| Bang For The Buck
-BeoLab 9 Speakers & BeoSound 3200 Audio System
Founded by Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen in 1925 (that's a couple
of years before I was born), the company continues to do an admirable
job of producing quality components for those who appreciate good
performance concealed within sleek, modern enclosures.
|Bang & Olufsen
combines fidelity, form and function with the new BeoLab
9 Speakers & BeoSound 3200 Audio System
This magazine is known
for reviewing high-end audio, which often means corresponding
prices. In my quest to cover this segment of the audio industry,
I decided to evaluate the most handsomely-styled components
available: the Bang and Olufsen speakers and a matching preamp/CD
player/tuner. For many years high-end industry players have
been saying that B&O, though costly, does not measure up
to other high-end electronics made in North America. I believe
that B&O is, first and foremost, a lifestyle product manufacturer,
with a good grip on quality construction, which results in
attractive, high-end products. These are not aimed at the tweak
audiophile consumer, but rather at folks who like good sound
without "unnecessary complexity" and great aesthetics.
It seems to me that B&O knows, probably better than most
high-end manufacturers, the market to which they wish to appeal.
With over 2,400 employees and over $605 million in sales in
more than 60 countries, there’s no question that the
company is a success. The B&O family of products range
from amazing-looking telephones to LCD TV screens and entire
media centres. The company designs and engineers all components
in Struer, Denmark which allows them to closely monitor quality.
B&O describes the BeoLab9 speakers as "formed to follow function".
Indeed, the speakers are not only very attractive but also designed to eliminate
as much acoustic distortion (such as diffraction) as possible. A (replaceable)
front grille, available in four colours, covers protective ABS molded plastic
metal grilles over the speaker drivers. The terminals and AC cords (for the
built-in amps) are concealed by a small cover on the rear of each enclosure.
The terminals are the DIN type (Deutsche Industrie Norm) - a round, five-prong
plug (Bang & Olufsen uses an eight-prong plug, left/right in same cable),
the merits of which has been debated for over fifty years. DIN connectors are
used by a number of European electronics manufacturers, including Naim and
Quad, and are the neatest and most efficient way to connect electronics. If
you wish to use premium cables with the BeoLab 9s, they will have to be custom
The control centre, the BeoSound 3200, is simply beautiful. It
tells you it is ready for operation when the light switches on
and the unit's glass doors slide open. All function buttons are
clearly visible behind the glass and include 60 AM and FM presets,
CD, CD memory and optional access to internet radio via your computer.
The unit stands upright at enough of an angle to enable you to
see the functions and load CDs appropriately. It can be placed
on a table or shelf, but a matching stand and wall brackets as
well as a line input adaptor are also available as.
Before I begin I should remind readers that the system under review is
comprised only of B&O components. As I started to listen, I must
admit that I didn't know what to expect. However, based on my 1970s retailing
experience (I used to sell B&O products) I anticipated good sound.
While I was not looking for high-end performance, I have to admit that
the more I listened to the B&O system, the more I appreciated its
sound quality and its user-friendly operating simplicity. Having said
that, I found the operating instructions somewhat difficult to grasp
but, with a little patience, I learned the basics, and it was plain sailing
Synopsis & Commentary
|Every morning I turned
on the FM tuner (which, by the way, is excellent), tuned
in a couple of my favourite stations (all programmed into
the BeoSound 3200) and simply enjoyed the music. Over time,
I found the correct settings for bass and treble (forgive
me, oh audio gods), which really allowed the system to sing
at just about all volume levels. The usual visitors to the
studio all commented on the B&O's visual
elegance - which I expected - and most then proceeded to acknowledge
the system's musical calibre.
As part of the system configuration, the BeoSound 3200 fulfills its function
admirably as a preamplifier. I enjoyed its rather neutral sonic character,
very convincing imaging and I detected nothing hard, harsh or edgy. The
unit just sounded musical.
I recently moved to much larger premises and now have an "open concept" living
room - not the best listening environment and an outright pain to remedy.
However, I did the best I could for my listening tests and managed an impressive
sound stage with realistic boundaries and excellent front-to-back dimensions
with spatial, out-of-the-box imagery.
The loudspeakers' placement worked well in my listening space when I set
the toggle switches to "free standing". In fact, this arrangement
provided better room interaction than I scored with the more elaborate
Sonus faber loudspeakers (reviewed in the last print issue Vol. 17 No 4)
and the Sim Audio Moon electronics (reviewed in Vol. 17, No. 3) - a much
more elaborate system. The B&O system sounded sweet and organic, never
forced or synthetic. It provided enough bass to reproduce fundamentals
at about 35Hz and it never sounded boomy or boxy. I appreciated the system's
smooth handling of high frequencies and liked the tweeter's natural sound.
Midrange, on occasion, sounded a bit forward and I soon realized that poorly
produced CDs will not sound very good - but then again, I'd expect this
with any high-end system. I found that the system sounded best when I was
seated; when I stood up, imaging and focus became somewhat diffused, although
spatial information was maintained.
Having lived with the system for about three weeks, I came to the, for me,
surprising conclusion that I liked the B&O's overall sound. I noticed
that the longer the units were in operation, the better they sounded. My
samples came from B&O's U.S. headquarters and, although they had been
connected and operated before they arrived, they were not completely burned-in.
However, once that was accomplished, the BeoLab 9/BeoSound 3200 combination
delighted my music lover’s soul. Occasionally, I missed the out-and-out
grandiose impact of mega-buck components. However, this didn't result in
disappointment, as the system certainly provided harmonious fidelity. While
the B&O system didn't excite my audiophile soul, it pleased me with a
very balanced performance - the kind that makes one forget about the audio
paraphernalia and just enjoy the music. That's pure entertainment, minus
the often present audio anxieties.
For me, the B&O system offered an elevated level of musical enjoyment.
While it can’t compete with the likes of Krell, Moon or Cary Audio components,
it does offer what this industry is, or should be, all about - entertainment.
I believe that consumers will get what they pay for when they purchase the
BeoLab 9/BeoSound 3200 system. Its musical performance is up close to the mega-buck
high-enders and its entertainment value is nearly off the charts.
|BeoSound 3200 Audio System
BeoLab 9 Speakers
|Bang & Olufsen
|For more information or to locate the nearest store, call
1-866-520-1400 or visit www.bang-olufsen.com
|Speakers 30.2” (h) 15.6 ” (w)
Control Unit 12.6 ” (h) 14.2 ” (w) 6.3 ” (d)
|Speakers 38.75 lbs/ea
The BeoLab 9s are unique loudspeakers designed by B&O's
head designer, David Lewis. The enclosures are a compact, conical
shape and house a 10-inch bass driver, a 5-inch midrange and
B&O's tweeter featuring the patented Acoustic Lens Technology.
The bass operates in its own 18 litre enclosures while the
midrange driver and tweeter operate in dedicated 4-litre enclosures
that the company calls “pressure chambers”. Each
driver is powered by its own amplifier. The bass unit is driven
by a B&O patented 400 watt ICEpower amp (Class D) and two
100 watt analogue hybrid amps power the midrange and tweeter.
This completely active system employs electronic crossovers,
guaranteed to provide sufficient continual power and the system
is safeguarded by a thermal protection circuit. The Acoustic
Lens tweeter is mounted at the top of each enclosure and features
a 180 degree dispersion pattern to prevent stray reflections
off ceiling and floor. B&O provides a switch feature that
optimizes bass performance whether the speakers are placed
near a wall, in a corner or freestanding on the floor. Frequency
response is quoted from 30Hz to 20kHz.
The BeoSound 3200, the system's control unit, features,
in addition to the preamplifier, a CD player, a tuner and a
CD memory function - a kind of server - that can store up to
400 CDs in a compressed format with a frequency range from
20Hz to 15kHz (-1dB). The CD section provides a frequency range
from 20Hz to 20kHz with a signal to noise ratio of 101dB. Of
course, the unit allows editing, naming, moving titles around
and deleting. All functions can be accessed via the elegant
remote control that features an LCD display. The 3200 may not
look like a very serious preamp/tuner/CD player, but it really
is a carefully thought-out design which works well with the
BeoLab 9s. As far as I can tell, the preamp section is very
good, though I was unable to test it with different brand amplifiers,
as it only allows DIN connections.