When the first generation of Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A1 hit the market, a few years ago, it was quite a sensation. For such a small speaker, its rich quality sound was a true novelty, as was its fine-designed rounded shell made of aluminium of polymer, while all competitors were usually employing plastics for similar devices. But it was also extremely expensive, with a 200+ euros price tag; on the other side, it was the cheapest speaker of the Bang & Olufsen lineup: the Danish brand is famous for its extremely curated and really expensive top-notch audio devices, and its debut in what was considered nothing more than a low-end gadget market surprised many. Under some aspects, the first Beoplay A1 revolutionized that market, changing the expectations you could have about a small speaker in terms of quality and build, and now the device is back with an updated version which confirms that small speakers are not just gadgets for kids who want to host improvised trap DJ sets in underground stations while commuting with their friends.
Reviewers praised the original Beoplay A1's sound performance compared to its size, both in terms of power and clarity, congratulating with the good bass potency, sophisticated midrange. It even gave the chance to create a stereo system connecting more speakers one to the other. The overall appearance of the device, whose design was curated by Cecile Manz, wouldn't cut a poor figure if sitting along some of the more expensive siblings from B&O's speakers' lineup.
The second-generation Beosound A1 (“Beosound” and not “Beoplay”) looks more or less identical to the first except some little, gorgeous details. It still features a polycarbonate base with aluminium grille, and the true leather hanging strap, which was something iconic for the first generation; however, it's lighter and features a different take on the hole pattern and a tapered base. Buttons have been redesigned and the LED indicator was moved to the top of the speaker, making it more visible. Battery life has been extended (up to 48 hours of listening at moderate volume) and now there's also IP67 certification for “peace of mind in situations where the speaker is exposed to water and dust”, Bang & Olufsen says. Sound is also improved, with two re-designed drivers and aptX adaptative codec that enhances the listening experience. I had the chance to test the new speaker for a couple of days before its launch, and my general impression is that if nothing can give us back the revolutionary feeling of the first use of the original A1 – which already carried a USB-C port to recharge in 2016! – this second generation improves it under many aspects. And you can set up the best audio performance directly from the B&O app, picking up from a bunch of presets the right one for every situation, from listening to podcasts to a poolside summer party, or just build your own.
But the most important new feature is probably having built-in Alexa – it's the first Bluetooth-only speaker to have it, B&O says. This is not some kind of option, but a significative improvement, a consequence of what portable speakers and their use have become in the last few years, especially to those of us acquainted to a semi-nomadic style of work-life – it's true that now we're under lockdown, but we'll get back to our commuting and travelling routines, maybe even sooner than we expect. Born to supply a better and more powerful on the go audio than smartphones, portable speakers have become a part of our life, and their use is not confined just to music or entertainment anymore: for example, we use them for phone calls when in our hotel room or working on the terrace, or to access digital assistants and gather information. AirPods gave us the first glimpse of an audio augmented reality and connected speakers just expand that function. Beosound A1 is the first Bluetooth speaker natively including fully integrated Alexa support, which you can easily turn on from the app. This option turns this small but sophisticated speaker into a powerful digital assistant. Theoretically, you can just drop your phone somewhere in charge and then mode along with the Beousound A1, interacting with it whether you need info about the weather, recipes, play some music or the last episode of 99% Invisible, or just turn on the AC. Relying on Bluetooth connection and not on WiFi, Alexa will work even when you're not at home: imagine for example a bicycle ride in the countryside, completely voice-controlling the Beosound A1 that hangs from the handlebar. Upcoming Far Field technology, to be available in Q3, will provide a better user experience when activating the digital assistant directly from the speaker. “I think that today you can't be an audio company without being a tech company,” said to Domus Bang & Olufsen's EVP during last design week. The new Beosound A1 is just a demonstration of that: with the Alexa integration, the Danish brand has somehow revolutionised its entry-level device, which was in its kind quite perfect, making it something unique.