Bang & Olufsen's latest active wireless speakers are definitely not a case of style over substance
Bang & Olufsen's BeoLab 17 is the first speaker in the world that meets the WiSA standard for wireless audio. Decoded sound up to 24-bit/48kHz (WiSA is capable of 96kHz, but 48kHz is imposed for signal robustness) is transmitted to each active speaker.
Without a WiSA source, calibration is rudimentary but the speakers could still be used as a stereo pair for music or as a soundbar alternative. With a current B&O BeoVision 11 screen, setup should be a doddle. For non-B&O screens you can add an Apple Airport Express, which has RJ45 outputs and an optical audio input, plus a variable volume control. Rather complex and too messy for anyone to seriously consider.
The speakers can also be hardwired to the source, but even this is best done within a B&O ecosystem. Simply to enable me to test the wireless qualities of the speakers, B&O supplied me with another option – its Playmaker, which has volume control, a 3.5mm line in and AirPlay, but no optical jack.
B&O doesn’t do boring boxes. The Beolab 17s are hefty asymmetric cabinets, formed from aluminium triangles with a fabric cover. The design screams loft apartment rather than suburban semi and build quality is first-rate. Each cabinet has a 6in midbass cone and 0.75in tweeter, each powered by a 160W amp.
That’s 640W in total, and the power output is phenomenal. Moreover, the detail is incredible and the tonal balance is spot on. The vocals in Antony & The Johnsons’ Twilight are intense, the throb of Jeff Beck’s guitar in So Real resonates sublimely, whilst classical works yield profound levels of clarity. The mid-range is highly detailed, the treble is smooth and accurate, and the bass is rich and velvety. You can push the volume without risk; even at high levels the speakers have plenty in reserve.
Some may prefer a warmer sound rather than B&O's clinical response, but if the BeoLab 17 is within your fiscal reach rest assured there’s substance here as much as style. A complete 5.1 system is tantalisingly available.
Bang & Olufsen Beolab 17, £2,600, www.bang-olufsen.com
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