While B&O gear might still be the prestige AV item of choice in a penthouse city apartment, the company has had a rougher time in this new age of portability. The BeoSound 2 audio player, for example, is shaped like a miniature discus, and thanks to its lack of a display is a pain in the neck to actually use, though it does look fabulous.
The same is true of the A8 earphones. They look great, they go beautifully with B&O’s other kit, but for your humble second-generation iPod with the dodgy battery, or indeed someone whose serious about portable audio, they’re a less than perfect match.
The A8 has pretty much only one feature, and that’s B&O’s fabulous design. The earphones are built from aluminium and rubber, premium materials for a premium product.
Although B&O refers to these earphones as being of “in-ear” design, they actually sit over the entrance to the ear canal, like the $20 earbuds that used to come with the last generation of ultra-cheap portable CD players.
There’s a long black hook that goes over the back of the ear, and this can be adjusted up and down while the the earphone itself can be rotated closer or further from the ear. This, B&O theorises, should give the A8s the ability to fit onto even the oddest-shaped heads.
Well, this correspondent may be some kind of mutant, but while the right earphone was quite comfortable, no amount of fiddling was able to position the left earphone correctly.
B&O also includes – and recommends you use – felt covers for the earphones, which are exactly the same as the ones you find on the aforementioned $20 nasties.
Fortunately for B&O, the A8s do give good account of themselves, at least in a quiet environment. While the bottom end of the frequency range is not as low as most other earphones at this price, there’s still plenty of thump. The high end is very crisp and clean.
On the bus, however, these earphones aren’t as effective, since so much ambient noise is able to leak in. Why B&O has bucked the recent high-end earphone trend and not designed the A8s to penetrate the ear canal and seal off ambient noise with rubber or silicon stops is anyone’s guess.
Of course, B&O knows its audience, and it’s unlikely that anyone buying the A8s out of brand loyalty spends much time on a bus.
The ergonomics are awkward, the sound is good but not as good as the competition at this price, and there’s practically nothing in the box besides the earphones themselves. But the A8s are well-built and look good and they’re certainly not MORE expensive than the competition. For many, this is probably the only bit of B&O kit they can afford, so why not? Just don’t expect to be blown away by the performance.