Bluetooth speakers are a dime a dozen these days. Some are definitely better than others, but most of the wireless hi-fi units on the market are made by electronics companies rather than heritage audio companies with a foremost interest in sound quality. There are some longtime audio brands out there that take their time and do things right, though. Bang & Olufsen's first ever Bluetooth speaker, the BeoPlay A2, is actually one of the best you can buy.
What Is It?
- Bluetooth: Yes, 4.0
- Frequency Response: 55-20,000 Hz
- Weight: 1.1kg
- Dimensions: 256x142x44mm
- Battery Life: 24 Hours
- Warranty: 2 Years
The $479 Bang & Olufsen (B&O) BeoPlay 2 is a 1.1kg, 256x142x44mm rectangular prism -- quite long and wide, but not especially deep at just under two inches thick. Available in black-on-black, gold-on-grey and champagne-on-green colour schemes, the BeoPlay A2 is quite weighty and imposing for a Bluetooth speaker -- it's in the Jawbone Big Jambox class of speakers, where we're usually used to seeing smaller devices like the UE Mini Boom and the Bose Soundlink Colour
The first thing, apart from its size, that you notice about B&O's first ever Bluetooth speaker is the beautiful full-grain leather strap. A terracotta brown on the green model I reviewed, the strap is tan on the grey and black on the black. This wouldn't normally be worth mentioning, but it stood out to me initially along with the gold, champagne or black colour accents; Bang & Olufsen has clearly put a lot of thought into the design of the BeoPlay A2.
All the A2's buttons, inputs and outputs are arranged across its slightly recessed central section. Up the top, there's a power button, Bluetooth and volume rocker, all of which sit flush with the rest of the body. The strap is threaded through two lugs on the BeoPlay A2's left side, while on the right you'll see a 3.5mm stereo analog audio jack, USB power output and DC power input jack cut into the metal shell.
What's It Good At?
The B&O BeoPlay A2 really is a beautiful piece of technology, even when compared to other attractive Bluetooth speakers. I initially asked Bang & Olufsen for the black model, but got a hold of the green instead and I'm actually glad that I did; the colour scheme is top-notch and it feels like it's expensive (for the most part, at least). A lot of that is helped along by the leather strap, which is probably the nicest accoutrement that I've seen on any Bluetooth speaker. Walk up to a party holding the BeoPlay A2 and someone is going to ask you what it is.
It sounds great, too. B&O is an audio company as well as a design house and the aural signature of the BeoPlay A2 is well suited to its size and intended purpose. Music sounds clear and crisp and there's excellent treble range, but also a goodly amount of lower bass response -- this is one of the best Bluetooth speakers I've heard for low frequency extension. This versatility means it can easily handle anything from beat-driven electronica to vocal and acoustic albums. I'm on a bit of an ambient music and nature noise kick at the moment (it does wonders for productivity, actually), and the BeoPlay A2 faithfully reproduces these tracks without at all sounding stilted or artificial.
With two 3-inch full-range speakers, two 3-inch bass radiators and 0.75-inch tweeters arranged in a novel pattern across both sides of the BeoPlay A2, you get some excellent omnidirectional stereo audio from the speaker as long as you keep it upright -- I didn't enjoy the sound nearly as much when it was laid flat. There is a front and a back, but in a party situation with the speaker turned up you'd be hard pressed to tell which is which.
The BeoPlay A2's battery life really is phenomenal. The speaker's involving sound begs you to use it more -- whether it's on a desk, at home, or out on an excursion -- and I've had it playing music at moderate volume -- around half its maximum power -- for more than an entire day at a time without it running out of juice. B&O quotes 24 hours of playback and I'd say that's more than realistic, given that I've achieved it twice over by now. That comes from smart Bluetooth power management and smart amplification, only supplying power to the speaker drivers as they require it.
What's It Not Good At?
It's a real pity that the BeoPlay A2's speaker grilles, which make up the majority of its chassis and surface area, aren't metal. Instead, they're a slightly compliant plastic; sturdy enough to stand up to punishment and the rigours of everyday use but not quite as premium-feeling as I was hoping for. It's probably an entirely practical and rational decision by B&O -- metal dents, scratches, chips off paint -- but it would have been a nice extra design cue given the high price tag.
The B&O BeoPlay A2 has a 5V USB power output, but at only 500mA current it's not going to have nearly enough Wattage to charge up your large-screen iPhone 6 or Android phablet; it'll maintain the power level of a less energy-intensive device like a mobile broadband Wi-Fi hotspot or a mobile phone with its screen powered off, but especially if you're playing music already on the BeoPlay don't expect to charge up your phone as if you were connecting it to a wall outlet.
Probably the most frustrating thing about the BeoPlay A2 is the fact that it doesn't use a standard microUSB cable to charge its sizeable internal battery. You'll have to bring the DC wall wart charger along with it whenever you travel, instead of using your smartphone's charger and cable to keep it topped up. With its size, though, the BeoPlay A2 isn't really a traveler's Bluetooth speaker -- so we can't criticise it too much there.
Being a product of the design and audio house of Bang & Olufsen, the BeoPlay A2 carries an appropriately high price tag with it. The A2's $479 RRP is a lot of money for a Bluetooth speaker, even one that is as attractive as it. If you're going to buy the BeoPlay A2, make sure you have a lot of house parties and picnics and fancy soirees to show it off at. It feels like it'll stand the test of time and the excellent sound quality and maximum volume certainly win points in its favour, but this isn't an impulse purchase like the UE Boom -- so make sure you get the best out of it.
Should You Buy It?
$479 is a lot of money for the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A2, but that's largely because it's made by B&O; you're paying for the premium design and quality construction. You're certainly not overpaying for its sound quality or for the extent of its battery life, that's for sure.
The design in particular is what will draw most people's eyes to the BeoPlay A2, and there's a very good reason for that -- it is a very attractive Bluetooth speaker. I'd go so far as to say that, in either of the three colours, the A2 is the best designed Bluetooth speaker you can buy today. That leather strap in particular is a beautiful accent.
At the end of the day, though, it's sound that sells a Bluetooth speaker and in this case I'm happy to report that the BeoPlay A2 does not disappoint. Excellent high-range detail and a surprising amount of power in the low end mean that this is a speaker that really can power a party or pump up a lazy Sunday picnic -- no matter how long it lasts.
It's expensive, but if you can find it on sale or at a slight discount somewhere, the BeoPlay A2 carries that hallmark B&O quality and you'll enjoy the experience of listening to it.