Credit B&O Play for creating a Bluetooth speaker that doesn't look like anything out there already. The new dome-shaped Beoplay A1 is not only the smallest wireless speaker from the Danish company, but also the most affordable at $249, £199 in the UK and AU$379 in Australia.
Designed by well-known Danish furniture designer Cecile Manz, the aluminum-clad A1 is clearly meant to take on Bose's popular SoundLink Mini II wireless speaker, and it's one of the best-sounding mini Bluetooth speakers I've heard, though it better be considering its elevated price point.
While it looks sleek and has no protruding buttons B&O Play says it's "robust enough to handle the bumps and scrapes of everyday use." It comes with a leather carrying strap, though no protective carrying pouch, which is too bad.
The speaker has two drivers -- a 3.5-inch mid cone woofer and a 3/4-inch tweeter. It manages to play very loud for its size, delivers a surprising amount of bass and is very strong in the midrange where vocals live. That said, like all these small speakers, it does have its limitations, and has a harder time resolving more complicated tracks (a lot of instruments playing at the same time) at higher volumes. That said, it will fill a small room with sound and would work well in a kitchen, bathroom, home office or dorm room.
As its shape implies, it also doubles as a speakerphone and it's a good one. The other plus is the strong battery life -- it's rated at 24 hours thanks to a 2,200mAh internal rechargeable battery and an efficient adaptive power management system. It's worth noting that it charges with a USB-C cable, not a standard Micro-USB cable.
Here are the A1's key specs:
Some of our favorite compact Bluetooth speakers include the Bose SoundLink Mini II, UE Boom 2 and JBL Charge 2+ (the JBL Charge 3 has just started shipping). This Beoplay competes favorably with those models and had slightly clearer sound than the SoundLink Mini 2 and Charge 2+ in my comparisons. (The waterproof UE Boom 2 remains the better choice for outdoor use).
The Beoplay's biggest strength is how natural it sounds in the midrange. Voices are very present and the speaker works best with well-recorded tracks that don't have a whole lot of instruments playing at the same time. The Punch Brother's "The Phosphorescent Blues" album comes across particularly well along with a lot of tracks from the The National. (I could list a lot of tracks but I'm just highlighting a few).
It can be a little uneven with EDM (electronic dance music), hip hop and more complicated rock tracks. Like a lot of Bluetooth speakers the A1 can handle only so many frequencies thrown at it at once and it starts to lose some definition and bass as it gets pushed too hard. I also heard some sibilance in the treble on a certain tracks.
That said, I found myself surprised at times that it sounded as decent as it did. For instance, when INXS' "Mediate" came on, it had more bass punch than I thought it would. The Weekend's "Can't Feel My Face" also had a little more bass kick than I anticipated. But to be clear, this isn't a party speaker; it's only got so much volume and, as I said, is better suited to smaller rooms.
You can play around with its placement to try to get better sound. I first listened to it resting flat on a table, then hung it on a hook and had it facing me at ear level. When I had it suspended, I slightly preferred its more directional sound.
My one small concern was that when I cranked the volume for longer periods the speaker did get a little warm at its base. It continued to work fine, but I did notice that it was warm when I picked the speaker up, which was a little disconcerting.
The long and short of it is that you can certainly get mini Bluetooth speakers that cost a lot less and perform pretty well for their size. But this is a notch up in sound and build quality from speakers in the $100-$150 range and is definitely worth considering if you're looking at more premium models like the Bose SoundLink Mini II.