It’s almost universally accepted that Bang & Olufsen makes some of the best audio products in the world. The Danish brand has managed to create a little place for itself in sonic history, thanks to its characteristic designs, its top-of-the-tree audio technology and the fact that its name sounds like a particularly promising Scandi-noir mini-series.
Its products are also built to last. When people say this, it usually means you’ll get a good five years out of a speaker, maybe 10. But we know people who still own B&O products from the Seventies that sound as clear now as they did when moustaches were much more widely accepted. The burgeoning trend towards sustainability, therefore, hasn’t been lost on B&O, which already has a strong legacy in sustainable tech. After all, if it doesn’t break, it doesn’t need replacing.
However, technology is developing at a pace faster than ever before. It sometimes feels like a piece of streaming tech, or a new way of compressing sound, comes along and is obsolete days after you splash out on it. The case for more modular systems, with interchangeable and easily replaceable parts, is gaining a strong following, pushed forward by brands like Transparent and now Bang & Olufsen.
Futureproof technology is central to the level, with the brand guaranteeing that this approach will continue in all of its home speakers. In 2019, the world generated 53.6 million tonnes of electrical waste. A modular approach – easily changeable batteries, or streaming units, or even woofers – is the quickest and best way to make a substantial dent in this mountain of rubbish.
It’s a laudable aim, but does the level deliver when it comes to what makes a speaker great? We tried our level best to find out.
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Bang & Olufsen beosound level
Output: 2x30W (woofer), 1x30W (full range), 1x15W (tweeter)
Frequency: 39Hz to 23kHz
Battery playtime: Up to 16 hours
Wireless options: Wifi, Bluetooth 5.0, chromecast built-in and Apple airplay2 integrated
Voice control: In-built microphone with Google assistant
This is a speaker unlike any we’ve tested before. Designed to look as good stood up, on its back, or mounted on the wall via the £99 wall bracket, the level currently comes in a natural finish, with an attractive, sophisticated dark grey fabric covering, or gold, with a matte gold aluminium frame and attention-catching natural oak veneer, manufactured to still show the grain of the wood.
Designed by longtime B&O partner Torsten Valeur, the level doesn’t put a foot wrong. Every angle is considered, with each line perfectly drifting into a corner. Sharp edges complement more curved aspects of the pearl-blasted aluminium, and the various textures add to the distinguished feel.
We tested the gold version: its size means that you ideally need a long desk or kitchen top, but, surprisingly, the speaker slotted in most spots nicely as a statement piece. It’s like a quality bit of Scandinavian furniture that just so happens to produce quality sound. It’s also IP54 dust- and water-resistant, meaning you can take your new piece of furniture into the garden. Just don’t go too crazy – this is a beautiful speaker that has a delicate aspect to it, and it might not stay looking its best after a heavy shower.
The controls, integrated into the frame, light up when they sense a hand close by, and a slight tap is all that’s needed for playing, track skipping, volume control or a quick jump to your favourite radio stations. One minor grievance is that our clumsy fingers tended to graze the super-sensitive controls whenever we went to carry the speaker by the adjacent integrated handle. But it’s a small price to pay for such an appealing silhouette.
Besides the obvious elegance of the speaker, the most interesting aspect of the level’s design is the modular approach to its interior workings. A replaceable battery module, along with all the streaming paraphernalia put together in a similarly compartmentalised set-up, means that tech obsolescence is much less of an issue, and you don’t need to fork out for a new speaker when the battery conks out, as is so often the way in the modern tech age (we’re looking at no-one in particular…).
The level is easy to take apart, so you don’t need to worry about getting someone in to change the battery for you, while for fiddlier fixes, experts have easy access via the front grille. Other parts of the level have been given less future-proofing attention, but it’s a good start to a new range of more sustainable speakers from B&O. With the promise of available parts 10 years after the last unit’s been sold, you have plenty of time for quick replacements – not that you’re likely to need any.
This is comfortably the best sound from a speaker in its class. Admittedly, at £1299 it’s much more expensive, but what you get for that is another listening experience entirely. The 105 watts of music power, via a five-driver speaker set-up (two 4in woofers, one 2in full-range driver, two 0.8in tweeters) and low distortion amplifiers, bring incredible clarity in the upper register and deep, full bass, while the 96dB mid-range is more than enough to handle its lower and higher neighbours.
The sound difference when the level is stood up or on its back is stark. Upright, audio is directed wherever the level is facing. However, lie it on its back and the full 360-degree effect comes into play – a fantastically rich and warm sound that fills any room with consistent clarity. The process of the speaker automatically adapting its sound is great to hear, made possible by the level sensing its position in relation to the space around it. This helps, too, when the active room compensation kicks into gear, ensuring that audio is at its optimum.
For any unabashed tweaking enthusiasts, the easy-to-use B&O app has a few various presets, but it’s difficult to veer from the aptly named “optimal”. There’s also a pleasing little wheel that you can twiddle to alter the sound profile, switching between and mixing bright, energetic, warm and relaxed modes.
Battery life is up to 16 hours, depending on volume and power consumption. The level also has a handy gadget here to help save energy, analysing and continuously adjusting power and tuning. The microphone does a good enough job of hearing and processing commands, if that’s your sort of thing, with Google assistant ready to help answer any burning questions you might have about getting some more Scandinavian furniture to go alongside your new speaker.
Buy now £1299.00, Bang-olufsen.com
The verdict: Beosound level
The beosound level is expensive – the sort of price that you’d expect a wired speaker to command – and the extra £99 for the wall mount seems like a bit of a low blow. However, what you receive for your money is almost a century of audio expertise, a design from someone at the height of their creative powers and a speaker that’s central to the future of sustainable electronics.
This is a stunner of a speaker, with a better sound than many wired options, and it should last you decades. The design is unique in a saturated market of cylinder- and pill-shaped products, and feels like a hyper-modern homage to old-school audio tech. It might just become a bit of a classic itself.
If you have the money for the level, you should absolutely buy it. It’ll never fail to impress, and you most likely have the space to find a suitable spot for this piece of sonic furniture. To be honest, if you’re buying a speaker for this price, we don’t think you’ll mind splurging on the wall mount, either. A phenomenal speaker.
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