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Sonus faber Duetto Review: incredible sound, spotty performance
6:00 pm | January 20, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Speakers | Tags: , , | Comments: Off

SONUS FABER DUETTO: ONE-MINUTE REVIEW

The best wireless speakers can be the audiophile’s soundbar, wrapping all the inputs, amplification, and streaming tech you need into a standalone, high-performance audio solution. Sonus faber’s dashingly elegant Duetto speakers check off those boxes in style, offering brilliantly clear and robust sound quality alongside convenient wireless streaming and plenty of ways to connect.

The design is cutting-edge, right down to the wireless connection between the speakers, but as is surprisingly common with audiophile brands, the execution isn’t always as intuitive or reliable as you’d expect from a luxury product. Over the course of my Duetto review, I experienced multiple tech issues, from setup hiccups to spotty HDMI ARC communication. The speakers add to those issues with some awkward design quirks and control options.

The Duetto easily rank among the most transparent, dynamic, and just plain stylish powered bookshelf speakers I’ve evaluated. If you’re willing to gamble on their tech, which may improve over time with software updates, they could be worth considering for those seeking an all-in-one best stereo speakers option that’s as beautiful as it is sonically striking. Otherwise, there are more stalwart options out there. 

sonus faber duetto closeup on stand

(Image credit: Future)

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Price & release date

  • Released October 2023
  • Priced at $3,999 / £3,490

The Sonus faber Duetto speakers were released in October 2023 and are available in over 50 countries worldwide through authorized dealers. At the time of this review, the U.S. price for the Sonus faber Duetto was $3,999. 

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Specs

sonus faber duetto bottom ports

Hardwired connection options include HDMI eARC, optical digital, and MM phono inputs (Image credit: Future)

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Features

  • Powered wireless speakers connected over UWB
  • Phono, optical, and HDMI ARC/eARC inputs
  • Webpage for control; setup via AirPlay, Google Home, or Ethernet

Among their many intriguing features, maybe the most unique is how these high-resolution wireless speakers connect to one another. 

Like most powered/active speakers, the Duetto pair comprises a primary speaker that houses onboard controls and inputs and a secondary speaker that receives audio from its partner. Unlike other such wireless systems, the two speakers aren’t connected via a data cable or Wi-Fi, relying instead on a relatively new wireless protocol called UWB (Ultra wideband). UWB uses radio waves for some distinct advantages over alternatives, including much lower latency than Bluetooth LE and virtually zero signal interference when compared to Wi-Fi frequencies.

Each of the Duetto speakers is internally powered by potent custom amplifiers, including a 100 watt Class A/B amplifier for each tweeter and a Class-D amplifier claimed to produce a whopping 250 watts for each 5.25-inch woofer. You can choose which speaker is the left or right, depending on the room layout. The two-way speakers utilize internal DSP (digital signal processing) with a crossover set at 1.9 kHz. Their total frequency response is a claimed 37Hz-30kHz, and they reach deep into that low end with authority.

On the primary speaker’s supple leather topside, you’ll find lighted “Senso” touch keys that let you tap your way through playback, volume, and input control. It’s a slick design, but it takes a while to master the functions without the familiar playback symbols you’ll find on most wireless speakers. You’ll also need to memorize the different colors flashing across the speaker’s front LED display bar (seven in all) for each input – the price you pay for style.

Style also takes precedence for the Duetto’s physical input hub. Inputs include Ethernet, RCA line-in (with an available built-in phono pre for a turntable), optical digital, subwoofer out, and HDMI ARC/eARC, all stuffed into a small cubby beneath the primary speaker. This allows for clean lines across the speaker’s elegantly industrial backside., but it can be confounding for usability, requiring an awkward balancing act anytime you need to swap cables or access the Duetto’s reset or speaker pairing keys. Simply moving those keys to the back would be helpful.

Awkward is the operative word for my Duetto setup experience, starting with pairing the speakers together once you’ve powered them on. This requires digging through your tangle of wires under the main speaker’s base, finding the tiny pairing button next to the equally tiny reset button and holding it for five seconds, then dashing to the other speaker to do the same within 30 seconds. The first time I must have failed to hold the button long enough, forcing a retry.

Next, since Sonus faber (oddly) doesn’t include a dedicated app for setup or control, you’ll need to use either AirPlay setup or the Google Home app to connect to Wi-Fi. My first review sample, a previously used model, refused to connect to my network multiple times. Once I finally did get the speakers to play, they sputtered offline again and eventually got stuck in a power-cycle feedback loop as I tried to reset them.

A second review pair connected without incident via AirPlay, but I did experience some hiccups in which the speakers stopped responding to Spotify, forcing me to reset them or reconnect. On another occasion, the left speaker suddenly stopped playing, forcing another power down. Most notably, after testing them over a few weeks, the Duetto started having HDMI ARC connection issues. It seems to be a CEC communication problem, where the speakers don’t always power on and/or connect when I turn on the TV, sometimes forcing me to connect manually or, again, power cycle them. While I can usually get them working, the issue was persistent through multiple HDMI cables, multiple TV settings, and even multiple TVs.

The Duetto’s reliance on a webpage for online controls is also less convenient than speakers with a dedicated app. The webpage provides some useful features like the ability to configure HDMI switching, adapt the bass for near-wall setup and turn it down in quiet moments via the “Loudness Maximiser.” But it’s missing options like a multi-band EQ or inputs selection. You’ll need to bookmark it in your browser or rely on the physical manual’s QR code for access. A real app appears to be coming, which would be a big help for usability if and when it arrives.

  • Features score: 3/5

Sonus faber duetto speakers on stands in living room

Screenshots of the BluOS app used to control streaming and speaker setup (Image credit: Future)

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Sound quality

  • Sensitive, transparent, and dynamic sound
  • Dimensional and precise soundstage
  • Powerful and clear bass response

Listening to the Duetto is not a passive experience, it’s an event. Their nuanced sound signature is as sensitive as it is powerful, diving deep into the core of each instrument, vocal, or effect and raising it to the surface to be exposed in the light of day. Poorer mixes and low-resolution tracks have nowhere to hide from these sonic magnifiers. Yet their smooth and sweet sound signature is remarkably forgiving, with a warm and present midrange, fluid and vividly responsive treble that’s forward but never sharp, and shockingly thunderous bass.

You’ll have no trouble enjoying compressed audio over Spotify Connect, even finding yourself distracted from other tasks by the Duetto’s knack for detail and definition. But you’ll spark more joy by using a source more worthy of their pedigree – this is a pair of $4,000 speakers after all. 

I started my evaluation in earnest pairing the Duetto with a new Technics SL1500-C turntable and a reprint of Dave Bruebeck’s classic album “Take Five” fresh out of the wrapper. And what a listen it was. I’ve heard some very good speakers in my day, and I was still taken off guard by just how fabulously the Duetto reproduced this iconic album. You know you’re onto something when your notes include phrases like “a joyous celebration of life and art.”

There’s not an instrument these speakers don’t know how to elevate. The breathy buzz of the sax in “Strange Meadow Lark” was so close I could almost feel it against my neck. The papery texture of the drums in the titular track revealed each of Joe Morello’s minute wrist adjustments in mellow-gold microtones. Even the warm gunk in the diaphragms of those ‘50s microphones seemed to glow through the tweeters as bass strings rattled and Brubeck’s creamy piano spun up and down the right side. The voluminous soundstage rises to near three-dimensionality in such moments, with instruments seeming to reach out and curve around your face.

The soundstage was similarly enveloping with TV and movies, even when dialing up seemingly basic fare like a rewatch of “Christmas Vacation” over the holidays. The Duetto built a cavern of spacious sound here, and was especially adept at reconstructing minute details like a TV in another room. The guttural roar of Eddie’s RV as he fired it up to kidnap Clark’s boss had me looking outside, while the rocket-like bombast of Santa’s plastic reindeer as they’re launched into orbit at the movie’s conclusion seemed to rumble the whole front of the room. The sound was so expansive it felt like a Dolby Atmos mix, all from a compressed stream over stereo speakers.

As I listened on, I was constantly surprised by the Duetto’s transparency, from whistling high-frequency synthesizers to the painstaking reconstruction of every mix or soundstage as if laid out before me. Still, the Duetto’s oak-like bass response is their most striking sonic trait. As noted, they’re rated down to 37Hz, and I’ll be damned if they don’t get close. Adding a sub will clear up some room in the upper register and provide more control, but it’s otherwise unnecessary given the Duetto’s powerful punch. Bass is almost too powerful in some tracks, even after being tamed in the settings, which was why I sometimes wished for better EQ.

EQ or not, I won’t raise any official complaints about the Duetto’s sound. If it weren’t for the technical mishaps I encountered, I’d likely be considering throwing down the cash to grab them myself. They offer among the most impressive sonic performances I’ve ever heard in a pair of bookshelves. Even as I write this review, I’m finding new ways to be impressed, engaged, and elated by their skills.

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

sonus faber duetto top surface

The lighted “Senso” touch keys on the speaker's leather-wrapped top surface that let you tap your way through playback, volume, and input control (Image credit: Future)

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Design

  • Relatively compact, fully wireless bookshelf design
  • Dashingly elegant, minimalist aesthetic in black or walnut
  • Inconvenient inputs and control layout

At just over 13 inches tall and 11 inches deep, the Duetto are easy to place on most speaker stands and longer consoles. Sonus faber also offers custom Duetto stands at a lofty $749. The speakers are unflinchingly gorgeous and well-built, from their perfectly matched, lute-shaped cabinets to their leather tops and hefty metal heat sinks. They’re among the only speakers I’ve seen that look as good with their acoustic screens on as off. The lack of any visible physical connections along or between the two speakers makes for a squeaky-clean aesthetic.

As noted above, it also makes basic things like swapping in a new device or re-pairing the speakers in the event of a reset or connection issue inconvenient, with everything confined beneath the primary speaker. Even the slick remote feels overengineered, requiring a lockpick’s touch to open the battery slot via a tiny hole at the back.

At least some of these decisions feel like form over function. It all works fine if you only need to set the speakers up once and don’t plan on adding any new gear later, but it makes everything more of a hassle when something changes or goes wrong.

  • Design score: 3/5

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Value

  • Audiophile sound performance with a price to match
  • Loads of inputs and connection options
  • Reliability and convenience take a backseat to aesthetics

The Sonus faber Duetto are among the priciest wireless bookshelf speakers I’ve encountered, with the sound to back it up. Their design is as stunning as it is unassuming, matching elegance with minimalism to striking effect. The inclusion of multiple inputs, including a built-in pre-amp for vinyl playback and HDMI ARC/eARC makes them a versatile and comprehensive sound solution.

However, you can find similar models, including hi-fi options like KEF’s LS50 Wireless II, for thousands less. In my experience, KEF’s design and tech are also more reliable and intuitive. The Duetto’s sound performance sets them apart nearly as distinctly as their price point, but their reliability issues and sometimes awkward design elements keep them from being as attractive as more affordable competitors.

  • Value score: 2.5/5

sonus faber duetto in living room with TV

(Image credit: Future)

Should you buy the SONUS FABER DUETTO?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: Also consider

sonus faber duetto in living room with TV

(Image credit: Future)

SONUS FABER DUETTO REVIEW: How I tested

  • Tested with both compressed lossy and hi-res lossless streaming services, including Spotify Connect and Amazon Music
  • Tested with high-resolution analog and TV sound sources across a wide range of content, from jazz and hip-hop to sitcoms, dramas, and action films
  • Tested two pairs over several weeks with dozens of hours of listening time

I used the Sonus faber Duetto as my primary sound source over multiple weeks of testing and across a wide variety of source material, from compressed audio tracks over Wi-Fi to high-quality vinyl albums and a wide array of TV shows and films. Source devices included Technics SL1500-C direct drive turntable and Ortofon Red cartridge, as well as multiple TV models from TCL, Samsung, and LG.

I compared the speakers to several alternatives, including my reference KEF LSX wireless speakers, and traditional wired speakers from Focal, Bowers & Wilkins, and others connected to a Naim Uniti network amplifier.

You can read TechRadar's review guarantee here.

  • First reviewed: January 2024
PSB Alpha iQ speakers review: an all-in-one wireless hi-fi wonder
11:00 pm | December 17, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Speakers | Tags: | Comments: Off

PSB Alpha iQ: One-minute review

The Alpha iQ from Canada’s PSB Speakers is the company’s first active-streaming model: a very compact bookshelf design that nevertheless produces superb sound with surprising dynamic and bass abilities. Like other examples of the best wireless speakers, On-board Wi-Fi, USB, and aptx HD Bluetooth give users plenty of streaming options, and it uses the BluOS ecosystem for multiroom playback and control. 

The BluOS Controller iOS/Android app (MacOS and Windows versions are also available) used by the Alpha iQ is highly capable but occasionally quirky to navigate, though AirPlay and Roon (the Alpha iQ is “Roon Ready”) provide further streaming options. The iQ also has a turntable-ready phono input and an HDMI eARC port for the best TVs, so connection flexibility here is excellent.

Listeners who value accurate, true-to-life musical sound will be well pleased, though those seeking maximum head-bang-per-buck may be disappointed. Nonetheless, the Alpha iQs are more than ready to fill any up to solidly medium-sized room with convincing levels of lifelike musical sound. 

PSB Alpha iQ wireless speakers

(Image credit: Future)

PSB Alpha iQ review: Price & release date

  • Released September 2022
  • Priced at $1,299 / £1,099

The PSB Alpha iQ was released in September 2022 and is available in the US, UK, Europe and directly from the PSB Speakers website. At the time this review posted, the price for the Alpha iQ had dropped to $999 in the US. 

PSB Alpha iQ review: Specs

PSB Alpha iQ wireless speakers back views

Hardwired connection options include HDMI eARC, MM phono, 3.5mm analog and a subwoofer output (Image credit: Future)

PSB Alpha iQ review: Features

  • Powered speaker pair
  • HDMI eARC and phono inputs
  • BluOS app used for setup and control

The Alpha iQ’s two speakers are not identical, though each builds in a pair of amplifiers, of 30 and 60 watts respectively, for the tweeter and woofer. But the “secondary” speaker has no rear-panel features at all beyond an IEC power-cord socket and a pinhole reset-button access. All connections are on the main speaker, which can be assigned left or right status at setup, while the secondary speaker receives a digital signal wirelessly from its mate. (I could not find official word on the Alpha iQ’s internal or inter-speaker resolution, but believe it to be 24-bit/192 kHz.) The crossovers, driver EQ, and smart limiting are DSP-based. 

Inputs on the main speaker include HDMI eARC, phono (moving-magnet cartridges only), an optical digital audio port, and a 3.5-inch stereo minijack input. Other connections include a subwoofer output, Ethernet network port, a USB port, and an AC power input.

A small play/pause/skip touch-panel is handsomely set into the main speaker’s top panel. No remote control is provided, as it is presumed that the BluOS app will serve as the primary user interface. This puts the BluOS app, which bakes in access to every major streaming service (and quite a few more) and is also required for installation and setup, front and center.

The new BluOS 4.0 app that’s used for streaming and control of the Alpha iQs proved a very worthwhile update – really, an overall re-design. Where I found the previous BluOS version to be occasionally confusing, and needlessly (I thought) complicated, 4.0 proved simpler, smoother, and altogether more logically laid out and organized.

That said, this is a review of the Alpha iQ speakers not of the BluOS app, so I’ll be brief. The new BluOS app’s Home Screen shows your most-used sources or services, recent stations, and a quintet of icons across the bottom to select Favorites, Music (streaming services, inputs, or network “shares”), Players (you might have multiple BluSound speakers or components in different rooms), and a Search panel.

Navigation is fairly straightforward – much more so, in my view, than the earlier versions of the app. A “now playing” bar across the bottom, which shows the current player, track and scrolling title data, a mini album-art panel, and play/pause and volume buttons. This last is a two-step process; you must first touch the Volume icon, which switches to a volume slider that you can then adjust.

  • Features score: 5/5

PSB Alpha iQ wireless speakers app screens

Screenshots of the BluOS app used to control streaming and speaker setup (Image credit: Future)

PSB Alpha iQ review: Sound quality

  • Natural sound balance
  • Stable and precise stereo imaging
  • Finite level and bass extension

The PSB Alpha iQs scored highly when it came to sound quality. Both male and female vocals were consistently natural and projected well out into the listening space. The little Alphas also went to about 45 Hz or so with honest tonality and definition. For example, on a track like Bonnie Bramlett’s rendition of the standard “Cry Me a River,” the low “F” in the bass guitar (about 44 Hz) was solid, but the low “C” below it was audibly a bit lighter when compared directly to a much larger, fuller-range speaker. 

Classical chamber music and small-combo jazz were unmitigated delights, and even orchestral recordings (Stravinsky) and reference-grade rock (Steely Dan) sounded suitably big, balanced, and impressively detailed and defined, with tight, stable stereo imaging, and plenty of output. Volume, however, was finite: when asked for more, the Alpha iQs simply failed to increase loudness, while their onboard “smart” limiting and equalization forestalled any audible distortion.

Connecting a powered subwoofer to the Alpha iQ's sub output automatically applies a high-pass filter at 80 Hz, which achieves two advantages. First, it extends system response downwards to the capability of the sub; second, it removes the burden of reproducing deep bass from the little Alpha iQs, yielding a significant gain in overall clean level. 

With my everyday subwoofer connected, the Alpha iQs became the crux of a full-range, full-level system, one that proved entirely capable of delivering a big, demanding recording like Charles Ives’ “A Concord Symphony” (the “Concord” piano sonata brilliantly orchestrated by the late Henry Brant) with visceral impact, breadth, and deep, reverberant, symphonic-bass-drum thwacks.

Imaging was fairly “tight.” By that I mean it didn’t expand much beyond the speakers or deliver an exaggerated illusion of front-to-back depth, but it was very precise in locating instruments and voices on the soundstage, and in projecting centered voices or soloists well out into the room. 

Partly inspired by this trait, I tried the Alpha iQs for a bit as desktop speakers. Despite the fact that they’re a little big for such deployment, they sounded terrific up close this way, with generally fine accuracy and a more dramatic, close-in stereo effect. But the PSBs suffered a bit from a more blousy mid-bass and slightly congested vocal range, likely due to sonic reflections from the desk and computer monitor screen surfaces. The lack of any DSP equalization for such placement, as many similar designs incorporate, was a missed opportunity here.

I briefly used the HDMI eARC input to confirm operation with my Sony OLED TV, which worked as expected. I also spun a few LPs from my classic Rega Planar turntable with its equally classic Shure V-15III moving magnet cartridge doing the honors, and this sounded as excellent as I expected. And as already mentioned, connecting my compact sub to the Alpha iQ’s subwoofer output transformed the little PSBs into a full-blown, full-range, high-end experience.

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

PSB Alpha iQ wireless speakers close up of top surface

Top panel controls for volume adjustment (Image credit: Future)

PSB Alpha iQ review: Design

  • Compact bookshelf design
  • Blue, orange, yellow, black or white matte lacquer finishes
  • 2-way “tweeter under” configuration

The PSB Alpha iQ speakers are compact-bookshelf size and borderline small enough for desktop use. They are available in blue, orange, yellow, black or white matte lacquer finishes. My black pair showed first-rate fit and finish and attention to detail. 

The Alpha iQs have an unusual, “tweeter-under” design, meant to be located “upside-down” with the 4-inch woofer above the 0,75-inch tweeter to direct the “in-phase lobe” (i.e. the best-balanced sound) to the listener’s ears. With a multi-color LED integrated into the tweeter, and slim bright-work accent rings around each driver, it’s a very handsome rig. The cabinets are vented by rear-panel ports (the rear panel and front baffle are aluminum, while speaker’s top, bottom, and sides are the usual MDF wood-composite). 

  • Design score: 4/5

PSB Alpha iQ review: Value

  • Pricier than similar options
  • Can accommodate both analog and streamed sources
  • Added value if already in BluOS ecosystem

The PSB Alpha iQs are relatively pricey compared to similar options such as the SVS Prime Wireless Pro ($899.99) and Elac Debut ConneX ($399.98). Both the PSB and SVS feature an array of digital and analog inputs for connecting external sources, including HDMI ARC for a TV connection, and the SVS also features DTS Play-Fi for high-res multiroom streaming.

Where the PSB shows its value is in its excellent BluOS streaming and control app, wide-ranging connectivity, and great overall sound quality. The compact wireless streaming speakers category is a competitive one, however, with basic streaming-only options from brands like Sonos and Apple eating up much of the pie, so the ultimate value of the Alpha iQs will primarily lie in how sold you are on the BluOS app and ecosystem.

  • Value score: 3.5/5

PSB Alpha iQ wireless speakers on table with turntable

(Image credit: PSB)

Should you buy the PSB Alpha iQ?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

PSB Alpha iQ review: Also consider

PSB Alpha iQ wireless speakers

(Image credit: Future)

PSB Alpha iQ review: How I tested

  • Tested with music streamed via BluOS app from Qobuz, Tidal and other services
  • Auditioned in same studio as several compared speakers and in “desktop audio” setup
  • Tested over several weeks, listened to for more than 20 hours hours total

I had the PSB iQ pair for well over a month, and used them for casual music and TV audio for a week-plus before critical auditions. I played music via BluOS from Qobuz, Tidal, Apple Music/Classical, and my own local music file library, including both high-resolution and standard-rez/lossless sources. I also (briefly) streamed via Bluetooth from my iPhone XS and (also briefly) LPs from a decades-old but still-capable Rega Planar turntable.

I had several active and passive speakers, including my long-term Energy Veritas 2.2 monitors, SVS Prime Wireless, and KEF LS-60 in the same studio for direct comparison.

You can read TechRadar's review guarantee here.

  • First reviewed: December 2023
Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) review
2:55 pm | July 2, 2020

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Speakers | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: June 2020
• Launch price: $250 / £200 (approx. AU$360)
• Regular price now: $220 / £170

Update: February 2024. The Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 Gen 2 is still a hit with us on TechRadar despite its age – it's still the speaker I personally use and prefer among the best Bluetooth speakers. My strong recommendation for it comes partly because, even though it was pricey to start with and the official price has actually risen to $299 / £259 / AU$600, but it's regularly available for much less than that – it just won't always be discounted in every color. The quality of the sound balance and detail is a clear step up over the likes of the Sonos Roam, for not necessarily a lot more money – and the battery life is better, too. The sound is less bouncy and party-focused, so consider this the music-lover's choice, and it holds up in that regard to this day. The rest of this review remains as previously published.

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen): Two-minute review

Bang and Olufsen has a strong reputation, so much so that even those who don't know much about speakers know that it's a good brand to purchase from. Back in 2016, it launched its smallest and most affordable Bluetooth speaker, the Beosound A1, and now we've reached the second generation edition of the same speaker. 

At a glance, you'd think you were holding the same portable speaker as before with only some minor visual changes, but underneath the hood, there are some hefty improvements that make this an appealing package for most. 

Crucially, there's Alexa support here – something that's quite unusual for a Bluetooth only speaker. More on how that works without Wi-Fi later, but it's certainly an interesting twist on the smart speaker

Elsewhere, one of the delights about the B&O Beosound A1 is its looks. It looks gorgeous and would easily slot into any home, while also being very easy to move between rooms because, ultimately, it's made to be moved around. 

Fortunately, it's not style over substance either, with the B&O Beosound A1 delivering fantastic audio quality, with a consistently crisp sound. Whether you're listening to the latest from The Weeknd or Billie Eilish, or listening to some classical music, the Beosound A1 simply sounds great. You'll be impressed at how every instrument stands out, even if the soundstage of this mini speaker shines best in a smaller room than some beefier-looking specimens. 

Ultimately, we were impressed with the B&O Beosound A1. A marked improvement over its predecessor, there's better battery life, and waterproofing, although we're not so sure how much we'd like to take it outside the home. Alexa support is a bit poor for reasons we'll go into in our full review below, but the Beosound A1 is still a fine example of why Bang & Olufsen's good reputation precedes it.

beosound a1

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen): Price & release date

  • Costs $250 / £200 (around AU$360)
  • Launched on May 14, 2020
  • Two colors available

Launched on May 14, 2020, the B&O Beosound A1 comes with a recommended retail price of $250 / £200. That works out at around AU$360, though we're still waiting on official Australian pricing.

Don't expect discounts just yet as it's a brand new device. Be careful to look out for whether you're buying a first or second generation unit as there are considerable discounts for the former now, but you'll miss out on some key features. 

Two colors are available - Black Anthracite and Grey Mist. Both look pretty stylish and the kind of thing you could easily slip into your living room setup. 

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen): Design

  • Stylish design
  • Waterproof
  • Awkward buttons

B&O usually do a good job of designing attractive speakers and that's certainly the case here. With a metallic casing, the B&O Beosound A1 is a circular disc of a device being a little slimmer and lighter than its first generation predecessor. 

Attached to one side is a leather carrying strap with a Bang and Olufsen adorned toggle for adjustments. It makes it easy to grab as well as hook onto things for safety when on the move. 

beosound a1

(Image credit: TechRadar)

It all looks suitably classy, which means we would hate to chip it or damage it accidentally. While the IP67 certified waterproofing of the B&O Beosound A1 makes it suitable for outdoor use, we're not convinced we'd fancy its chances on a muddy hike. This is a waterproof speaker to leave by the pool rather than take anywhere off the beaten path. 

All the controls are around the outside of the speaker. There are buttons for power, Bluetooth, microphone, as well as volume, along with a USB-C charging port too. 

Annoyingly, the buttons aren't raised or tactile in any way. That means they look great but if you're fumbling in the dark to adjust something, you won't be able to see what you're doing. 

beosound a1

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen): Audio performance

  • Crisp sound 
  • Relatively small soundstage
  • Stereo pairing support

The revamped B&O Beosound A1 has a 3.5-inch woofer along with a 0.6-inch tweeter, and it's powered by two 30W Class D amplifiers. As well as that, the grille has a slightly different hole pattern to its predecessor. 

OK, so we're not sure if that makes a huge difference to the sound, but the rest of the specs bode well for a strong audio performance. It also now supports Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive codec, although bear in mind that your smartphone might not. 

beosound a1

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Bang & Olufsen recommends the speaker for small social gatherings, offices or mid-sized rooms, and that sounds about right to us. Its soundstage is suitably impressive in a relatively small room, delivering the sense of 360 degrees of music. Go outside or into a much larger room however, and you'll realize that size does matter – or at least you'll wish you had two of these. Back to the living room and the B&O Beosound A1 sounds a delight. 

It's consistently crisp. We found ourselves enjoying our favorite songs as if we were listening to them for the first time. Tracks like The Weeknd's Blinding Light sound exciting, punchy and energetic, with the likes of Childish Gambino's Feels Like Summer sounding smooth and detailed. 

That trend continued with older hits like The Beach Boys' God Only Knows, with each instrument sounding distinctive and sharp. In reassuring contrast, Yaeji's Raingurl sounded surprisingly thumpy in the bass frequencies, but in a good way that makes you want to at least tap to the beat. Simply put, everything sounded devoid of grain or harshness, with a strong, powerful performance. 

beosound a1

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The soundstage could maybe feel a bit wider, but you'll only really notice this in a large space. In the bathroom, bedroom, or a medium sized living room, the B&O Beosound A1 easily captures your attention. 

We can only imagine pairing it up with a second device for stereo sound would counteract these soundstage issues very well.

It's always satisfying feeling like you're rediscovering music with a new speaker and the B&O Beosound A1 has that sense of delight to it. 

beosound a1

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen): Battery life & connectivity

  • 18 hours of battery life
  • Bluetooth 5.1 
  • USB-C charging

The B&O Beosound A1 supports Bluetooth 5.1 which is immediately welcome, thanks to further pairing distances, which are sure to come in handy if you've got a big room or outdoor space for using it in. 

Bluetooth 5.1 also allows for better battery life with B&O claiming 18 hours of playback at a "typical" volume, with even more possible at a lower volume. 

In our tests, we found that about right although mileage definitely varies when you increase the sound to very high levels. Still, that's not bad at all and it recharges quickly too, thanks to the USB-C connectivity. 

Don't expect anything more complicated than the USB-C port. There's no place for a 3.5mm AUX-in port, for instance. That keeps the B&O Beosound A1 sleek and minimalist, but you might find yourself wishing for an extra option for connectivity, particularly if you prefer the stability of wired playback. 

beosound a1

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen): Alexa support & app

  • Alexa depends on your smartphone's Wi-Fi
  • Can control your smart home devices
  • B&O app comes with an equalizer

Perhaps the biggest feature here is the aforementioned Alexa support, despite the Beosound A1 being a solely Bluetooth-connected speaker. 

B&O states it's a world first for a Bluetooth speaker to offer Alexa without Wi-Fi support. Of course, it does still rely on Wi-Fi (rather than magic, we assume) but that comes via the smartphone that you have connected to the speaker. 

It's simple enough to set up but it's flawed. Besides the obvious drawbacks to needing to keep the speaker within range of the phone (although Bluetooth 5.1 helps there), it's a little slower than a direct response. 

We also found that despite the three-microphone array, the B&O Beosound A1 isn't always the most responsive to the 'Alexa' wake word. This isn't a speaker to buy if Alexa support is vital, but it's a neat bonus, and it means that it can double up as a smart speaker you can use to control your smart home devices

beosound a1

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The B&O Beosound A1 ties into the B&O app fairly well. You can adjust volume, switch Alexa support on or off, as well as tweak listening modes via an equalizer. 

This means even if you're not technically minded, you can still immediately notice the difference between presets like Ambient, Party, and Speaker. It's possible to customize these too ,to get the sound just how you like it. There's also the option to pair two A1 speakers together for stereo sound, although you can't do this with an older first generation device, sadly. 

Should I buy the Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen)

beosound a1

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

First reviewed: June 2020

Creative Pebble Plus review
2:51 am | April 27, 2019

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Speakers | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: April 2022
• Still on sale
• Launch price: $40 / £40 / AU$99.95
• Official price now: $44.99 / £38.99 / AU$69.95

Update: February 2024. Two years on from when we first reviewed them, the Creative Pebble Plus remain our pick for the best budget computer speakers. The price has dropped a little bit in most markets, making these great value speakers even better buys. Their stylish and unobtrusive design means they can sit on even a small desk and not get in the way. They look great, and they sound brilliant as well. Unlike many other cheap computer speakers, the Creative Pebble Plus come with a subwoofer for extra bass. Even in 2024, few competitors at this price point do that, which is why we still heartily recommend them today.

Unlike picking out a new surround system that requires a bit of research and planning, upgrading to the best computer speakers is pretty easy. But, for the budget-conscious, it's now even easier thanks to the new Creative Pebble Plus. 

For around the cost of a dinner, Creative is underselling and overdelivering with these criminally cheap 2.1 stereo speakers that cost just $40 (around £30, AU$50). 

Who doesn’t like a good bargain? We certainly do, and we think you’ll feel the same way about this combination of stereo speakers and sub. 

Design

One thing that's surprising, especially at this price point, is that the speakers actually come with a subwoofer (hence the “Plus” in the product’s moniker). There is a Creative Pebble, but for an extra $5, you get the woofer.

Now, the sub could be a bit sturdier and feels a little light, but there is a 4-inch driver inside angled downwards capable of pumping out 4-watts of bass. Other than a single connector in the back, there’s nothing actionable on the sub itself, but the simplicity is expected at this price point. 

The other thing you'll notice is the slight slant of the speakers themselves, a relatively minor, yet still significant move. Often times, computer speakers either face straight ahead or offer only a slight angle. Here, both speakers have been set to about a 45-degree angle, pointing them towards your ears when sitting down. Not only does this give the Pebble Plus a more unique look, but it helps with sound quality, too.

In terms of connections, you get the audio connector for the sub, plus a 3.5mm Aux-In and USB plug. The Pebble Plus has no AC adapter, so it won’t take up a space on a power outlet or power bar, and instead draws power from USB.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Setup

The good news is that setup is fairly simple considering how few wires there are connected to the speakers... but the bad news is that all the cables run through the right speaker, making it a little challenging for us to lay things out in a neat way - this isn’t one of those 2.1 systems that enables you to be all that creative on the display side of things.

One of the cords you'll need to worry about is USB, which is needed for power. You can obviously plug it into your PC, but a nearby USB port on a power bar served the same purpose. The cables are quite long, and we tried to maintain their bundled state (out of the box) as much as possible. 

Keep in mind that you don’t get any wireless capabilities here, so forget Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Chromecast or any other protocol that saves you from wires. They won’t work here. 

The right speaker does have a gain switch underneath and volume dial at the front. We tried different configurations to gauge performance but, truth be told, volume level was a far more important factor in sound quality.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Performance

What we mean there is that these speakers, like most other cheap speakers, had an obvious tipping point before distortion set in. It did vary, depending on the track we played, but be prepared to hear it if you go all-out.

For example, Blame It by Jamie Foxx was one of those tracks where we could discern muddier mids, and found similar examples with other R&B and hip hop tracks. The bass does sound more distorted when the song itself has heavy bass in it, but the real sacrifice here is in the mids, and to a lesser extent, the highs.

When we played Def Leppard’s Hysteria album, we noted a nice, balanced sound signature. It didn’t replicate what something 10 times the price would produce, but we never expected that anyway. What was surprising was that complex tracks didn’t sound like a muffled set of instruments. Pianos, saxophones, guitars — they all had some life to them. Such was the case when we played the Battlefield V and Battlefield I soundtracks, along with a number of movie scores done by the late John Barry. 

Movies and games offer similar results. Gamers won’t find much to be impressed with here, though that’s hardly the crowd Creative is angling for. Movies and shows, or simply browsing through an array of YouTube clips, we came away hearing a relatively crisp level of sound.

The thing about these speakers is they do have a sweet spot: For instance, if your computer is angled on a desk rather than facing you head on, you’re better off positioning the speakers to face you on from the computer on one end, and toward where you sit facing forward on the other. We don’t know for sure, but we suspect this is one reason why the cables are unusually long. 

Image Credit: Creative

Image Credit: Creative

Final verdict

Going in with measured expectations, we came away feeling good about the overall value of these 2.1 computer speakers. There are Bluetooth speakers that cost much more than this, and don’t offer stereo sound - this setup does, and while they don't stand-up to a Hi-Fi setup, their performance is better than the price would indicate. 

It's also worth pointing out that because there's a very minor difference in price between the Creative Pebble and Creative Pebble Plus, we would suggest ignoring the basic 2.0 Pebble speakers and going for the Plus version - the subwoofer is absolutely worth plunking down an extra bit of coin.

All things considered, if you're on a budget, yet really want better computer sound, you will get more than your money’s worth with the Pebble Plus.