BANG & OLUFSEN BEOPLAY A9
WHAT DOES A SPEAKER THAT LOOKS MORE LIKE A SATELLITE DISH THAN HOME HI-FI EQUIPMENT SOUND LIKE? WE STRAP INTO OUR SPACE CAPSULE TO INVESTIGATE. BY PETER HODGSON
Big boxy speakers can be ugly, and as much as we’d like to think it’s all about the sound it’s certainly nice to have equipment that fits in with your home. Bang & Olufsen have always excelled at making highend audio equipment that looks as good as it sounds, and the BeoPlay A9 is certainly a looker. It looks more like a satellite dish at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex than something you’d use to blast Megadeth to your neighbours.
SATELLITE OF LOVE
This elegant and minimalist design packs a total of five speakers into its sleek design, powered by a 480 watt Class D amplifier. There’s an 8” woofer in the centre of the unit, flanked by two smaller speakers on either side: a pair of 3/4” tweeters for the high end and some 3” drivers for the midrange. The unit sits atop three legs, and you can choose the colour of the cover (white, black, blue, brown, green, red, silver) as well as the wood of the legs (maple, oak or walnut) to suit the decor of your home.
Volume control is via a touchsensitive row of raised bumps on the back of the top edge of the unit. Connections inside the concealed back panel include an RCA line-in, a USB port which you can use during the AirPlay set-up process, and an Ethernet connection. It’s a bummer that there’s no 1/4” stereo jack input or an optical input. You’ll also notice a three-way switch which lets you tell the A9 where you’re placing it in a room: corner, wall or free. The A9 will tailor the bass response to best suit each environment, with the least bass on the wall setting and the most for when it’s free-standing.
Bang & Olufsen touts easy setup, but I found that setting the A9 up on a home network was rather finicky. One method allows you to plug in a device such as an iPhone and let the A9 copy the wi-fi settings directly, but amid several attempts I could only get this to work once, and only for a few minutes before the A9 and my router stopped talking to each other. I had far better results by simply plugging an ethernet cable in the back, after which everything was smooth. There’s a BeoSetup app available for iOS and Android which is designed to take you through the steps and get everything humming, but I was unable to get this to work at all. You can also stream to the A9 via DLNA-compatible devices, and it features built-in Spotify Connect for seamless access to your Spotify account if you have one.
Whether you choose to mount the A9 to a wall or place it standing in a room, it looks great. Our home is decked out in a mix of Scandinavian and psychedelic late ‘60s/early ‘70s design and the A9 fit right in (and I suspect it would look even better if the review unit rocked the green or red cover and Walnut legs). My first sound test was the 24bit/96kHz mix of Led Zeppelin III, which I chose because of the heavy tracks like “Immigrant Song” as well as the airier acoustic tracks like “That’s The Way”. I was immediately struck by the clarity of the high end detail, and the multidimensionality of the sound. Having a three-way system with subtle convex projection does wonders for helping the sound to shoot all around the room. Next up I tried the new Arch Enemy album for something with extreme low end, and I’ve never heard this album sound so good. It might not look it but this is the perfect speaker for listening to metal. Next I plugged my Macbook Pro directly into the RCA inputs (there’s a slight time lag if you’re using AirPlay) to listen to a few of my own songs in StudioOne. This is where I was really blown away. I’m happy with my current monitor setup but there’s something about hearing your mixes on such a high-quality home system that you just have to hear and feel to believe. It also sounds great when using iPad music production and guitar amp sim apps, with great fullrange tone and responsiveness.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although let down slightly by the not-as-easy-as-advertised setup process, once you hear music coming out of the A9, all is forgiven. It’s a truly great-sounding speaker which presents music in its best light no matter the genre, and for we musicians it’s great to hear our tracks coming out of such a kickarse setup. The look may not be for everyone but the sound certainly is. I recommend you take your music to a Bang & Olufsen store and hear this baby for yourself.