky and awkward
The A1’s biggest flaw is probably its portability. This speaker is nearly two inches thick and deep from top to bottom, much thicker and deeper than I would have expected from a company that prides itself on thin, sleek devices. Furthermore, rather than opting for a cylindrical or rectangular shape, B&O has created a circle with a diameter of more than 5 inches. All of this adds up to a speaker that doesn’t fit as flat or as easily into a backpack, and at 1.3 pounds, you’ll definitely notice the weight and bulk if you keep it in your bag all the time.
The A1’s leather strap gives you something to hold on to, but the device is otherwise slick to hold, and because the slots that the strap fits into are cut almost exactly to the width of that strap, you’ll have to be picky about a replacement strap if you want to use your own. The design of this device is very nice, so I’m guessing the use case is more “office” than “picnic in the park,” so portability may not be an issue, but it’s clear that sportiness was not a goal of B&O here.
This speaker is nearly two inches thick and deep from top to bottom, much thicker and deeper than I would have expected from a company that prides itself on thin, sleek devices.
Durability and Build Quality: Rugged, but scratchable
The Beoplay A1 suffers from an identity crisis, which is most evident on the durability side of the equation. The first-generation A1 (the one I tested) claims to be splash- and dust-resistant throughout its marketing materials, but there is no official IP rating. To be fair, IP ratings aren’t the be-all and end-all of durability, but they do provide a set of guidelines so that we can all communicate in the same language.
Without one, we’ll have to take B&O’s word for it that this speaker is safe to use near a pool or in light rain. Of course, I didn’t notice any issues in my limited outdoor testing, but I can’t recommend taking it to extra-sandy environments like the beach or leaving it out in heavy rain. However, as previously stated, this speaker appears to be more of an indoor speaker than an outdoor music device.
But it’s not all bad. The speaker grille on the device’s top is made of anodized aluminum, which provides plenty of protection for the speaker cones’ inner workings. When compared to JBL’s adventure-friendly Flip line, the bottom half of the speaker is made of the strongest-feeling rubber I’ve come across in a portable speaker, and that’s saying a lot.
The A1 feels like a tank thanks to these two material components, and I’m confident it’ll survive your bag or a light drop. It does appear to be prone to scuffing and scratching, but that’s probably due to the fact that it’s a high-end speaker. There’s something insane about making any kind of mark on a high-end device.
Connectivity and Setup: Simple and stable
The Bluetooth protocol used in the first-generation Beoplay A1 is Bluetooth 4.2, which provides a range of about 30 meters. If you keep line of sight with the speaker, this is more than enough; however, because Bluetooth 5.0 isn’t available, you won’t be able to connect multiple devices easily, and thick walls and heavy interference may pose a minor issue. If Bluetooth 5.0 is a must-have for you, I’d suggest checking out the second generation of the Beoplay, as it’s one of the major improvements B&O made.
It launched in Bluetooth pairing mode right out of the box, was simple to set up in my iPhone’s Bluetooth menu, and has a button to reenter pairing mode to quickly connect to a new device, as one would expect from a premium device. In my real-world tests, the connection stability was also impressive—I have a lot of Bluetooth devices in my home office, and I had no issues with connectivity, even when my phone was in another room. An aux input is also included for easier wired connection.
Sound Quality: The standout feature
A beautiful design and an equally beautiful sonic response are the two features you look for in a B&O device. In this case, the sound quality takes a slight lead over the design. The spec sheet is pretty clear on the highlights: there are two class D amps, each producing 30W RMS, one driving the 3.5-inch main driver and the other driving the 34-inch tweeter. From 60 to 24,000Hz is covered by the frequency response.
It’s not surprising that the low end is so low—these small format speakers aren’t great at producing bass, so most manufacturers don’t try to go much lower than 50Hz. What’s surprising is that the top end goes up to 24,000 Hz, providing more headroom and sparkle than I expected.
However, it is the listening experience that matters, not the numbers. I’ll be upfront about the sound quality: the A1 doesn’t sound like a bass-heavy JBL speaker or a punchy Ultimate Ears unit. With the A1, you get a much flatter, more detailed response. And there are two reasons for this: First, the speaker is built similarly to their home units, with an emphasis on well-rounded sound quality rather than just bass projection. Second, the speaker appears to be designed to provide the best sound quality when sitting flat on a table, whereas other speakers from brands like Bose or JBL prefer to be placed on their sides.
The A1’s top firing sound is dubbed “True360” by the company. In practice, however, this simply means that the A1 can fill your immediate space more evenly than the other options in this class. The A1 is quieter in general than sportier models from other brands, but this allows for a more balanced listening experience. If you connect the Beoplay app to your phone, you can make a lot of changes to the sound, but I’ll get to that in the software section.
The A1 is quieter in general than sportier models from other brands, but this allows for a more balanced listening experience.
Battery Life: Perhaps an over-promise
The battery life of the first-generation Beoplay A1 is impressive on paper. B&O claims that you can listen to music for up to 24 hours, which is the best battery life I’ve seen on a speaker this size. While the exact size of the battery is unknown, the unit’s weight suggests that the battery is quite large. Unfortunately, I only got half of that battery life in my real-world tests. This could be due to the volume I was listening at and how much I was using the connected app features, but it’s disappointing to see B&O over-promising on the spec sheet.
This speaker’s battery life will vary greatly, but thanks to the USB-C charging port and B&O’s adaptive charging technology, it recharges quickly. There’s also an adaptive playback feature that adjusts the volume automatically when the battery is less than 20% charged. This is alarming at first because it alters your listening experience, but it’s a good band-aid for a battery that’s otherwise lacking.
Software and Extra Features: An impressively intuitive app
From speakers to earbuds and beyond, I’ve seen a lot of bells and whistles offered by connected Bluetooth apps. The majority of the time, these apps are either overly simple or overly complex. I was pleasantly surprised by how simple it is to use the Beoplay app. It recognizes any connected B&O devices and gives you plenty of control once you start it up and create an account.
There are obvious features like battery life monitoring, firmware updates, and so on, but you can also use the app to connect a second A1 for a stereo pair. The best feature, however, is the simple EQ controls. You have five presets to choose from, including ambient, active, and everything in between. B&O doesn’t force you to use the sometimes-confusing EQ sliders and knobs if you want more control. Rather, they provide you with a movable grid that allows you to switch between energetic, relaxed, warm, and bright sounds (mapped on two axes). This is a very visual and simple way to get extremely specific about the sound you want.
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Price: Only for the premium-minded
Unless you find the A1 on sale, you’ll be paying around $250 () for either the first-gen (with better battery life and louder sound) or the second-gen (with better Bluetooth and a slightly more refined design). This is about twice as much as a comparable-volume JBL option, but it’s comparable to other premium brands.
That means this speaker is only for those who want a high-end portable speaker that looks good next to their leather briefcase and MacBook Pro. As a result, you’ll probably only want to buy this speaker if the design appeals to you. While the sound is fantastic, the look and build quality are exactly what you’d expect for the price.
B&O Beoplay A1 vs. Bose SoundLink Revolve+
Because B&O Beoplay A1 claims omni-directional sound, I can’t help but compare it to Bose’s SoundLink Revolve+. You can get a deeper, louder speaker with a much better 360-degree spread for just $50 more. The B&O promises a longer battery life, and the A1’s sound quality, in my opinion, slightly outperforms the Bose. The SoundLink, on the other hand, is a slightly more impressive buy if you want something to fill space a little better for a party.
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The Final Word
The B&O Beoplay A1 is a difficult speaker to recommend because I wasn’t expecting so many compromises at its price point. The battery life claims are dubious, and the lack of a literal IP-rating makes the durability less certain than I’d like for a portable speaker. And, with no Bluetooth 5.0 or premium Bluetooth codecs, this isn’t the high-end speaker that its price suggests. However, the fact that it sounds incredibly rich and looks really amazing sitting on a desk next to you are two very effective factors in convincing you to buy it. If the last two points are important to you, it’s definitely worth a look.