Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 2
Bang & Olufsen, the Scandinavian electronics company best known for its exquisitely designed--and expensively priced--audio and video equipment, has unleashed its first portable audio device on the world: the BeoSound 2. The unusual, steel-plated MP3 player may not be the most stylish one we've seen, but the Bang & Olufsen label certainly brings an amount of techno haute couture appeal to the device. Unfortunately, the h and c words combined usually indicate the sort of wallet-wrenching price that would make most of us turn pale with shock, and the BeoSound 2 is no exception. This high-end player will set you back $460--and that's with no memory. Sure, it sounds fantastic, but it takes more than that to win us over.
Yes, you read that right. The BeoSound 2 has no internal memory, despite weighing a rather hefty 3.2 ounces. Instead, you have to insert an SD card (available as an option from Bang & Olufsen) into a well-designed, flap-covered slot on the back of the player if you want to listen to music. Last time we checked, a 1GB SD card cost a bit less than $100. Some people will no doubt find the BeoSound 2's UFO-esque shape and polished stainless-steel body attractive (beware of fingerprints!), and we must say it feels comfortable to hold and is easy to control with just one hand. But our design praise ends there.
The player has poorly marked buttons that are no help in reconciling the fact that it has no LCD. A circular center button labeled Go is flanked by four other keys; the bottom and top ones are each marked with a single directional triangle pointing up and down, and they're used to skip tracks. The buttons to either side of Go are marked with double directional triangles (the traditional fast-forward/rewind indication) and serve to navigate folders as well as cue through songs. In theory, anyway--we couldn't get this function to work. It would have made more sense if the side buttons skipped tracks and the up/down buttons moved through folders, especially considering the lack of worded labels. Above and below the up/down keys are the volume controls, each marked with a directional carat (^).
While we've seen other players without screens, the BeoSound 2 is the first we've come across to lack even an LED indicator to show if the player is turned on or off or is in play or pause mode. And the player doesn't have the excuse of being tiny; it's 3 inches in diameter. Instead, it communicates with different patterns of beeps that we couldn't decipher and that aren't spelled out in the instructions, which consist of a pathetic two pages in English. On the plus side, Bang & Olufsen includes a nifty, alien-ship-landing-type dock, which features a wraparound LED that indicates the connection status of the player with different colors; these at least are called out in the manual.
Other than the fact that it plays MP3 and unprotected WMA files, the Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 2 has no real features to speak of, though it is compatible with both PCs and Macs running, respectively, Windows 98 and up or OS 9 and later. There's no FM tuner, no recording options, and nothing advanced at all, though we suppose that this ends up being a good thing because how would you ever be able to use them? You can at least lock the player by pressing and holding both buttons with the double directional triangles. A software CD is included in the box and contains BeoPlayer and BeoLink PC 2, which are used to manage music and transfer files to the player. However, we found these programs confusing and instead went with Windows Media Player 10.0 (versions 7.0 and up are all compatible). You can also use iTunes version 2.0 or later on a Mac.
To Bang & Olufsen's considerable credit, the BeoSound 2 sounds magnificent. In fact, the included ear-wrap 'buds are no doubt a contributor as they're the company's own and were on a par with--if not better than--our test pair. Audio sounded very clean and rich, with no noticeable background hiss and volume cranked beyond earsplitting levels. Hooking up this player to a full-size sound system wouldn't be a stretch. Because of the BeoSound 2's lack of a repeat function, we were unable to test battery life, but the rechargeable lithium-ion cell's rated eight hours is lower than average. Transfer time over USB 1.1 was a yawn-inducing 0.22MB per second.