B&O PLAY Beolit 12 review: Hands-on

Bang & Olufsen embraces the future with Apple AirPlay in a portable music system

What is a hands on review?
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Bang & Olufsen, the Danish provider of high-priced luxury audio/video solutions, wants a piece of the booming market for wireless speakers utilising Apple’s AirPlay steaming technology.

The company has launched a new brand, B&O PLAY, promising to deliver portable products at a more accessible price point, and the B&O Beolit 12 portable music system is its first stab at competing with wireless streaming products such as the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air and Libratone Live.

Compared with those two offerings, Beolit 12 is truly portable, giving you up to eight hours of playing time on a full charge.

B&O PLAY Beolit 12: Build & Design

The compact B&O PLAY Beolit 12 is a clear break from the company’s current design language. Plastic has replaced aluminium as the predominant material, and while the system has a more organic and casual feel than the traditional crop of B&O products, it still retains a clear sense of minimalism and style.

As the name implies, the Beolit 12 is actually a tribute to Bang & Olufsen’s transistor Beolit radios from the 1960s.

An Italian full-grain leather carrying strap is diagonally mounted at the top, letting you carry the unit around, and a solid aluminium speaker grill wraps around the unit, making the speaker fabric visible behind the grill to allow for different colour options such as black, yellow and blue.

The leather strap and aluminium grill are nice touches, but we can’t help but feel that the plastic design of the Beolit 12 makes it feel somewhat cheap. It doesn’t scream ‘high-end’ or send out a vibe of exclusivity.

On the top of the unit you’ll find volume, power and network controls, and it has a lowered non-slip surface that’ll let you place your iPhone there safely while playing music. The power cord packs neatly away inside the system when not in use, and the built-in rechargeable battery is able to charge an iPhone or other connected device.

B&O PLAY Beolit 12: Performance

Hooking up the Beolit 12 to your iPhone, iPad or iTunes library is easy-peasy thanks to Apple’s AirPlay technology, which works as soon as you’ve got both devices on the same Wi-Fi network. We were able to hook up an iPhone and play random bits of a 45-gig music collection without encountering any problems.

Being powered by a 120-Watt digital Class D power amplifier driving two 2" tweeters and a 4" woofer, the Beolit 12 is able to pack a remarkable punch considering its diminutive dimensions. The compact music system was able to comfortably fill the demo room, a decently large suite at The Venetian hotel and casino.

Bang & Olufsen tells us that the sound is designed and tuned by the same sound engineers who delivered the award-winning BeoLab 5 high-end speakers, but we found the sound quality to be a mixed bag. It certainly has enough volume to fill a room, but while the bass is surprisingly strong and solid, we thought that the midrange sounded somewhat subdued and that the treble seemed to be a bit drowned and to have trouble delivering a crisp and coherent result, especially at higher volume levels.

B&O PLAY Beolit 12: Verdict

The Beolit 12 is the most affordably priced music system from Bang & Olufsen in years; however, that doesn’t say much, as the company is asking a whopping £699 in the UK, €699 in Europe and $799 in the USA for you to be able to carry this thing out of a retailer around the end of this month. That is a lot of dough, and while you expect the Bang & Olufsen brand to carry a premium, neither the sound nor the design stands out in a way that warrants a price that high.

Were Bang & Olufsen able to sell the Beolit 12 at a power-competitive price of £399, or even £499, we reckon a fair number of people would love the combination of Danish hi-fi heritage and Apple’s reliable and intuitive streaming technology. As it stands right now, though, the Beolit 12 seems ridiculously overpriced.

B&O PLAY Beolit 12 availability: Late January

B&O PLAY Beolit 12 price: £599

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.