There are few more contentious topics in technology than fashion. For some it is a fundamental prerequisite in anything and everything they buy, for others it is a superfluous luxury symptomatic of an excuse for high prices and a lack of substance. Bang & Olufsen’s staggering BeoPlay A9 is unlikely to convince members of either camp to change sides, but they should at least be able to agree on one key aspect: there is no lack of substance here.
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9 — Design
We could spend quite some time on this section, but as pictures famously tell a thousand words we don’t need to tell you the A9 makes quite the first impression. Both minimalist in styling yet attention grabbing in its shape, the A9 will blend into a room and draw attention to itself in equal measure.
Part of the reason for this is size. The A9 is a whopping 700mm in diameter, stands 908mm tall and weighs 14.7Kg — the latter two figures include its striking wooden legs. Interestingly enough the A9 has a sunken carry handle at the rear so it can be moved around the home, but we suspect it will find a primary place in the home or workplace and stay there.
That said placement is surprisingly flexible as the A9 has three audio modes (wall, corner and freestanding) and there is no unsightly power brick to hide because the transformer is built in.
A nice touch is the top edge of the A9 hides tactile volume controls which work with just a swipe of the hand right or left. We can’t imagine this will be your primary method of volume control, but it is fun for showing off the device to friends.
Up close and personal build quality is predictably strong. The actual construction materials are no great shakes given moulded plastics are used front and back, but they seem durable with tasteful matt finishes, well put together and held in place with a steel brand. In any case the front is typically covered by fabric with white, grey, black, brown, green and red covers available (white is included by default).
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9 — Performance
Despite the unusual design, B&O has managed to cram the A9 full of goodies. Inside you’ll find a substantial 8in woofer powered by a 160 watt amplifier plus two 3in midrange drivers and two 3/4in tweeters each powered by class D 80 watt amplifiers. This totals a dizzying 480W and while watts rarely tell the whole story, here they proved a very good indicator of what lay in store.
The A9 is an absolute powerhouse. B&O claims it will fill not just large rooms, but sprawling open plan loft apartments and while we didn’t have the latter at hand based on our experience we wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. It isn’t just the window shaking volume of the A9 which impresses though as we were even happier about the quality of its sound reproduction.
Sound separation is excellent too with the wide diameter and curved front doing a fine job of dispersing channels around the room. Yes a HiFi separates system or x.1 surround sound system by definition would spread sound more evenly around large open spaces, but the ability of the A9 to compete with them should not be underestimated.
Quibbles? Very few. AirPlay continues to display a frustrating play/pause/skip lag that is inherent to the technology, but B&O has brought it down to two seconds which is about as good as it gets and adjusting the volume is instant. Elsewhere there is a touch of distortion at full volume, but quite frankly this is so loud that unless you are planning a party designed to replicate the shouting-in-ears experience of night clubs you won’t run into it often.
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9 — Value
We know what you’re thinking: the real concern comes from the price. Yes and no. Certainly the £1699 RRP is going to cause many to wince and run and yes the anti-fashion brigade will point out that you can achieve similar performance for less in a separates system, but this isn’t really the point. The point is the A9 is a radically, but beautifully designed single unit that can genuinely stand toe-to-toe with high end HiFi and home cinema surround sound systems. It is both style and substance and there is nothing quite like it on the market. If you can afford it, surely that is a premium worth paying for.
The B&O BeoPlay A9 is both bonkers and brilliant, radical and subtle, style and substance and these aren’t qualities we see very often. For sure it won’t suit all tastes, budgets and properties but it should be celebrated for daring to be different and succeeding in tremendous style. Now B&O give us an A9 Mini…