Bang & Olufsen have long been known as manufacturers of very distinctive products, covering everything from speakers, televisions, car audio, and more. Their products won’t be found at regular retail stores but instead in their discreet showrooms around the globe, nestled alongside plush couches and massive television screens. It’s from this secret world of hand-crafted genius that I’ve come to know of the BeoPlay A9.
Build Quality & Design
When I first looked at the A9, I honestly thought I had been delivered a satellite dish. Or an advanced electronic dartboard for the office. But no, I was informed that the A9 was indeed one of B&O’s latest creations and that I should certainly spend some time with it.
Unpacking the A9 was a bit of a herculean effort on my part. The box contained the large A9 speaker, the power cable, and three sleek legs on which this gigantic speaker would delicately rest its weight on. Just from looking at the A9 you can appreciate the amount of craftsmanship that would have gone into making this device. The A9 itself is soft to the touch, cradled by a soft yet durable white plastic backing (which seemed a bit difficult to wipe smudges off). The speakers are all hidden behind a soft foam covering which can be removed and replaced with other colors to match the décor. The support legs are crafted from either beech, oak, or teak and again can be changed simply by unscrewing them.
The A9 weighs in at a hefty 14.7kgs with the legs installed, so once it’s up and running you really will want to just keep it in one place. There is a carry handle at the back should you wish to move the unit around, but in my test runs with the A9 I preferred to leave it in one spot instead of taking it around on a walkabout. But jokes aside, the A9 is absolutely stunning to look at. B&O comments that the days of wanting to hide your stereo are over, and I couldn’t agree more. The A9 is more than just a speaker; it’s a piece of your furniture. Literally.
You won’t find any buttons or controls on the A9, except for the small power button at the back and the series of bumps at the top of the unit which control the volume levels. A quick swipe left or right steps up or down four pre-set volume levels, while slowly gliding your hand across the top lets you adjust the volume levels more precisely.
At the rear of the A9 near the bottom is a small opening which lets you explore the few connectivity options for the A9. There’s an Ethernet port to connect directly into your router, a USB port for syncing Wi-fi settings from an iOS device, a small switch to toggle how the A9 has been set up, and an RCA audio connection for older devices. There’s also a small pinhole that you can use to reset the device if you need to.
So what makes the A9 so special? Well despite its rather innocent appearance, there’s a very respectable audio experience hiding under that hood. There’s enough power here to fill a decent sized apartment or even for some quiet jazz numbers. The A9 is versatile enough to handle whatever you throw at it, and it’s a true testament to B&O’s design team.
Connectivity & Performance
The A9 supports two wireless streaming technologies – Apple AirPlay and DLNA. For either option to work, you need to connect the A9 to your wireless network. The easiest option is to just connect it via an Ethernet cable, but for a more elegant approach you can connect the A9 wirelessly as well. Joining your Wi-fi network can be done in one of three ways. The first (and easiest) is to connect your iPhone, iPod, or iPad to the USB port of the A9 using the standard Apple connector that ships with your device. You then hold down a small black button on the A9 to get a prompt on your iOS device which will copy your Wi-fi settings to the A9 and join your network automatically. The second method is to download the B&O setup app for iOS or Android, and configure the A9 manually. And lastly, you can connect your laptop to the A9’s Wi-fi network and open up a web browser to configure the A9 that way. While all of these methods seem easy, I do have to say that it took me a good number of attempts before the A9 was successfully registered and visible on my network. Maybe it was because of my router or because I had a test version of the A9, but for me connectivity was a bit of an issue. I’m sure this has been ironed out on retail models, so I won’t hold it against the A9.
After connecting the A9 to the network, you then need to flick a small switch at the back to reflect on how you’ve set up the A9. There’s a ‘free’ mode which means that you’ve just propped the A9 up somewhere, a ‘wall’ mode to indicate that you’ve mounted the A9 on a wall, and a ‘corner’ mode which means you’ve hidden the A9 away in a discreet corner of your apartment. Each mode fine-tunes the speakers accordingly, so it’s important that you select the correct mode. Once the A9 has been setup however, it’s a breeze to connect to via AirPlay or DLNA. Both my iPod and iTunes PC library detected the A9 and gave me the option to stream music directly to it. A Sony Xperia Android phone that I had been testing that week was also able to see the A9 via DLNA and also streamed music to it flawlessly.
But here is where the cookie crumbles. If you’re looking for any other connectivity options, you’re out of luck. The included USB port only recognized iOS devices, and nothing else. It would have been fantastic to include a Bluetooth option at least, but sadly there’s none – you do have the option to connect older devices but you’ll need to have a 3.5mm jack to RCA cable in order to achieve this. The other observation I made was that every two hours or so, the A9 seemed to magically disconnect from my network. No matter how many times I refreshed my iPod, I just could not see the device on my network, even though the A9’s network indicated glowed white to indicate it was connected, it was invisible to all my devices. Only by doing a full power down and power up again did the device come back online. Again this could be down to my router model or the review unit.
After all this though, how does the A9 sound? In a word, mesmerizing. The sheer power that the A9 can deliver is absolutely incredible, and if placed in a well furnished room it could be hard to figure out where this incredible sound is coming from. I decided to put the A9 to the ultimate test for a house party I was having in my back garden. I had positioned the A9 towards the top end of the garden path, and when I turned up the volume the music could be heard in almost every corner. There was no distortion at all on the music even when I cranked the A9 up as high as it could go (without waking up half the neighborhood). The A9 certainly delivers on B&O’s promise of sheer audio performance packaged in a sleek enclosure.
As mentioned before, the A9 has changeable foam covers that you can purchase separately to better match the A9 to your environment (at AED 275 each). While this is all well and good, the covers need at least two people to put on properly. The covers are strapped to a very thin elastic band which you need to stretch over the front of the A9, and trust me it’s an absolute pain to do on your own. You can also purchase a wall mount to fix the A9 to your wall (AED 570), but given that the volume controls are at the top of the A9, I hope you can rotate it around so that they’re a bit more accessible.
So who exactly is the A9 suited for? Well it’s ideal for anyone who lives in a spacious or loft apartment, who’s looking for an alternative sound setup than bulky black boxes and speakers. The A9 is certainly a work of art and an attention grabber, but what will eventually drive people away is its steep price point. The A9 is nearly the cost of a high-end 5.1 home theatre setup, and while it does deliver some very impressive sound quality, it’s just too expensive to seriously consider for purchase by most of us.