B&O Play is the fun, fresh and funky younger brother of the storied Bang & Olufsen brand, the Danish audio and home entertainment group that has been in business since 1925. B&O Play is all about modern design and convenience, at a slightly more accessible price-tag than B&O proper -- and it's with that in mind that we're very impressed by the small but mighty B&O Play BeoPlay A1 Bluetooth speaker.
What Is It?
The design is beautiful, and it's surprisingly rugged for a metal cylinder. The $379 B&O Play BeoPlay A1 is shaped like a lovely cylindrical buttercake, with a 133mm diameter across most of its body and a 48mm maximum height -- although both of these are affected by the fact that the speaker curves smoothly across its top. You can buy it either in a bright silver anodised aluminium or a much darker and more subdued military green, both of which have a really impressively tactile leather strap and toggle attached near the base.
It has USB Type-C, which means good things for audio and charging alike. The BeoPlay A1 has only two ports -- one 3.5mm legacy analog audio mini-jack, and one USB-C port which handles charging at up to 15W (5V 3A, the USB-C fast charging standard) and that also allows the speaker to connect directly to your phone or USB-C-compatible laptop or tablet for audio output. That's all in addition to its built-in Bluetooth 4.2, which can be paired to a couple of devices simultaneously; only one can play audio at a time though.
What's It Good At?
At moderate volume levels, this speaker has great treble detail and punchy bass. I'd never call the BeoPlay A1 a powerful speaker -- it's not a floor-shaking monster for its size like the Megaboom is -- but with strong bass and clear treble it certainly sounds musical and enjoyable at low, moderate and moderate-to-loud volumes. It's great for pop music, and handles clear vocals extremely well with warm reproduction, so Taylor Swift's 1989 and Red got a great work-out when I was testing the A1.
Battery life is impressive: long enough for a weekend away from home. 24 hours of rated battery life is a goodly amount from such a small speaker, and over the course of a week away with the BeoPlay A1 in my carry-on luggage I reckon I easily achieved that number playing music and movies at moderate volume. Once you're empty, you can charge up the internal 2200mAh cell within a couple of hours and be ready to go again; USB-C also means you can charge while you're playing music from a connected laptop.
What's It Not Good At?
It sounds great in a small space, but runs out of puff in larger rooms. Just about the only weak point of the BeoPlay A1's sound profile is the fact that at full power, it starts to sound a little bit strained, losing the relative punch of its bass woofer and with treble starting to sound a little sharp. Turn it down a couple of volume notches and this goes away, but I'd say around 80 per cent of full volume is about as loud as I'd use the BeoPlay A1 at for critically listening to music. It's much happier at moderate volume levels.
You can use it for voice calls, but don't expect crystal clear voices. The BeoPlay A1's microphone was a little bit disappointing in my testing, not clearly picking up my voice from the other side of a medium-sized room. It'll do the job perfectly if you're using it on your workdesk or in a quiet boardroom for a conference call, but in an echoey room you'll struggle to make yourself heard and hear your voice chat companion. It's fine in a pinch, but some competitors handle voice and ambient noise cancellation better.
Should You Buy It?
It's an attractive and understated Bluetooth speaker, which is rare. If you want a Bluetooth speaker that you can take into your corporate office and away on a weekender with your supermodel girlfriend or boyfriend without having them laugh at your bad taste, then the BeoPlay A1 is just about your only choice -- really your only other option is the Bose SoundLink Mini II. The BeoPlay A1 looks great, and it importantly sounds just as good as you'd expect -- just not at maximum power.
It's nowhere near as expensive as we were expecting, either. At $379 in Australia, the BeoPlay A1 absolutely justifies its place as a small and portable and surprisingly powerful and versatile Bluetooth speaker. It can't best physically large speakers like Ultimate Ears' Boom 2 or Megaboom for outright audio power, but listening at (moderate) equal volume levels it's the superior choice for overall sound quality. The integrated microphone is a slightly weak point in an otherwise impressive and long-lived speaker.