BeoSound 8 Review on BeoWorld
Date: Thursday November 11th 2010
BeoWorld was at the live launch of the Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 8 at the stylish St. Martins Lane Hotel in London this Wednesday to see the long awaited iPod Dock revealed to the waiting press...
We expect you'll want to know what the BeoSound 8 is actually like – so here goes! Forgive me if I skip around as there's a lot to say in a short space of time – I’ll try and keep this review as orderly as possible.
Well, the BeoSound 8 looks very B&O in its design. No external styling clues from any other manufacturer (perhaps 'Gossard' or 'Victorias Secret' from some angles but we digress again), so this is a very unique and individual design – exactly what you’d expect (and indeed demand) from B&O. It’s all about sound here though, and the two huge round speaker covers help remind you that there’s some serious noise just waiting to be unleashed right behind them.
The rear of the unit itself is covered in the ‘soft touch’ coating we see on the more recent B&O products such as the BeoLab 3 and Serenata etc - and the main two colours available ‘off the shelf’ will be Black (with Black covers) and White (with White covers). B&O are also producing a range of replacement covers to personalize the unit further in various pastel effect colours such as Lemon, Light Purple, Light Blue and Green. These should retail at around £40 per pair.
The central section of the unit (called 'the bridge') is finished in brushed aluminium (what else?!) with a standby/active light within what you expect to be a scroll wheel in the centre. However, try and scroll (the natural thing to do for most Apple and B&O users – of which I am one) and you’ll find it’s actually fixed. You can click the top to increase volume, down to decrease – plus click left and right to skip tracks – but that’s your lot. Somewhat disappointing as it would surely have made more sense to have a scroll wheel for volume control on a rocker for track selection, then a central button for source change. Even the universally unloved Serenata had that !!!
Still, you get a natty little remote control thrown in for free – which although a bit odd in its design is nicely finished in brushed Aluminium to the front and sits at an angle on a flat surface thanks to a ridge on the rear. Again, it would have been nice if the remote somehow integrated or attached to the dock to save it getting lost – but if you’ve just paid circa £895 for the system you’re probably going to be very careful with it!
Two little peg feet (similar to those found on the TV table stands) protrude from the rear at an angle to allow a neat table placement angle. These are of course removable should you wish to use the wall mount. A nice little touch is that although the unit appears to have the bottom of the circular driver housings touching the surface of the table/desk – it actually clears it by around 1-2mm. Impress your friends by magically sliding a piece of paper under them and telling them the unit actually floats. That may justify the price tag to the uninitiated.. LOL
At the rear, we have a removable panel which exposes the connections.. The first thing we see is a position switch similar to the Active Loudspeaker range which allows three placement settings, those being ‘Corner’, ‘Wall’ and ‘Free’ to achieve maximum sound reproduction. A fairly impressive feature for an iPod Dock you must agree! The unit comes with a rudimentary wall bracket included in the price too, but as opposed to a long bar to hang the unit on we have two individual pieces to line up badly as we struggle with our black and decker drill in one hand and a spirit level in the other! I’m no handyman though, so it might not be that difficult.. (he says).
Connections.. Well, you’ve got direct Line Level Stereo Phono inputs (imagine plugging a BeoGram 4500 straight into it – how cool?!!) as well as a USB port to pluck music from your Mac/PC etc, then Bluetooth, then of course the actual iPod Dock itself. It has clearance enough to hold an iPad as well as all generations of iPhone and iPods, with a circular support disc which manually winds in and out on a screw thread to adjust for the various thicknesses of product docked upon it.
Once docked (and charging of course), you can skip through tracks using the remote provided, or use your Beo4 / Beo5 / B&O Telephone / BeoTime Alarm Clock or manually press the button on the dock itself. Bang & Olufsen are providing a free App in the App Store called 'Beoplayer' which gives 20 free radio stations (subscription can get you thousands more though) and a BeoCom 5 style clock display for your iPod/Pad/Phone which looks incredibly pretty. Nice touch..
Connections wise though – it seems a bit of a jumble if I’m honest. If you’ve got your iPod/Pad/Phone on there, it takes preference and will play automatically. If you have your computer connected via USB, that takes second preference, then bringing up the rear is Bluetooth in third. However, what if your iPod is charging and your computer is connected – but you want to connect and play a device using Bluetooth? Well, you have to disconnect the USB and remove your phone!! No source choice function at all. Confusing and disappointing, especially as it could have all been on the scroll wheel (which isn’t there..)
Now – the bit you may all have been wondering about.. What does it sound like?
Throw away your Zeppelins. Ebay your e-docks. Bring your Bose to the jumble sale – the BeoSound 8 is here !!!
Yes, it’s up to several times the price of many of it’s competitors – but boy, do you get what you pay for. I can only describe the top frequencies to be akin to BeoLab 3’s – pin sharp, tight and precise. You’d swear it had an acoustic lens in there when listening to a high quality Mp3 track – I was truly astonished. A pair of active 2 way speakers means four individual amplifiers for your listening pleasure, Sir..
Bass. Yes, it has it in spadefuls – and I really cant understand where it all comes from! Again, I’d say with the right track it’s somewhere between a pair of BeoLab 6000 and a pair of BeoLab 8000. Punchy, tight – and really booms when the track requires it. This Dock is immense when it comes to what matters.
I was a little disappointed with a standard ‘lossy’ Mp3 track though, which sounded muddy and confused – but after actually thinking about it for a moment, it was the quality of the BeoSound 8 that was ruthlessly exposing the poor recording. Not the docks fault at all, and if you’re lucky enough to own a pair of BeoLab 5 you’ll know that they too will crucify anything less than a very high quality master or Mp3. Such is the price to pay for high quality reproduction - you can only work with what you're given, and if the BeoSound 8 could speak it would say that right to your face!
Would I buy one? Yes, absolutely – but I’m a B&O ‘nut’ so I may be biased. These will sell by the lorry load to the B&O faithful and will hopefully provide an ‘entry level’ Bang & Olufsen product to impress ‘non believers’ and get them into the brand. £895 for an iPod Dock is not to be sniffed at, and although the Zeppelin is less than half the price – the BS8 isn’t twice as good.. I’d say around 50-75% better than the B&W (I own a Zeppelin myself), but if you want the best you pay the price - that's life.
Afterthoughts? Well, apart from B&O missing the boat on the controller, I’d say they may have missed an opportunity to make this a fantastic Link Room Speaker. A small, one line display perhaps, and a MasterLink Socket? It thrashes the ageing BeoLab 3500 as far as sound quality, it beats it on price, and can indeed be wall mounted. You could even have taken a few cues from the BeoSound 5 Encore and had it connecting wirelessly to a BeoMaster 5? Maybe for the future….
B&O really needed a product like this - and in my opinion they haven't disappointed. People said the BeoSound 1 was ugly upon release compared to the century - and i'm sure people will say the BeoSound 8 is ugly compared to the BeoSound 1. New things take time to get used to - but to me this is a winner from the start. Not sure about the 'Pastel' covers - they are certainly fashionable if you look at the colour trends of the last few years, but if you want to keep right up to date it may be an idea to do bold patterns and perhaps climb into bed with companies such as Paul Smith, Laura Ashley and other high end designers? Limited Edition covers will get people into dealerships, and also provide a talking point for their latest new B&O addition? Only a thought...