For as long as smart speakers (opens in new tab) have been a thing, they've been used heavily for listening to music – but it took a while for there to be options that actually included worthwhile sound.
Over the last couple of years, that improved with the likes of the Apple HomePod (opens in new tab), Google Home Max (opens in new tab), and more recently the Amazon Echo Studio (opens in new tab). But now Bang & Olufsen has blown them all out of the water with its new shelf-friendly Google Assistant speaker, the Beosound Balance.
B&O is packing in an extreme amount of speaker technology and smarts – streaming support for Apple and Android, two voice assistants, and room-sensing tech just for starters – which does mean it's also one of the most expensive smart speakers so far.
The Balance has a vaguely lamp-like look, with its wooden base and fabric upper section. On top is an aluminium panel with touch controls that light up when you approach, which is always a satisfyingly futuristic touch.
Wireless streaming support includes Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast multi-room capability, plus Spotify Connect and B&O's own app-based control. There's also Bluetooth, for connecting anything else (such as a Bluetooth turntable). And, of course, full Google Assistant integration, so you can ask it to play music, control your home, check the weather, or whatever dumb questions the kids want.
You'll also be able to use Alexa instead of GA as your assistant of choice, but that will come in an update later in the year.
B&O has also included a bunch of audio tech that's been inherited from the much more expensive Beolab speaker range, to help it make the most of its modest 20x20x38cm dimensions (which is still fairly big for a smart speaker, but small for this amount driver tech).
For a start, there are two 5.25-inch bass drivers that sit in opposition to each other. The aim here is that moving in opposite directions helps to cancel out vibrations that might be transferred into the body of the Balance, or your furniture, meaning the actual bass sounds stay clean (and won't annoy the neighbours as much, either). There are also four full-range drivers and a tweeter.
These are all paired with room compensation tech (similar to what you get in the HomePod), so the sound tweaks itself to stop the location you've placed it from interfering with the quality. You can also choose whether to have the sound play in a uniform 360-degree mode around the speaker, or for a more focused sound.
We're hoping to get our hands on one for a full review soon, but we're expecting it to be the best-sounding smart speaker of the lot. Though you'd hope so, for £1,750/$2,250.