As we’ve seen from the activity this past week at COP26, the planet is changing. As consumers, we are going to have to change our buying habits so we can lead more sustainable lives. The days of importing cheap consumer electronics from the other side of the world just isn’t sustainable. In the future, our technology will be more expensive, well designed, better produced and should last much longer. In years to come, we will buy technology that can be upgraded and completely recycled at the end of its useful life.
One company that’s focusing on sustainability is Denmark’s Bang & Olufsen. The premium audio brand has been making beautifull designed products for almost a century. In that time, the company’s prodcuts have been made of products using aluminum, real wood and high-quality fabric. The company’s latest products are designed to be upgraded and used for years to come.
The latest B&O product featuring this design ethos is the Beosound Level wireless speaker. Announced at the start of the year, the portable speaker has been created by Torsten Valeur who has designed the speaker to offer a long and useful life that may even span more than one generation. B&O wants the Level to be as much of an investment as an object of beauty. The company’s values are hark back to an age when products lasted and added beauty to any room.
To make the Level even more sustainable, B&O Has applied and been granted Cradle to Cradle Certification. The Beosound Level is the first speaker in the consumer electronics industry to receive the accolade, a globally recognised award for products that are safe, responsibly made and which help to power the circular economy. The Standard assesses the safety, circularity and responsibility of materials used in the products across five categories of sustainability: material health, product circularity, clean air, climate protection, water and soil stewardship, plus social justice. If those attributes align with your personal values, then this is probably the wireless speaker for you.
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I got to review the Beosound Level earlier in the year and I’ll admit to being more excited about this new B&O product than almost anything I’ve reviewed in the last few years. I feel as if I’m witnessing a shift in the industry that may be seen as a pivot point in 30 year’s time when people are accessing the push towards a more sustainable planet.
As well as its environmental credentials, the Beosound Level is an object of real beauty. The design harks back to the classic audio systems that made Bang & Olufsen a byword for cool and chic in the 1970s. The Danish company is now celebrating its 95th year in business and its latest products are a return to form for this cool and premium brand.
The Beosound Level has an exquisite, slatted wooden grille and a chassis milled from high-quality aluminum with an anodized with a gold-tone finish that has the luster of a fine Champagne. The plastic used in the construction is mainly made from post-consumer plastic to ensure the sustainability credentials are adhered to.
The Level can be used in a vertical position or laid down on a flat surface. There’s also a special optional bracket so it can be mounted on a wall. An accelerometer inside the Beosound Level detects the position it’s being used in and automatically adjusts the tone and volume levels to suit. Laying the speaker down from astanding position results in a brief pause in the music as the Beosound Level recalibrates itself to produce the optimal sound.
When its standing vertically, the Beosound Level shows off its integrated handle that makes carrying the speaker around very convenient. Inlaid into the speaker is a glossy black touch strip no wider that the width of a tape in a compact cassette. The control buttons on the strip illuminate as soon as a proximity sensor can sense a hand approaching.
On the left of the control strip there are four presets that can be programmed with the listener’s favorite radio stations or music playlists. Changing presets is virtually instant so perhaps the Level preloads the addresses in preparation. The next control is a Bluetooth pairing button and that sits alongside a trio of play/pause, previous track and next track buttons.
The Level includes a microphone mute button for privacy, although B&O also provides a physical switch for permanently disabling the built-in microphone for anyone who doesn’t want to use Google Assistant or who may have worries about privacy. The final control is a volume strip that can be used in slider mode or simply by pressing on the level required.
The control strip also features an ambient light sensor that adjusts the illumination levels of the control buttons depending on the ambient light of the room. The only other physical control is a power switch next to the mic mute slider. The power button has an LED that pulses red when the Beosound Level’s internal battery is being recharged and the LED switches to green when charging is complete. The battery canprovide up to 16 hours of playtime at moderate volume levels, but that figure plunges to just four hours at maximum volume. Even at four hours playing loudly, the Beosound Level has sufficient staying power for an afternoon in the garden.
The Beosound Level’s battery is replaceable and can easily be swapped over by the user by removing the speaker grille. The wooden grille is also replaceable and B&O says there will be a range of optional covers available in the future. It’s so good to see B&O providing a battery that can be replaced by the user as no lithium-ion battery lasts forever. I don’t know of any other wireless speakers that feature a user-replaceable battery.
The electronic circuits inside the Beosound Level are also designed to be upgraded. Although WiFi and Bluetooth are today’s protocols for streaming audio wirelessly, there will come a time when anothertechnology replaces it. The designers of this speaker have made sure there is room inside the Beosound Level to fit completely new technology in the years to come. It’s that kind of forethought that marks B&O out from other brands.
Behind the smart speaker grilled there are two large woofers, a couple of tweeters, plus a full-range driver that adds oomph to the sound. B&O has always sourced great quality speaker drivers and Denmark has a reputation for making some of the best speakers.
Since its launch, the Beosound Level has been updated so that stereo pairing is now possible through the Bang & Olufsen app. Anyone lucky enough to own two Beosound Levels can get an improved hi-fi experience and wider soundstage by setting two speakers up as a stereo pair with no loss of functionality.
During setup, I was prompted to open Google Home and I was able to add the speaker. As soon as I did, the Beosound Level could respond to my voice commands and I was able to ask it anything or get it to play music just by talking to it. Voice assistants are useful once you get used to using them as my elderly mother discovered when she was given an Amazon Alexa Home speaker. She’s delighted how easy it is to use when recalling her favorite music.
The sound produced by this classy wireless speaker is truly sublime. There’s a clarity in the midrange and a projection that makes it sound expensive. The precision of the speaker drivers, coupled with the solidity and weight of the aluminum chassis, provide a solid performance that’s both light and substantial at the same time There’s a richness that permeates from behind the speaker grille and fills the room with music that’s omnidirectional and fulsome but without ever distorting.
The volume of the Level goes quite loud levels but the halfway mark is comfortable for everyday listening. Adjusting the volume levels by running a finger over the control strip feels just right and adds to the pleasure of using this beautiful speaker. The Beosound Level is a classic example of getting what you pay for. In an age of throwaway plastic and cheap materials, this beautiful speaker stands out like a Faberge egg with its quality and craftsmanship. Buying one of these speakers is an investment that should last for many years to come.
Power can be provided by the internal battery or by attaching a magnetic plug to the rear of the Beosound Level. I have a minor criticism here: when listening to the speaker on its back with the charging plug connected, the speaker can’t be used horizontally. It’s hard to see where else the plug could have been located, but the secondary USB-C port for charging could have been located on the side of the unit to get around this issue. It’s not a huge problem but it does jar with me as the speaker looks so good on its back.
When it comes to streaming audio, there’s a choice of Google Chromecast Built-In, Apple AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth. The two wireless protocols mean that the Beosound Level can work nicely in almost any multi-room audio system so that speakers all around the home can be playing the same or different music. I love the idea of having music playing in the kitchen and the dining room and being able to move around with both devices perfectly in sync.
Verdict: Bang & Olufsen has cemented its reputation as one of the finest design and engineering companies in the audio world. The Beosound Level is an object of pure beauty and cool design. However, it’s not just a pretty face thanks to its Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast Built-In capabilities. It’s got all the looks to slot into a modern home. The Beosound Level is portable enough to be taken anywhere around the home or outside into the garden. The sound quality is sublime and beautifully tuned for almost any genre of music. It would be quite a lot of money for a wireless speaker, but the Beosound Level is more than that. Without wishing to sound like the B&O fanboy that I am, this is speaker is almost a piece of art. It’s a design icon that will grace any home and is designed to last and give many years of pleasure. For me, the Beosound Level marks B&O’s return to the design and engineering pinnacle it dominated back in the 1970s. This is classic Danish design and craftsmanship that will give as much pleasure like a piece of Georg Jensen silverware. Highly recommended.
Pricing and availability: The Beosound Level costs €1,249 / £1,099 / $1,499. The optional Beosound Level wall bracket will be available in April priced at €99 / £89 / $119.
More info: www.bang-olufsen.com
- Product dimensions 34.8 x 23 x 5.6 cm (L x H x D)
- Weight: 3.3kg
- Speaker drivers: 2 x 0.8” tweeter, 1 x 2” full-range, 2 x 4” woofer
- Power Amplifiers: 2 x Class D at 30W for the woofer, 1 x Class D at 30W for the full range, 1 x Class D at 15W for tweeters
- Frequency Range: 39 – 23.000Hz
- Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion battery with up to 16 hours/4 hours of playback
- Wi-fi/WLAN: 802.11 b/g/a/n/ac (2.4GHz & 5GHz)
- Bluetooth type: 5.0
- Microphones: Yes
- Connections: Line-in/optical combi-jack, Ethernet 10/100 Mbit
- Charging: USB-C
- Streaming Formats: Chromecast built-in, Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth audio streaming, Spotify Connect
- Voice Assistant: Google Assistant