The new music box: Bang & Olufsen’s Beolit 15 reviewed
Bang & Olufsen’s take on the portable speaker is one of the more interesting portables you’ll ever see simply because it’s like carrying around a box of sound. Literally.
Features and performance
Trust the Danish to make the Bluetooth speaker look nothing like any Bluetooth speaker we’ve seen before, because with the Bang & Olufsen Beolit 15, that’s precisely what we’re getting.
While the majority of speakers we see tend to take on the look and feel of a drink bottle — a cylinder — Bang’s Beolit is a little different, resembling a box with a strap.
And that’s a real strap as a handle, as B&O delivers a strip of leather attached to two small pegs on either side.
With this design employed and the familiar shape of a speaker grill surrounding the Beolit 15, the look of the box is almost that of a small drinks esky, or at the very least, a bucket.
So consider the Beolit to be a Danish bucket of sound, because we sure are, with the plastic two tone take on a speaker bringing with a fair amount of heft for the two 35 watt Class D amps working with a reasonable assortment of drivers, including two 4 inch passive bass, three 1.5 inch mid-tweeters, and one 5.5 inch full-range driver.
These components come together with a mostly plastic body and aluminium grill to weigh around 2.7 kilograms, making it more like a bucket than you might expect, though there’s also a battery here.
Yes, this is a portable speaker, and while the figure-eight plug used to charge the speaker can also be stored with a neat little cabinet at the back of the unit, you’ll also find a standard USB port for charging a phone or media player, in case that iPhone of yours is running out of charge mid-way through playback.
You can opt to plug in your phone through a 3.5mm cable if you want, or you can do what the Beolit was made to do, and transmit audio wirelessly using Bluetooth.
To do this, simply pair the Bang & Olufsen Beolit 15 by holding the Bluetooth button down on the top of the speaker to switch it into pairing mode, and then simply look for the speaker using your phone’s Bluetooth settings. Once they find each other, connections are easy and good to go, and you are literally good to play your music.
One thing the Beolit has going for it is the volume of sound, and sitting in the middle of the volume reading on the iPhone 6S we were testing with, the Bang & Olufsen speaker pushed out enough sound for us and the GadgetGuy 2016 Sound Test.
Electronic tracks from the likes of Imogen Heap and Daft Punk offered a solid punch from the lows, while the mids and highs sat pretty alongside them, the vocals easily discernible against the array of instruments being played and tracked against each other.
There’s also a lovely deep attack in tracks with a sense of bass that really rumbles, coming from the bottom of the bucket shape of the speaker, something we felt in in The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face”.
That last track gives us enough confidence to bet that popular music will handle itself really well on the Beolit 15, and it’s true, with Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” sounding relatively balanced, though the bass does manage to feel like it sits in front, though only ever slightly so.
Older styles of popular R&B also sound good too, and both Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain” providing clarity from the vocals and instruments, with the tracks gelling well.
The moment you play modern music — highly engineered and well mastered music, for that matter — you can see the Bang & Olufsen Beolit 15 truly shine, offering up a sharp attack from the bottom end, and a bright set of highs up front.
In tracks such as “Brave” from Sara Bareilles and The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face”, the bass is strong and punchy, and the music really comes together, helping the speaker to feel like it was made for this modern generation of music.
Rock also works well, with Radiohead’s “Exit Music” eliciting the empty sound Thom Yorke feels like was intended from ghost-like vocals and ominous instruments, while the benchmark that is Nirvana provides a gutsy bottom-end led drive in “Come As You Are”.
The more modern engineering of Muse’s “Psycho” reveals even more guts with a lively and dynamic bass working with a set of vocals you can hear take control against the edgy lead guitar.
After listening to this track, though, especially against the older mastered tracks, it’s pretty clear that music that has been engineered well is admired by this speaker, and while the Beolit 15 will make any track stand out the best way it can, music where the engineer has paid close attention tends to sound the best.
Case in point: instrumental music like jazz, where the natural sound of instruments can shine.
In Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, the drums were vibrant and solid, as if the drummer was living inside that little bucket-shaped speaker Bang & Olufsen had developed, while the bass and piano both added to the bottom end of a piece of music that in so many ways defines jazz.
Even jazz where less instruments are found tended to sound warm and bassy, with the deep sound of Christian McBride’s upright in “Afirika” taking point over Angelique Kidjo’s African verses.
Throughout the test, you get the feeling that while the balance is fairly clear, the emphasis for the Beolit 15 is one on bottom end, and it does sound brilliant.
That said, B&O’s bucket speaker is also quite expensive, grabbing a tag of $699 for the privilege of carrying this thing around.
On the positive side, you can at least be guaranteed that most of your music should shine through its wraparound audio setup, though it is also much more expensive than competing models from other brands.
In essence, you get the feeling that you might be paying for the name with the Beolit 15, with the Bang & Olufsen brand able to charge up for its Danish design and audio heritage.
There are also no play buttons included on the speaker, even though volume control is included. If you do want to change tracks, you’ll have to pull out that phone (or even tap on that Apple Watch), which is an interesting omission given that buttons for volume have been included in the design.
More interestingly, however, is the omission of a microphone, making this Beolit more of a Bluetooth speaker than a combined Bluetooth speaker and voice conferencing speaker, which pretty much every other wireless speaker tends to be.
Why does this model lack a microphone?
We couldn’t tell you, though we suspect the answer is B&O pictures the Beolit 15 being used at the park when you’re out with friends — hence that handle-based design — rather than used for business calls.
Bang & Olufsen generally surprises us with unusual designs, but the Beolit 15 is definitely one of the more intriguing Bluetooth speakers we’ve come across, not just because the sound is pretty impressive, but because it feels like it should occupy a space in your life simply to impress upon people how unique it is.
Theres no doubt that this is one little box that will definitely stand out in your living room, but even beyond this colourful little esky look, it’s also quite a functional design that grows on you, especially if you go out with friends to the park, or even just take the speaker into the backyard for a lunch.
Seriously, when was the last time a product screamed “take me with you” when you contemplated going outside? B&O’s Beolit 15 practically calls on you thanks to that esky-like form-factor and leather handle. You’ll never go empty handed to a picnic again.
We suspect there will be some who won’t like it, and they’ll see the design and weight as unnecessarily large, but the design of the B&O Beolit 15 really does grow on you, and the sound is pretty solid, too.
Essentially, if quality sound is what you’re after and a lack of microphone or playback controls doesn’t bother you, Bang & Olufsen’s Beolit 15 is worth more than a glance, though make sure you’re also ready for punches from both the bass and the price, because it’s loaded with attack on each.