First things first: The Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9 is a £1,700 speaker system. If you're still reading, you're either a curious soul, or you’re actually debating dropping some serious coin on a high quality, beautifully designed audio system. You're probably wondering: Is this thing all looks, and no substance? In short, no.
The BeoPlay A9 sounds superb. It's powerful, well-balanced, and brings major bass response to the room without destroying the music mix. It streams audio wirelessly via AirPlay and DLNA, and it's easy to set up. If you're prepared to spend the money and are committed to a life of people asking "What on Earth is that?" you will be handsomely rewarded. The price is astronomical, but make no mistake, this speaker unit boasts not just an innovative design, but also top-notch audio quality.
The A9's speaker housing measures 700mm wide and 210mm deep, and it stands 910mm tall when the legs are screwed in. This thing looks a little like a satellite dish on a tripod, or maybe the Death Star, if the Death Star wasn't a full three-dimensional sphere. I cannot for the life of me decide whether it looks stunning or ridiculous. Like some iconic designs, I think it's probably a bit of both. For all of its unique design, however, it's remarkably easy to set up. The three legs screw into the back swiftly and the covered connection port is easy to access.
On the back panel, there's an RCA line-in (but no 3.5mm or optical input), as well as the connection for the power cable, a USB port (for sharing Wi-Fi settings during AirPlay setup), and an Ethernet connection. It would have been nice to see an Aux input here. Power and Wi-Fi buttons are situated at the top of the rear panel.
There's also a switch for speaker placement – Free (for open placement in a room), Wall (for against a wall), and Corner (for, naturally, in a corner). These modes adjust the sound output to optimise it for projection against nearby surfaces, or to account for the lack thereof. There are also reset and settings buttons on the back panel. The system is also wall-mountable, sans legs obviously, and yes, you can combine two speakers and make one the left and the other the right channel. (That'll cost you £3,400, though).
In all, the A9 houses 5 drivers – a 160 Watt, 8in bass driver, two 80 Watt 3in midrange drivers, and two 80 Watt 0.75in tweeters. With the grille cloth off, the surface is black, with what seems like an infinite number of vented circular holes for sound to push through. The surface is also convex, so sound is angled outward a bit, and some bass response also comes from sound projected out of the back panel as well. Grille cloths come in a variety of colours – white is standard, the others (red, green, silver, black, and brown) cost an extra £45. The legs are offered in Beech, Oak, or Teak.
Volume controls are hidden along the top surface of the circular speaker's contour. Placing your hand in the centre for two seconds mutes the system, and the same action un-mutes it, as well. Swiping gently to the left lowers the volume, to the right raises it. Sometimes, it seems to require more swipes to accomplish a simple raising or lowering than should be necessary, but generally, the controls work well and add to the cool factor of the design. There is not a single visible button on the face of this system. There's no remote control, which would've been nice – especially given what the A9 costs.
Setting up AirPlay is fairly easy – the easiest way being the direct connect method. Simply connect an iOS device via the USB charging cable to the A9, press the Wi-Fi setup button on the rear panel, then choose to share Wi-Fi settings when prompted to, and the system handles the rest. Another option is to use a free Bang & Olufsen app. Either way, the process, as you would expect on a system this expensive, is simple and streamlined. You can also stream to the A9 via DLNA-compatible devices and computers, which is a slightly less streamlined process.
Unlike the Libratone Lounge, another high-end AirPlay option we’ve recently reviewed, the BeoPlay A9 packs a powerful subwoofer, and therefore, some serious low frequency bass response. It delivers deep bass clearly, even at top, incredibly loud volumes.
On tracks like the Knife's "Silent Shout," the deep bass is delivered distortion free, even at maximum volumes. The bass is intense without being over-the-top, as the system seems to primarily focus on high-mids and highs. The A9 is a crisp, bright system, balanced out by powerful low-end, for sure, but it is the higher frequencies that own the stage.
On Bill Callahan's "Drover," his vocals have a smooth resonance to them, and a crisp edge that helps them stay front and centre despite some insistent backing percussion that would steal the show if the bass was too boosted. As it is, the song sounds nicely balanced and aimed towards the middle of the frequency range, with sculpted highs that add definition to vocals and higher register instruments.
Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild" sounds excellent on the A9, with the menacing kick drum loop delivered in a way most systems fail to achieve – with equal attention to the kick's sharp attack and its lower, resonant sustain. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the loop periodically are full and fierce, while vocals are delivered crisply and clearly. It may be the best I've heard that track sound on a system that wasn't comprised of components and standalone speakers.
Classical music, like John Adams' "The Chairman Dances," packs a lovely rich resonance, the lower strings gliding in and out of passages with more intense, deeper notes and moments of more subtle low-mid presence with seamless grace. The drum hits at the end of the piece can sound comical on systems that boost the low-end wildly; here they sound incredibly natural and powerful, as if you're in the best seat of a great concert hall. Again, the overall response is beautifully balanced by crisp highs and a well-defined midrange.
So, what’s the verdict on this approaching £2,000 system? It's unfair to compare it head-to-head with the less pricey Libratone Lounge we mentioned previously, even though that’s still a very expensive system. But, for reference, the A9 crushes the Lounge sonically, as it offers a much fuller, deeper, and realistic sound, despite having less separation between left and right channels.
The A9 is probably most comparable to some systems from Bowers & Wilkins, like the Zeppelin Air – only it's a far more powerful option (costing three times as much). However, both these speaker systems offer smooth, rich bass and clear highs. The Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2, another beautiful speaker which is about the same price as the A9 (at £1,650) is more focused on home cinema performance and multi-channel sound projection, although that one is by no means flawless.
The A9 does everything you'd expect a system in this price range to do, including look gorgeous. It's a non-traditional setup, so prepare for your audio purist friends to mock you if you buy it, but rest assured, they'll shut up when you play practically anything at a moderately high volume.
If you were just reading this review out of curiosity, and want a wireless speaker dock that is much more in the realm of affordability, the JBL OnBeat Xtreme remains our practical favourite, and you can pick that up for £240 (a seventh of the price of the A9).
Manufacturer and Model
Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9
Power Rating (Left and Right, Each)
4 x 80 watts RMS
iPod, Computer, Wireless, iPad, iPhone, Android
Power Rating (Subwoofer)
160 watts RMS