Bang & Olufsen Beolit 12 review
Bang & Olufsen’s £599 Beolit 12 looks like nothing so much as a compact picnic basket. Available in four colour combinations – dark grey/dark grey, blue/dark grey, yellow/light grey, and light grey/light grey – it’s a rounded-edged, rectangular box with a leather strap around the top. Oh, and it’s also a speaker system designed for AirPlay and direct playback (via USB) from iPhones, iPads and iPods.
The Beolit 12 weighs 2.8kg and measures 13.3cm by 23cm, and 18.8cm high. That makes it fairly portable; we could carry it one-handed using the leather strap.
On the right-hand side of the unit sit a USB port, a 3.5mm line-in jack and a battery-charging status light. On the rear is a long, rectangular door. Push in to unlock, and you expose an ethernet port and a connection for the included power cable. The space is large enough to store the AC cable.
This compartment was a source of frustration, however. First, the AC port is deeply recessed and positioned against the top, making it difficult to connect the power cable. There’s a hook to the left of the plug, where you’re supposed to thread the power cord – “for safety” according to the manual – but our fingers couldn’t make it happen.
At the bottom-left corner of this back door, there’s a small cutout for threading your cables if you want to close the door. The power cable fits, but if you want to leave an ethernet cable connected, as well, it becomes a very tight squeeze.
You’ll need to use that ethernet port at least once if you intend to take advantage of the Beolit 12’s AirPlay functionality. To configure the unit to your Wi-Fi network, connect the Beolit 12 to your desktop computer using the included ethernet cable, use your web browser to access the speaker’s built-in, web-based configuration panel, and provide your network’s details. The Beolit 12 restarts and connects to your network. You can then ignore the ethernet port unless you want to update settings, such as the speaker’s network name – you can’t access it via Wi-Fi.
On top of the speaker, you’ll find four touch-sensitive, backlit buttons: Power, Internet, Volume Up and Volume Down. There’s no remote included, but Bang & Olufsen says that you can use a Beo4 or Beo6 remote with the unit. A clever feature is that the on-board Volume Up and Down keys dim when you can’t go any louder or softer. You can also control volume from your audio source.
Streaming audio to the Beolit 12 via AirPlay was painless. We tested AirPlay streaming with iTunes on our Mac, as well as from our iPhone and iPad, and didn’t experience any audio dropouts in hours of streaming. You can also connect an iPhone, iPad or iPod to the Beolit 12’s USB port. In this configuration, the dock-connector cable functions much like a dock cradle: on an iOS device, you launch the Music app and play your music; on a traditional iPod, you just press Play.
The Beolit 12 will charge your iOS device when connected this way, even when the speaker is running off battery power, although it can’t charge an iPad unless the iPad is asleep, and even then it charges more slowly than the iPad’s own charger. If you connect multiple sources to the Beolit, the speaker system uses a built-in priority to determine which source to favour: AirPlay first, then USB, and finally line-in.
Bang & Olufsen recommends you charge the Beolit for eight hours, which should earn you eight hours of USB or line-in playback, or four hours of AirPlay audio.
Despite its small size, the unit employs a Class D digital amplifier packing a total of 120W. The Beolit 12 can get hilariously loud – as in, ”I need to go into a second room before I turn the volume all the way up” loud. The system uses two 2in tweeters and a single 4in woofer. Without a subwoofer, you shouldn’t expect floor-shaking bass, and you don’t get it. That said, we were impressed with the audio the Beolit churned out: music sounded full, rich and clear, and while bass presence wasn’t jaw-dropping, it was substantial given the unit’s compact size.
One sound issue we experienced is that if you leave the Beolit 12 powered on without music playing, it makes a noticeable hum, even if you reduce volume to the minimum. The hum is masked when you’re playing music, and it’s pretty quiet even when you’re not, but it’s there.
We’d like to see AirPlay battery life longer than four hours, but overall, the Beolit 12 is very good: AirPlay functionality is great, and portability is impressive. The real doubt concerns the price tag. If you just need a good portable system, there are plenty of quality transportable alternatives around at a third of the price, offering good sound quality – albeit without AirPlay. Still, if you’ve got the money, this is the first system we’ve seen that offers this combination of quality sound, portability and AirPlay support.