“A stunning mix of style, sound and engineering”
FOR Impressive engineering; composure at high volumes AGAINST Lack transparency, subtlety and rhythmic precision
Purists may be tempted to dismiss Bang & Olufsen’s Beolab 50s as a style-oversubstance product. Looking at the B&OS, it’s easy enough to understand why. But behind all the glitz of rising tweeters, fancy cabinet shaping and wood-lined grilles, you’ll find a depth of engineering rarely seen, even at these prices.
Each speaker packs a digital-toanalogue converter, an analogue-todigital converter, a preamplifier and seven drive units. There’s a dedicated 300W power amplifier for every driver.
If that sounds somewhat excessive, we haven’t even mentioned the motorised tweeter pod with its adjustable acoustic lens yet – or the built-in digital signal processing that allows the speakers to sound balanced from a variety of listening positions.
B&O appears to have thrown its full technological might at this product, and has come up with something rather special. Not flawless, but massively tempting nonetheless.
If you do buy a pair of Beolab 50s, they should be delivered and installed by the dealer. These are hefty beasts, weighing 61kg each and standing almost 104cm tall. Despite their size, the unusual shape and cosmetic treatment means they don’t look imposing in our listening room.
B&O has put a lot of effort into making it easy to integrate the 50s sonically into a room. We’d suggest starting with a free space placement, away from a wall. From there they can be calibrated to deliver an even tonal balance at the listening position – preferably by the dealer.
It’s possible to optimise the sound for a number of different listening positions – if you move from the main listening chair to a sofa on the other side of the room, for example, the speakers’ sound can be switched accordingly to optimise the presentation for that new location.
While stereo imaging will suffer from such a move, the overall balance will stay broadly the same. It’s a handy feature, and possible only thanks to the Beolab’s built-in digital signal processing and software. The speakers will not only even-out frequency peaks and troughs caused by room interactions but also alter dispersion characteristics by varying the focus of the tweeter’s acoustics lens and changing the balance of the various drive units.
The idea is to make the Beolabs as unfussy about the room as possible, and to make them sound good regardless of where you sit. In this, B&O has been wholly successful – we can’t think of an alternative that is as accommodating.
In your grille
Take off the three grilles and you’ll find the 50s positively brimming with speaker technology. Each has three 25cm bass drivers – one for each of the faces and each at a different height from the floor to spread reflection effects.
There is a trio of 10cm midrange units on the front panel, which, along with the bass drivers and 19mm tweeter, are each driven by a dedicated 300W Icepower Class D module. We calculate that’s 2100W per channel, which should be enough power to get party levels in just about any size of room. Indeed, in our listening room, we’ve never had a speaker that goes so loud quite so easily.
All the connections are hidden in a compartment near the speaker’s base. They’re tucked away well enough for us to wish B&O had specified an internal light to make things easier. The inputs include USB (24-bit/192khz), coaxial (24-bit/192khz) and optical (24-bit/96khz) through to stereo RCA line-ins. For extra connectivity, plus
”The Beolab 50s are class-leading in so many ways – they deliver really deep bass with such ease and agility. We can’t recall a speaker sounding so effortless when pushed hard”
multi-room and streaming ability, you’ll have to shell out extra for B&O’S system hub, the Beosound Core (£595).
Something this packed with tech needs a dedicated app. Thankfully it’s nicely arranged and fairly logical. It deals with the set-up of the speakers and allows the user to make tweaks when required. It also controls the volume level, which, if you’re using the same tablet to control the source component can involve a bit of juggling to account for different recording levels. There are many times we wish for an old fashioned handset to make basic changes as we toggle between our Naim NDS/555PS music streamer and the Beolab 50s.
Once properly optimised, these are impressive speakers. We start with Bizet’s Carmen Suite and are stunned by the effortless way they deliver large-scale dynamic shifts. All that built-in power does wonders when it comes to rendering hard-hitting crescendos, but also gives these B&OS an incredibly rare sense of composure. There’s no shortage of control and it’s coupled with an ability to track a multitude of instrumental strands without getting confused.
Stereo imaging is good, and the Beolab 50s lock instruments in position in a relatively expansive and spacious sound stage. Its stability grabs our attention though, as everything sounds solidly planted even when the music becomes demanding or volume levels rise.
Given the amount of processing, it’s no surprise to find that the B&OS sound tonally even. That’s not the same as neutral, though, with the speakers retaining the company’s trademark smoothness at higher frequencies and a hint of fullness in the bass. None of it is taken too far, and on the whole it just makes the speakers relatively forgiving of poor recordings. There are no obvious frequency peaks or troughs, despite bass being delivered with immense power all the way down to a claimed 15Hz.
We take advantage of that by blasting out the likes of Massive Attack’s Angel and Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar OST at high volumes. The Beolabs are class-leading in so many ways with this kind of music. They deliver really deep bass with such ease and agility. They never sound stressed, keeping their composure at high volume levels; we can’t recall a speaker sounding so effortless when pushed hard.
They’re not perfect though. Despite good detail levels, these speakers never sound wholly transparent. The difference in recordings isn’t as clear as it should be, so when we shift from something intimate like Martha from Tom Waits to Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa, the changes of recording acoustic and production simply aren’t as obvious as they ought to be.
We slowly become aware that these speakers aren’t blessed with great rhythmic precision either, so the musical momentum of Angel and the growing tension in Tabula Rasa are both somewhat muted.
While we’re stunned at the Beolab’s ability to deliver large-scale dynamic shifts they’re less successful at conveying the subtleties. The nuances in Waits’ voice – the ones that make Martha so heart-wrenching – are smoothed over, reducing the song’s musical impact.
No piece of hi-fi is perfect, and the Beolab 50s are no different. If you want a stylish set-up with minimum boxes that is little short of awesome when it comes to volume levels, large-scale dynamics and outright composure, we haven’t come across better. Particularly when you consider the B&O’S ability to sound and look good in most rooms.
For some, just the look on their friends’ faces when those tweeter pods rise or the acoustic lens moves will be enough to sign off on the deal. None of the more purist (and let’s not forget, more insightful) high-end alternatives come close to offering glamour like that.
The Beolab 50s offer a sense of style and glamour