• Review: B&o Play Beolit 12

    Earlier in the year the “audio visual brand of the rich & famous” Bang & Olufsen launched a new sub brand “B&o Play” the goal of which is to bring a more affordable line of their renowned product lineup to the everyday consumer. A Jetstar to QANTAS if you will of audio stylings. One of the first offerings from this new moniker is the obscurely named “Beolit 12”, a portable speaker system designed with the iOS generation in mind.

    At first glance the Beolit 12 resembles some sort of leather strapped picnic basket. Its relatively small and lightweight but stocky in stature and had I not already mentioned it was a speaker you might be asking yourself “What is it?”, the design not giving a lot away to its function yet screaming Bang & Olufsen from its minimalistic pore ridden facade. At first I have to admit I found the whole thing a little ghastly but in the month it’s sat pride of place in my lounge room the more I’ve fallen in love with its simplicity and come to appreciate the thought put in to the design. At face value the Beolit 12 is a giant box, its top is recessed and contains the only four buttons on the device, on/off, wireless and a volume up & down. On its side are two exposed ports, a USB port and a 3.5mm line in jack whilst on the back is a rectangular panel that can be pressed to open a door to storage space (for cables) and hiding an ethernet port (for setup & configuration of the device) and a power port.

    It’s a list of connectivity almost synonymous with any iOS dock out there in the market today with one large exception; there’s no dock connector to rest your device on and it’s one of the best design decisions I’ve seen in an iOS sound system yet. I’m not a fan of the way your iPhone juts out of most docks on the market and looks like such a tacked-on addition jutting out not unlike the proverbial “dogs’ balls”. Instead your iPhone/iPod can safely rest upon the top of the Beolit 12, cocooned by it’s cleverly lipped surface to prevent it vibrating to the floor, and its music stream wirelessly via AirPlay or tethered via cable to its USB socket and charging to boot.

    To get up and running with your Beolit 12 it’s as simple as turning it on, connecting your iOS device with a standard dock connector cable and pressing play in the “Music” app. Nothing could be more simple. The availability of the 3.5mm line in also always easy connection of other music sprouting devices such as an Android phone or alike. It’s the wireless setup that unfortunately has a few issues and had me pulling my hair out more than once.

    To start you’ll need to connect your Beolit 12 via an included ethernet cable to your computer (PC/Mac/Linux, it doesn’t matter). Once connected you’ll open your favourite browser and punch in an included IP address to bring up the configuration pages running of some faux web server inside the Beolit 12. The pages are hardly attractive but then I’d argue that software design & UI have always been an issue for B&o so it was no surprise. You can give the device a name and get details like it’s wireless MAC address but you’re in here to connect the device to your wireless network. There are spaces for three wireless profiles to be configured as you may move the device between work and home or your lavish holiday home perhaps? Initially I thought it was clever, three profiles and when the wireless is activated it would run through them all to try and connect to whichever it could find. Alas for me it would never connect unless I made the particular network at the time active in the device, which would mean needing to connect the Beolit 12 to a computer to switch profiles kind of defeating the purpose of having the profiles in my opinion.

    The actual scanning and selection of wireless network in the setup is relatively straight forward for anyone that knows what they’re doing but still complicated enough that you’d want to do it for your parents before they call you for tech support. After punching in all the details the Beolit 12 restarts and pressing the wireless button on its top will then start it trying to connect to your configured network. I say “trying” because I went through this setup loop about five times before it actually connected, I still have no idea why. Now, finally, with the wireless button illuminated you can stream to it as you would any AirPlay device.

    Bang & Olufsen’s products have often been touted as having a price tag dictated by their brand’s exclusivity rather than sound quality. A very familiar sounding story if you’re up on your Apple history I’m sure and most likely a source of inspiration behind the new B&o Play group of products. With that in mind the Beolit 12 is a surprisingly good sounding little box, taking the best from it’s bigger brothers and squeezing them into a tight little consumer package. Inside you’ll find little room to spare, two 2” tweeters, a 4” sub and a 120W amp are packed in combining to provide a clear range of tones. Top end is clean and crisp while the more bassy beats can vibrate your favourite vase to its doom without any hideous distortion. I’m not sure I’d take it over B&W’s Zeppelin in terms of sound quality alone but definitely gives any of the Bose boxes a good run for their money.

    The Beolit 12’s A$899 price tag puts it in the upper echelon of “iPod docks” there’s no argument there but it’s hardly alone at that price point and being a B&o product that’s a rarity of some sort. Does it deserve to be there, definitely, it’s sound quality is on a par with the other big players and its size is smaller than than both as well as adding extra features and portability! The Beolit 12’s inbuilt battery will last well passed the documented 6 hours, for me nearly 8 (without AirPlay on), a feature lacking on most at this price being fixed mains powered devices.

    There is definitely some room for improvement, especially software wise, but also in smaller things like the device auto turning off and disconnecting from a wireless network even when plugged into mains power. It’s an annoyance more than anything.

    Aesthitcally beauty is in the eye of the beholder, personally the Beolit 12 isn’t the most beautiful but its a long, long way above being the most ugly dock on the market. I love the fact there’s not stand/dock to turn my iPhone into a monolith but others will undoubtedly rue its absence.

    If you’ve been out taking a look at similarly priced docks like the B&W Zeppelin or you’re a die hard B&o nut then do yourself a favour and take a trip to your local B&o store, the Beolit 12 will pleasantly surprise you.
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