Anyone who reads my reviews regularly will know I am a bit of a Bang & Olufsen fanboy. It all stems from my teenage years when I saw my first B&O audio system and fell in love with its futuristic design. Back in the 1970s, B&O turntables, music centers and cassette decks looked like nothing else on the planet. The achingly cool and futuristic designs still look stunning and the sound wasn’t half bad either.
Some 50 years later and I still love the premium B&O design. When you buy B&O you are buying as much a piece of art or sculpture as a piece of audio equipment. These days, the Danish brand focuses on cutting-edge design with an innovative line-up of wireless speakers, headphones and earbuds. B&O is an investment and even more so these days as the company puts sustainability at its heart and buying a B&O speaker is like buying a family heirloom. The chances are your grandchildren will be listening to your B&O gear in years to come.
The latest wireless speaker from B&O Copenhagen is the Beolab 8, one of the most challenging designs I think the company has ever produced. Designed by Noto GmbH, the Beolab 8 is sure to divide rooms. It looks a little like a helmet worn by a crusader knight from the Middle Ages. It won’t appeal to everyone but I’m sure hardened B&O fans will love it.
The Beolab 8 has lots of features including Ethernet USB and Wi-Fi connectivity, plus Bluetooth 5.3 with support for SBC and AAC codecs. There’s also built-in support for Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast plus Tidal and Spotify Connect. You also get access to B&O’s Radio Tuner for receiving thousands of internet radio stations around the globe. There are four presets for storing your favorites on the stylish glass top plate so you can instantly connect to your most listened-to radio stations.
One feature the Beolab 8 doesn’t have is voice control for Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. That’s quite an oversight. Initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of voice control but now I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t simply tell my smart speaker to play my favorite radio station or podcast. Maybe there could be a firmware update to add voice control in the future. That would be a welcome addition.
Controlling the Beolab 8 is best done by downloading the B&O smartphone app. There’s also the glass top plate of the speaker which has the main controls you need like play/pause, skip and volume. The touch controls are wonderfully sensitive and a quick and easy way to stop or mute the music when, say, the phone rings or someone is knocking at the door.
The B&O app is a clean and typically Scandi piece of design that provides access to all the advanced controls you might want for fine-tuning the speaker. The app takes a little getting used to as it’s quite minimalist, but all the controls you need are there, you just need to hunt for some of them, such as the tone controls. The app can also be used to update Beolab’s firmware whenever B&O pushes out a new version which may include new features or fixes for any issues users might report.
Let’s deal with the physical design first. The aluminum case of the Beolab 8 looks like an upturned munitions shell. There are four mounting options available: wall brackets, pole stands, table pedestal and even a ceiling mount due soon. At the front of the speaker, there is the grille that covers the 0.6-inch tweeter, 3-inch mid-range and 5.25-inch woofer. There is an option of a wooden grille or a more subtle fabric cover to conceal the speaker units. I love the wooden grille in oak as there’s something about the natural feel of wood next to the gorgeous and hi-tech, brushed aluminum case that makes the speaker so approachable.
The round control plate on the top of the speaker is embedded with touch controls that are backlit and connected to a proximity sensor which gently illuminates the controls whenever your hand goes near the speaker. It’s sleek and stylish. Like all B&O products, the Beolab 8 is so usable and natural to control. It just works.
At the heart of the Beolab 8 is a digital-to-analog chipset that can handle digital audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution and that covers most bases for this kind of speaker. Driving the three speakers is a whopping 300W of digital amplification, enough power for a space of up to 60m2. This is a loud device considering its size and I would love to hear two Beolab 8s working as a stereo pair in a large room. A combined output of 600W should be able to rattle a few teacups.
Setting up the Beolab 8 is a walk in the park thanks to the B&O smartphone app. After connecting to your home wireless network, the app then prompts you to tweak the speaker’s tuning so that it considers the acoustics of your room. This is done by running the Advanced Room Compensation function that triggers a sweep through the speaker’s full frequency range. A microphone in the Beolab 8 monitors the sweep and then adjusts the EQ to match your room. There’s also a. bass version of the test that fiddles with the bass. Finally, the app will ask you if you want a wide or a more focused beam of sound.
Like many of B&O’s recent speakers, the Beolab 8 uses the company’s Mozart platform. This is a modular brain for the speaker and is designed to be upgraded in the future no matter how audio technology develops. This is why B&O sells its products as heirlooms and says they should give years of use because they are specifically designed to adapt to the future. And it’s not just the future that B&O has an eye on. Thanks to the Mozart platform, the Beolab 8 can work with any Bang & Olufsen products stretching back to the 1980s.
So how does this unusual speaker sound? Well, I was already for that laid-back B&O signature sound but I was in for something of a shock. This is the most forward-sounding and energetic speaker that I’ve ever heard from B&O. Both the treble and the mid-range project forward quite aggressively, leaving the bass to underpin the rhythm but without a particularly warm or languid bottom end. This is a speaker that will have you sitting up in your armchair rather than gently snoozing. If you like dance tracks or music with bite, then you are going to love the Beolab 8.
I wouldn’t want to create the impression that the Beolab is light on bass because it isn’t. However, it’s a bass that is heard more than felt. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s not a sound that’s suited to all genres. If you like a phat bass with your jazz while sipping a whisky, this might not be a speaker for you. There are tone controls and the positioning of the speaker will make a difference. I suspect that a stereo pair of Beolab 8s would be very impressive. The stars of the show are the midrange and treble. The Beolab 8 has got this right in spades and there’s so much definition but it never strays into being harsh or too analytical. It’s a beguiling sound that suits some music so well and maybe could be a bit too bright for certain, less-excitable recordings.
Verdict: The B&O Beolab 8 is what we in the UK call a ‘Marmite product.’ Marmite is a yeast extract spread that many Brits put on toast. People either love it or hate it. There’s very little in between with Marmite. And that’s how I think people will view the Beolab 7; they’ll either love or hate its unusual design and forward sound. The design won’t suit every home but in the right space, it will look breath-taking. As well as the aluminum and light oak finish of the loan unit I auditioned, there is a Gold Tone version with light oak grille or you might prefer the Black Anthracite with dark oak grille. Then there’s the choice of stands to suit the room you’re going to use the Beolab 8 in. The price of the speaker is quite high but you’re buying a piece of art here with a potentially long life thanks to the Mozart platform. If you like the look of the Beolab 8, I have a feeling you’ll love the sound.
Pricing & Availability: The B&O Beolab 8 is available now and costs $3,299 / £2,699 / €2,999. A pair of Beloab 8s can be bought for $6,598 / £5,398 / €5,998. The table stand ships with the Beolab 8 as standard and the floor stand is available for $200 / £200 / €200 while the wall bracket costs $100 / £100 / €100.
More info: bang-olufsen.com
- Speakers: 1 x 0.6″ tweeter, 1 x 3″ mid-range, 1 x 5 ¼” woofer.
- Amplifier: Class D 300W / 50W for tweeter, 50W for mid-range, 200W for woofer
- Frequency range: 28 – 23,000Hz.
- Maximum sound pressure level (SPL) @1m: 104 dB (SPL) per pair.
- Bass capability: 90 dB (SPL) per pair.
- Active Room Compensation: Yes.
- Fluid Sweet Spot: Yes (expected early 2024).
- Beam Width Control: Yes.
- Adaptive Bass Linearization: Yes.
- Customizable sound EQ: Yes.
- Bluetooth: Version 5.3.
- Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC.
- Ultra-Wideband: Yes.
- Wi-Fi: Dual-Band Wi-Fi (2.4 & 5 GHz) IEEE 802.11 b/g/a/n/ac/ax.
- Streaming services: Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect, Chromecast built-in, TIDAL Connect, B&O Radio, Deezer, QPlay 2.0.
- Beolink Multiroom: Yes.
- Wireless Powerlink: Yes (up to 24-bit / 96kHz).
- Connections: 2 x Ethernet, 1 x Power Link (RJ45), 1 x Line-in via USB-C 1.
- Materials: Aluminium, fabric, wood polymer.
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 18.9 x 29 x 16.5cm.
- Weight: 4.1kg.