"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
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
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
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The minimalist A6
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The A6's fuzzy
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