Bang & Olufsen Beolit 15 Review
It looks smart but is beauty more than skin deep?
What is the Beolit 15?The Bang & Olufsen Beolit 15 is the larger of two portable Bluetooth speakers in the company's range. Available in a variety of finishes, it is a direct replacement for the visually identical Beolit 12. It pitches into the fiercely competitive premium Bluetooth sector and finds itself competing with a very wide range of designs including the recently tested and newly Bluetooth enabled Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Air which put in a very strong showing indeed.
This shouldn't really be the sort of thing to worry Bang & Olufsen though. The company is one of the few brands to maintain much public consciousness outside of the industry and has been responsible for some of the most iconic pieces of industrial design of the last thirty years. More than looking good, the functionality of Bang & Olufsen equipment has found itself being studied and replicated in a number of products. The company has made some beautiful designs over the years and it stands to reason that their efforts in this sector ought to be worth paying attention to as well.
The other reason why a Bang & Olufsen product in this sector ought to be something of note, is that the company has a great engineering track record in making small and relatively discrete speaker installations sound seriously good and their latest DSP controlled speakers are truly phenomenal. The expectation is that given a relatively small box which needs to sound big and powerful and look good while it does it, Bang & Olufsen ought to be the sort of company you'd seek out. That's the theory, how does it work in practise?
Specification & FeaturesThe Beolit 15 is a Bluetooth speaker with the option to work on both mains and battery power. For the first time in such a product made by Bang & Olufsen it is fitted with Bluetooth version 4.0 and supports Apt-X playback. Bang & Olufsen claims that the Beolit 15 can be called upon to remember 8 users and have two devices connected at once - so that you can perform the sort of drunken experimental blasting through music collections or streaming services that happen from time to time. There is no NFC touch to pair facility though and given that I've now encountered a few devices where this actually works correctly, that's a bit of a shame.
The front end is supported by 4 active and two passive drivers. These are driven by a cumulative 240 watts of Class D amplification (another area where Bang & Olufsen has a considerable and impressive pedigree). The Beolit 15 has been engineered with a view to offering a full 360 degree sound coverage. If this sounds a bit alarming and you had visions of placing it near a wall, the only driver actually on the reverse of the speaker is a solitary tweeter. This is a practise employed by a number of speaker manufacturers (including of course Bang & Olufsen) and employed correctly can yield a very useful sense of ambience and space without being unduly distracting.
The driver arrangement of the Beolit 15 is distinctive and suggests some potential heft at its disposal. The main driver is a five inch unit placed at the front and powered by its own amplifier. Now, in the great scheme of bass response, five inches is not a huge amount of radiating area but crammed into a reasonably compact bluetooth speaker, it is a fairly sizeable piece of kit. It is further reinforced by two passive bass radiators on the sides of the unit. Treble output is provided by three tweeters - one at the rear as already mentioned and two at the lower leading edges of the cabinet.
This is a fairly significant amount of radiating area to fit in the cabinet so it is slightly surprising that Bang & Olufsen appears to have had a fair bit of space left over. This has been used to equip the Beolit 15 with a hefty battery. The claimed life on a full charge is 24 hours continuous which is fairly impressive for a product of this nature - even if the chances are you listen to a bit louder than that and get less time, it should be sufficient for a day out. To conserve the battery life, the Beolit will go into standby after a few minutes of no use - it'll make some helping beeping noises to tell you what it's up to at the same time. Even after fitting the battery, there seems to be a bit of space left over as the Beolit has an alcove at the back which it accessed via a pop panel and can store your mains lead when not in use.
DesignThe Beolit 15 wouldn't recognisably be a Bang & Olufsen without a neat piece of industrial design. The good news is that they have largely succeeded. The styling is an exercise that looks better in the flesh than it does in the pictures and looks better still the more time you spend with it. The review sample came in the 'Natural Champagne' finish and this is easy on the eye despite possibly being the weakest of the four options. If it was my money, I'd probably choose the 'Polar Blue' but red and silver options are also available.
The Beolit 15 looks slightly retro in parts - the honeycomb grill arrangement harks back to Bang & Olufsen product of old and also harks back even further to objects like the near legendary Braun electronics of the sixties and seventies. This is then coupled with up-to-the-minute finishes like the soft touch plastics and the countersunk buttons on the top. There are only four of these as the Beolit 15 doesn't require much more than volume, power and pair buttons. The top of the unit is dished which allows for you to place a phone or other paired device on top and not have it go anywhere. The final touch is a leather carrying strap that is fitted diagonally to balance the Beolit and make it easy to carry.
The end result is a pleasant and unobtrusive looking piece of kit. Compared to some of the more radical looking Bang & Olufsen components over the years, it might come across as a bit conservative but it should work in a variety of domestic environments without looking out of place. The build quality is also extremely good with a reassuringly solid finish that feels like the asking price. The caveat to that long battery life is that the 2.7kg all up weight might limit the portability of the Beolit 15 to short journeys - although it is worth noting that Bang & Olufsen makes a smaller speaker for this purpose.
Any drawbacks?Setting the Beolit 15 up and pairing it is entirely straightforward but the functionality on offer is slightly problematic. Bang & Olufsen offers the 'Beoplay' app to offer tuning of the Beolit 15 and it sounds very clever. By moving a cursor on the screen, you can adjust the DSP of the Beolit to tweak it to your preferences and its location at the time. You will note the use of the caveat 'sounds very clever' though. The Beoplay app is currently iOS only and only designed for the iPhone. This is not something that only Bang & Olufsen is guilty of but designing an Apt-X capable Bluetooth device that doesn't fully interact with the main source of Apt-X Bluetooth is a bit odd. An Android app is intended for spring 2016 - a year or so after the Beolit was released.
More problematic though is that even through I have an iPhone available for testing, I still cannot test the app. The Beolit 15 needs a software update to work with it and despite trying three different Windows machines with the downloadable software, the Beolit has refused to update and has become an inert brick for periods of twenty minutes at a time after the update fails. Furthermore, after one failed attempt, my main laptop became unresponsive and required restoring and rebooting. Now, one laptop is not a control group and it is possible that despite watching the instructional video a few times, I missed something but this is the first product I've tested in a long time with a publically accessible software update that I've failed to actually update. As such, all testing of the Beolit has been done with the settings in their supplied default positions.
The Beolit 15 wouldn't recognisably be a Bang & Olufsen without a neat piece of industrial design
How was the Beolit 15 tested?The Bang & Olufsen has been tested on and off mains power in a variety of locations. Bluetooth pairing has been tested with iOS, Android and Windows Mobile devices and material used has included FLAC played from storage on the devices and from a NAS drive via Bubble UPnP. Tidal, Spotify and YouTube have also been used extensively.
Sound QualityWith the Bang & Olufsen setup and paired with a Motorola Moto X running Tidal via an Apt-X connection, the first thing that leaps out at you is the bass response. The Beolit 15 has monumental low end for a speaker of this design and shape. The bass from a spirited rendition of Grimes' Flesh without Blood is something that is felt as well as heard and it seems wholly incredible that something this small has the heft that it does. Furthermore, the bass integrates well with the rest of the frequency response and doesn't feel like it has any of the sluggishness or overhang that can affect DSP systems and passive radiators. To an extent, the Beolit still sounds a little processed because without processing, a box that size couldn't do what this one does but this is as much an eye/ear disagreement as something actually amiss with the sound.
The overall presentation of the Bang & Olufsen is, in the default settings at least, smooth and on the warm side of neutral. There is a reasonable treble output and good levels of detail but the presentation seems to have been set up to flatter brighter and poorer recordings - like most products of this nature, the amount of lossless material that the Beolit 15 is ever likely to see is going to be limited, so the decision has been taken to ensure it remains listenable with the sort of sources it is likely to encounter. This means that telling the differences between Spotify and Tidal on the Beolit is largely going to be down to luck on the bulk of material available from the services but it sounds very listenable with both sources.
This refinement is the main strength of the Bang & Olufsen. Pop it down on almost any surface - I'd advise against something hollow and wooden to avoid resonance from the bass response but otherwise it seems decidedly unfussy - and let it strut its stuff. In the hypothetical situation that you and a friend or significant other are both connected to the Beolit and duking it out over who has the cooler music taste, it is very unlikely that you are going to take the Bang & Olufsen out of its comfort zone. The headroom is sufficiently good that you could throw a perfectly satisfactory party with it too. With levels up at the firmly antisocial, that prodigious low end can become a bit too much of a good thing but you do have to be pushing the Beolit fairly hard to do this.
In terms of areas of usability like bluetooth range and stability, the Beolit puts in a good performance. The range is comfortably in excess of seven metres with all the handsets tested and there have been no signs of dropouts or instability even with other bluetooth devices paired up and under test at the same time. This is a very good bluetooth implementation and once paired, it has no trouble re-pairing and getting going again afterwards.
The Beolit 15 has monumental low end for a speaker of this design and shape
- Powerful and room filling sound
- Excellent build
- Handsome looks
- Issues updating unit software
- Ap is iOS only
- Fairly pricey
Bang & Olufsen Beolit 15 ReviewThis is a slightly frustrating summary to write. Judged objectively, this is an excellent Bluetooth speaker. The Beolit 15 has impressive reserves of power and Bang & Olufsen's experience with DSP and small drivers has resulted in a product that sounds consistently engaging and musical. Even if you ignore the brand and styling, the Bang & Olufsen does enough to justify the asking price. When you factor in the excellent materials, solid build and handsome looks, I should be pinning a badge on the Beolit and recommending it as an excellent product in its class.
At the moment however, I can't. The issues with upgrading the unit and getting the app to work - to say nothing of the limited platforms that the app works on if you do get it to update - are too significant to ignore at the moment. If Bang & Olufsen can get the Android app out of the door and ensure that the Beolit 15 is ready to work with it, this is a great speaker that deserves a wider audience. As it is, the Beolit 15 is not quite the finished article.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £400.00
Ease of Use8
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