"A bit like the Iron Gi­ant's boomerang"

FOR Clear sound; tex­tured bass; dis­tic­tive, stylish de­sign AGAINST Con­trols aren't sub­stan­tial; app could be bet­ter

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - First Test -

For £800, you can usu­ally buy a pretty good hi-fi stream­ing sys­tem of reg­u­lar pro­por­tions: a Cam­bridge Au­dio Minx Xi streamer, a pair of Q Acous­tic 3020 speak­ers and some speaker stands, say. But it can’t buy you space in a room, so if that’s what you’re lack­ing, an all-in wire­less speaker like the B&O Beoplay A6 could be – pos­si­bly should be – where you turn next.

At this price, the Naim Mu-so is per­haps its only real com­peti­tor. The Naim won our hearts (and those of What Hi-fi? read­ers, as it picked up the 2015 Read­ers' Award), and has had the priv­i­lege of walk­ing pretty freely at this sort of price. Un­til now, that is.

Any­where, any way you like

Far from a one-source won­der, the A6 will stream pretty much any­thing from al­most any­where and in any way you like – whether it’s mu­sic from your iphone over Air­play, tablet via Blue­tooth, your NAS drive over DLNA, or from the cat­a­logues of built-in stream­ing ser­vices such as Deezer and Spo­tify. If you’re more of a ra­dio lis­tener, there are thou­sands of in­ter­net sta­tions at your fin­ger­tips via Tunein too.

All pop­u­lar file for­mats (MP3, AAC, WMA, ALAC, FLAC, WAV) are sup­ported, up to high-res­o­lu­tion 24-bit/192khz too. It has multi-room up its sleeve, and can also pair with an­other A6, its big brother the A9, or even B&O’S Beovi­sion Avant and Beovi­sion 11 TVS.

In­di­vid­ual shape has func­tion

If you’ve seen the dis­cus-shaped A9, you might ex­pect its lit­tle sib­ling to fol­low form as a minia­ture ver­sion. But B&O throws a curve­ball. If the Iron Gi­ant had a boomerang, it may look some­thing like the A6. Stick­ing with the Scan­di­na­vianori­en­tated min­i­mal­ist edge in the de­sign depart­ment, it’s gen­tly curved to a slightly poin­tier middle and slim enough to carry com­fort­ably un­der your arm.

The dis­tinc­tive shape is key to the an­gling of the five driv­ers: two 14cm woofers (driven by two 60W amps) and a pair of 20mm tweet­ers (driven by two 30W amps) fir­ing for­wards, as well as a 38mm full-range driver (at the front of 60W of am­pli­fi­ca­tion) fir­ing back­wards and de­signed to bounce sound off the back wall for a greater sense of spa­cious­ness. The white back panel is per­fo­rated to let sound out.

You can’t see the driv­ers though, be­cause B&O has pulled wool over our eyes. B&O has teamed with Dan­ish tex­tiles man­u­fac­turer Kvadrat to pro­duce what can only be de­scribed as a fuzzy wool-like front, claim­ing that the del­i­cate weav­ing pat­tern of the multi-coloured threads not only pro­duces a look of lux­ury, but of­fers acous­tic trans­parency too. In a range of colours de­signed to match your liv­ing room, in­clud­ing light grey (pic­tured), dusty blue, dark rose and dark grey, the seam-like dec­o­ra­tion across the front makes it look all the more homely.

As with the A9, the A6 fea­tures dis­creet tap-and-swipe con­trols on top. Brush your fin­ger along to change vol­ume, and tap the middle to switch be­tween play­back and standby mode. It's right to change in­put and left to turn on or off. Hats off to B&O for cre­at­ing such a neat and well-in­te­grated con­trol sys­tem, al­though we some­times find our­selves press­ing things twice, and hav­ing to tap quite pre­cisely too.

In an ideal world, no one puts Beoplay in the cor­ner. But if you must, there are set­tings – ‘Free’, ‘Wall’ and ‘Cor­ner’ – to op­ti­mise per­for­mance based on place­ment in a room, ac­ti­vated by a flick-switch un­der the unit.

Into the or­di­nary

As it’s lo­cated in a deep-seated panel, you’ll need to tip the unit up­side-down to ac­cess it – and the power, eth­er­net, 3.5mm in­put and ser­vice-only USB sock­ets too. It’s a bit fid­dly ma­nip­u­lat­ing wires to get to them.

To con­nect to your net­work, go­ing down the more sta­ble wired route means sim­ply plug­ging in the eth­er­net ca­ble – the or­ange-flash­ing net­work in­di­ca­tor turns solid white when it’s con­nected.

Those in­tol­er­ant of trail­ing wires can con­nect the A6 to their net­work over wi-fi by con­nect­ing a smart­phone or tablet to the A6’s wire­less net­work and then fol­low­ing the steps on the Beosetup app (free on IOS and An­droid devices). It’s straight­for­ward and takes a mat­ter of min­utes.

Ei­ther way, the Beomu­sic app gives you con­trol in the palm of your hand. While you

B&O Beoplay A6

Wire­less speaker

£800

can stream di­rectly from your mo­bile us­ing Blue­tooth, Air­play or Spo­tify, you need the app to ac­cess in­ter­net ra­dio or songs stored on your net­work.

The app works fine, but looks and feels or­di­nary – when you’ve spent £800 on a speaker you want some­thing slicker. Its plain blue in­ter­face looks un­fin­ished (in a way, we hope it is) and scrolling through a 3000-song mu­sic li­brary takes a while. The bot­tom line: it needs to be bet­ter.

En­er­getic and fiery

The last thing you might ex­pect from a prod­uct this slen­der is deep, rum­bling bass, but the B&O sur­prises us again. When the beat drops in Mack­le­more & Ryan Lewis’ Down­town (streamed over Blue­tooth), it’s not only deep-rooted but de­fined and tex­tured too – more so than via the Mu-so.

Move up to the midrange and this is where the A6 ex­cels. Hurl­ing Mack­le­more’s vo­cals into the spot­light with clar­ity and fo­cus, it rolls with the ec­cen­tric rap’s tempo changes and sweep­ing dy­nam­ics.

It gets right un­der his charis­matic de­liv­ery, and cap­tures the coun­ter­point smooth, melodic vo­cals that make up the cho­rus’s catchy hook. With highs (in this case, bells) clear and re­fined, the Beoplay serves up a fine bal­ance that val­ues clar­ity and crisp­ness, al­though is just pipped for so­lid­ity by the Naim.

Spa­cious, and ca­pa­ble of fill­ing the largest room, the pre­sen­ta­tion is en­er­getic and fiery too – just what Down­town re­lies on to get you onto the dance­floor.

Space with co­he­sion

Ev­ery in­stru­ment – even finer-spun sound ef­fects – is ac­counted for, and al­though there’s a lot go­ing on in the bonkers song, it com­part­men­talises each sec­tion and gives it space with­out com­pro­mis­ing co­he­sion.

While the Naim Mu-so is a more fluid lis­ten, bet­ter timed and with a tighter hold over the pi­ano ca­dence, the A6 tugs the rope back with more mid-range ex­pres­sion and bass in­sight. Each ex­cels in dif­fer­ent ar­eas.

Use Blue­tooth for off­line stream­ing when you can. By com­par­i­son Air­play makes mu­sic sound more con­fined and less de­tailed. How­ever, play­ing hi-res songs over the air (or eth­er­net ca­ble) gets the best from the A6.

It doesn’t flinch at low-res streams ei­ther. Play David Gil­mour’s Boat Lies Wait­ing over Spo­tify Con­nect and, al­though you can hear the com­pres­sion, it re­mains an open, in­for­ma­tive lis­ten. Pi­anos are life­like, strings swell and lay­ered vo­cals fill the room.

The A6 works best out in the open, al­though back­ing it against a wall isn’t a bad op­tion when the ‘Wall’ set­ting is on – draw­ing the sting from a fairly over­bear­ing bass, it re­stores tonal bal­ance.

If you’re af­ter a wire­less speaker for around a grand, and want both good sound and the sim­plic­ity and con­ve­nience of a one-box, the Beoplay A6 (along­side the Mu-so) is cer­tainly worth con­sid­er­ing. It’s stylish, sounds as good as it looks, and al­though we’d pre­fer more sub­stan­tial con­trols and a slightly bet­ter app, it’s nev­er­the­less a job well done.

If you are lack­ing space, an all-in wire­less speaker like the B&O Beoplay A6 could be – pos­si­bly should be – where you turn next

your arm, a bit like

the Iron Gi­ant's

boomerang

The min­i­mal­ist A6

is gen­tly curved

and slim enough

to carry un­der

The A6's fuzzy

wool-like front not

only pro­duces a

lux­u­ri­ous look

but is claimed to

im­prove acous­tic

trans­parency too

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