Bang & Olufsen Beloab 90 Review
Axpona meet Bang & Olufsen
We recently met one of the most exceptional and best wireless speakers available. Here is our story from the Axpona Show, as it happened.
Beolab 90 Review & Demo by David Zapfel of Bang & Olufsen at Axpona 2017 Chicago [Video]
The Axpona high-end hi-fi show in Chicago is where you will find thousands of audiophiles, musicians, music lovers and 700 or so manufacturers showcasing luxury ultra high-end music systems.
At the show you’ll find individual rooms with the most impressive loudspeakers connected to mono-block amplifiers and turntables you can’t lift along with small footprint streaming speakers for the living room and the rest of the house.
Axpona also has a huge ballroom set aside so you can find every hyper-priced tweak and cable for your system along with accessories and some great new vinyl. All this available for your basic hi-fi nut in April of every year at the Westin Hotel minutes from Chicago’s O'Hare airport.
This is our fourth year attending and it’s obvious the number of new high-end audio brands now excited to talk about their wireless streaming music solutions. The exhibits and listening rooms were better than ever and we found the newest streaming speaker systems at KEF, Audioengine, Sonos, JBL, Cambridge Audio and Bang & Olufsen, which just happened to be our first visit at this years Axpona Hi-Fi Show.
It’s Because of the B&O Beolab 90
We recently reviewed the tiny B&O Beoplay H5 Wireless Earphones and these Beolab 90 Speakers really are at the opposite end of the specturm in terms of physical size and sheer volume. Some may ask why is Bang & Olufsen exhibiting at the premiere audiophile high-end stereo show? Aren’t these products coming from Denmark the antithesis of a proper audio system? Style over substance, more a decor thing, and so expensive? That was about what almost every audio salon salesperson said that didn’t carry the B&O line.
From our experience, and our wives and partners, doubters forget to mention that B&O products are well made, really beautiful, and capable of still looking stunning 20 years on. Given that B&O has this wonderful aesthetics fans live with their music systems and they stop obsessing about their equipment. For this group, they simply enjoy the musical results and usability the company brings to the party.
Face to Face With Beolab 90
While we are familiar with smaller B&O speakers like the Beoplay A9, it was certainly clear once we stood before Beolab 90 loudspeaker system what B&O had in mind for Axpona show goers with this dramatic looking pair of audio reproducers. I almost immediately imagined a product placement scene in the latest Batman movie as Bruce Wayne walks past these Beolab 90 bad boys set up in the living room of his manor.
Walking around the Beolab 90 we knew a groundbreaking audio system is what B&O had in mind. For that reason alone we wanted to listen to some of our favorite music and learn more about how such an outrageous digital active loudspeaker came about.
We learned the Beolab 90 was a concept loudspeaker system to represent 90 years of Bang & Olufsen audio technology. It's price tag aside, with its multitude of technologies, the Beolab 90 is the biggest and most advanced loudspeaker Bang & Olufsen has ever made for the home.
Beginning with the aesthetics. The loudspeakers sweeping curves and soft lines of acoustic fabric accented with aluminum taking up most of your view when approaching the Beolab 90 from various angles. Fortunately these curves somehow gives a lightness to the appearance of each of these 300 lbs aluminum enclosures. The finishing touch for the each unit is in the lower third where a softly curved wood appears to visually anchor the speaker to the floor adding an elegant end to the design.
We know the loudspeakers enclosures and speaker configuration were envisioned and built first. The goal was first create the perfect speaker system and then the designers came in and created the look. Inside the Beolab 90 is packed with much more technology than you’ll find in your everyday Axpona show ultra expensive floor standing passive speaker system. Instead, the Beolab 90 is an active speaker packing 18 Scan-Speak loudspeakers each with its own amplifier totaling 8200 watts inside each enclosure. Add to that, individual DSP units along with all the modern connections you’ll ever need making it very complete audio system requiring only a source for music.
The B&O folks worked the day before the show having an intelligent way of setting everything up to provide the best sound possible for the show. I mention that because in most cases for a high-end demo of a pair of traditional passive speakers it would first involve having all of the associated amplifiers and components connected. Then the manufacturer tries to find a sonically decent hotel room. After that they’ll measure and physically move the speakers about putting marks on the floor to hopefully create a sweet spot and sound quality in the hotel space similar to back at the factories listening rooms. Like blue screens of death at computer shows sometimes this goes poorly and the speaker is not represented at its best which everyone hates to see happen.
Instead, and as mentioned, the Bang & Olufsen Beolab 90 loudspeakers has intelligent technology. It really does take over and does all the heavy lifting to get the proper sound quality for the system and the room it’s in. This is all handled during initial setup using a supplied microphone and a touch device.
Once the 600 lbs speaker's are situated in a room the acoustic compensation technology takes over. It takes into account problematic resonances and boundary effects from your walls and furnishings along with the loudspeakers location and finally your listening position.
With the hopes of delivering sensational sound in any room after you’ve done the initial setup the new technology continues. Using the dedicated control app or the remote control you can beam away those bad room reflections and dial in a sweet spot. Or, you can widen the beam till you have 360 degrees of dispersion.
to 360 is party mode we think?
Ready to Do Some Listening?
Spending time with the best wireless speakers is our uppermost priority here at rateyoursound so we are happy to sit down and give a listen. I'm also very pleased to report that everything was streaming and worked during the one-hour demonstration. No hiccups of any kind or pauses and was to a new level of seamless play. It should really prove that wireless technology even under show conditions can be perfect.
Playing music was done exclusively through the B&O control app and helpfully we could all view what was going on with a Bang & Olufsen TV in front of us. A seamless play feature was explained and demonstrated along with some audiophile tracks to show the full capability of the loudspeaker. Next up they demonstrated the ability to beam a wider or narrow stereo soundstage and let us hear its sonic effects.
Beolab 90 Review [Video]
We then enjoyed listening to the Eagles, Steely Dan, David Bowie and Led Zeppelin. The speaker is very full bodied with 36 individual loudspeakers pumping out plenty of big sound. If you like a very directional sound signature you'll enjoy music when the beam was set to its narrowest mode. With that the high-end and mid-range all came together and there was a nice sweet spot along with the less thump as you crank up the Beam.
The system is not as overbearing as you widen the Beam but things changed very dramatically and the sound diffused in a way that seemed to add some drama with more speakers firing. When you’re doing serious listening we consider the Narrow the “audiophile” mode. With so many occasions other than private listening sessions we know owners of these loudspeakers will really enjoy playing with the Beam Width Control in Narrow, Wide, or Omni with music and films.
Beolab 90 Craftsmanshio [Video]
Audiophiles will dislike its all inclusive turn-key nature because it will cure Gear Acquisition Syndrome. For the rest of us we have to conclude if you are looking for a custom built wireless active audio system to stream music you'd be hard-pressed to find anything more luxurious or better sounding than the Beolab 90. B&O connected all the dots by building all the amplifiers and advanced DSP inside the the Beolab 90 loudspeaker and shows the way forward to the rest of the audiophile speaker crowd.
We think using the system with the control app adds to the enjoyment of the Beolab 90. We loved the gapless streaming and imagine if we owned this system tweaking the sound with the app or remote control would be a regular event. To be able to get electronic, rock or a symphonies and operas sounding just right would be an enjoyable exercise from the listening chair.
The Beolab 90 will not be for everybody, but is will be for someone who wants a very special loudspeaker that in fact is a complete audio system. It’s loaded with DSP room control to the ultimate degree and the result is impressive luxurious sound.
Many thanks to the team at Bang & Olufsen America, Inc.
David Zapfel, Product/Training Manager
Thomas Folkmann, Regional Services Manager
Todd Anderson, Pro Partner Manager - Region Central East
Dora Czeczotka, Senior Marketing and PR Manager
If you want a wireless speaker that it a bit more down to earth than the wonderful Beolab 90 then take a look at our High-end Wireless Speaker Comparison Table for more.