updated 12:35 pm EDT, Tue October 29, 2013
Series branded as Immaculate Wireless Sound
Bang & Olufsen has introduced its first wireless speakers, taking advantage of the 24bit/96kHz WiSA standard. The lineup can be used as separate modular components, or as a complete set comprising the compact BeoLab 17 bookshelf speakers, the BeoLab 18 floorstanding columns, and the BeoLab 19 subwoofer. Electronista attended the company's Manhattan launch event to hear if the new set fulfills its promise of "Immaculate Wireless Sound."
The BeoLab 17s are similar to many bookshelf speakers, however their asymmetrical triangular shape is designed to provide a variety of placement options. We were surprised by the robust sound produced by its six-inch midrange/woofer, which is driven by a 160-watt integrated amplifier.
The BeoLab 18s represent the company's aesthetic flagship, building upon the iconic pencil-shaped BeoLab 8000 design that was first introduced in 1992. The black mesh grill has been swapped for 21 vertical lamellas made of oak or synthetic materials, while an acoustic-lens tweeter adorns the top. As expected, the 18s represent a step up from the 17s in terms of style and audio quality. The acoustic lens helped us maintain a well-balanced listening experience while far away from the "sweet spot," in a room that didn't seem particularly well suited for demonstrating high-end audio gear.
Although the 17 and 18 were able to be pushed to surprisingly high volume without distortion, size does matter when filling out the low end. The BeoLab 19 is an interesting dodecahedron shape, featuring dual woofers and an aluminum shell inspired by jet engines. The system certainly sounded better with the subwoofer helping out, though it was difficult to gauge if the shape actually contributes greatly to the sound presentation or just makes the unit look good on top of a shelf.
We walked away with a great first impression of the wireless BeoLab system. As active speakers, the existing BeoLab lineup already aimed for simplicity. Removing the wires serves as a logical extension of that concept, and the new speakers are certainly the best wireless speakers we've ever listened to. The series does not represent a replacement for extreme audiophile gear or analog equipment, but that is not what Bang & Olufsen is attempting to accomplish. Rather, for those the speakers are a great balance between audio quality, aesthetic design and ease-of-use.
The new BeoLab 17 and 18 carry respective prices of $3,990 and $6,590, while the subwoofer will fetch $3,395. All of the speakers are expected to ship in November.