Want the absolute best for portable audio? look no further …

Bluetooth portable speakers are nothing new although most fulfill the need of something  that works and is typically just loud and cheap to buy. The worst offenders come in luminous colors, furry designs and flashing lights

This is the sure-fire recipe for disaster and how to turn total strangers that you might otherwise get along with into your instant enemies. All you have to do is take a device of this criteria into a public space and proceed to ruin otherwise good music and everyone else’s day.

We (too readily) accept that portable means bang for your buck and proceed to accept that great sound quality, design and functionally can’t exist in something so small.

Well yes it can, Bang and Olufsen have managed just that with both the A1 and the Beolit 20. The A1 is now second generation and the smallest portable speaker in the current collection. Already it has received praise and for good reason.

The A1 is circular and just over an inch deep with an upward firing bass, mid-range driver and a tweeter just above it. It contains two 35 watt amplifiers both class D, one for each speaker with controls around the side. A leather strap acts as a carry handle and that’s it. The A1 is dust and waterproof to IP67 standard, will play up to 18hrs (moderate levels) on one charge, carries the latest version of Bluetooth 5.1 and has Alexa assistant built in.

We first used the A1 in the office. The stream of choice is the live ambient music channel Café Del Mar. Instantly we double-take and stare back at the A1. The sound that rises upwards is full bodied and complete, the low frequencies can be heard clearly and actually felt through the desk.

Over a 10 hour day we didn’t turn it off once. Normally listening fatigue sets in on every device large and small over such a long period but the A1 didn’t fatigue us at all. In fact the A1 served up a relaxed sound that prevented fatigue while being true to various music sources and keeping it detailed and interesting.

The A1 enabled something rare – the ability to have music on all day and have a focused uninterrupted workflow. Having the A1 by your side makes for pleasant company, at various times during the day we paused just to admire the design.

Take the A1 home and it looks great anywhere. Connect to your laptop or TV, take your sound into any room and the A1 serves up TV dialogue perfectly.

The A1 still has more tricks up its sleeve, in-built are 3 microphones allowing for great conference calling and your favorite Alexa commands. During our time with the A1 we opted to make all of our calls through it. Voice reproduction is eerily good, people sound like they are in the room with you.

The A1 is the new gateway product to Bang and Olufsen’s range and it is friendly to any wallet. Often manufacturers put little effort into the entry level products and focus on the medium to premium offering

We see this across all types of categories but not here. The A1 generation is brilliant and redefines what a small Bluetooth speaker can sound, function and look like. Bang and Olufsen’s products can cost up to a respectable sports coupe, but rest assured all of their signature-style and sound is compacted into the A1 2nd generation for everyone to enjoy. Now at last everyone can bring something from Bang and Olufsen home with them 

The Beolit 20

Next in the portable range is the Beolit 20

The colour we have is Mist-Grey but Black Anthracite is also available. The Beolit 20 is somewhat cubic in dimension and is around the same size of a child’s lunchbox. Apart from a seam for the speaker grill around the back there is no sign of how the Beolit 20 is constructed; no sunken screws on the bottom, no clips or anything of that description.

The Beolit 20 is the successor to the Beolit 17 and offers significant improvements such as better battery life for over 8hrs, wireless charging built in for your phone and other devices that support Qi. It is also backwards compatible in stereo mode by linking two devices together The controls are found on the top, simply depress on the firm foam-like premium feeling material and the Beolit fires up. The normal controls are here, pair, play, pause, volume up and down.

The Beolit 20 connects instantly, there are 4 speakers and 2 passive radiators. In the mid front you have a 5.5 inch for bass and midrange with x3 1.5 inch full range drivers. Two at the front and one mounted at the back. The passive radiators are on the sides and hidden from view. Amplification is via two 35 watt amplifiers class D – one for the bass driver and the other for the full range speakers.

The Beolit 20 handles compressed audio from any streaming source with ease and increases the detail and depth while maintaining a pleasant approach. Trying to trip up the Beolit 20 into coming across harsh or over colored proved difficult. We played the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Rhianna, Marvin Gaye and everything in-between. 

The Beolit 20 played with genuine musical appeal across the board.

The low frequency claim of 37hz is justified. Sit three or so meters away from the Beolit 20 and LTJ Bukem’s Logical Progression is reproduced accurately with the deep notes filling the room like a dedicated miniature subwoofer. The Beolit 20 will play loud, however halfway and just above on the volume is the sweet spot. Music is produced in such a way that there’s no need to ride the volume up and down. For a small speaker this is one of the most flattering aspects.

Outside the Beolit 20 holds its own and can be taken anywhere with minimum fuss. On numerous occasions we brought it with us and let music play in the background when catching up with friends. The Beolit 20 oozes a rich and broad musical range even outdoors, performing well for something so small.

We took the Beolit 20 far out of its comfort zone and connected it to our smart TV. We watched Gravity from a Blu-ray disc and the last series of The Walking Dead. Bluetooth portable speakers are for music and the dynamic range in films requires a different approach, yet to our delight the Beolit 20 offered an intriguing experience. Dialogue was crystal clear and although it needs angling towards the listener position for best results. However it does have a wide dispersion overall.

The low frequencies are all there to be heard and blended well with the overall soundstage. When Darrel from The Walking Dead is talking to the King, the desperation in his voice was palpable. In Gravity, from Sandra Bullock’s heavy breathing in her space suit to the opening of pressurized doors, the Beolit 20 conveyed drama and excitement.

There is no replacement for displacement in the speaker world and we don’t suggest the Beolit 20 can compete with dedicated systems. However when you consider the footprint of a TV cabinet, amplifier, surround speakers and subwoofer or even a sound bar, the Beolit 20 starts to look like one incredibly talented multi-purpose speaker, which does resemble a 3.1 sound bar set up. However, the Beolit 20 looks far better and can be carried anywhere in the world while charging your phone.

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