Later this year, Bang & Olufsen will launch Beosound Stage, its first soundbar for non-B&O TVs, and Beovision Harmony, its first 77-inch OLED TV. Here are our first impressions.
Hands on: Beosound Stage
After almost two years of rumors, Bang & Olufsen made it official just ahead of the IFA show in Berlin. The company's first soundbar will be called Beosound Stage. It will launch in "late autumn 2019" starting at 1500 Euro / 1750 USD.
A couple of days after the presentation, FlatpanelsHD got a chance to experience, and listen to, Beosound Stage. For the presentation, Bang & Olufsen had wall mounted the silver aluminium edition underneath a TV. This set-up is interesting because it allows buyers to almost create a "Bang & Olufsen TV". LG's C9 OLED model comes with embedded software that support B&O's Beoremote One BT - the company's TV remote control. With other TVs, you must connect the B&O soundbar to the TV via HDMI CEC, which allows you to adjust audio volume via the TV's standard remote.
Next to the silver aluminum edition, Bang & Olufsen had placed the more expensive (2250 Euro / 2600 USD) Smoked Oak edition, with its front and back cover removed. As you can see, the soundbar is equipped with multiple speaker units (specs here). Notice that the two outmost units are angled.
When the soundbar is flat on a surface these units help project sound towards the listener, while they project sound upwards in a wall mounted configuration. B&O explains that the two units are not configured to be up-firing units for Dolby Atmos but they do help expand the sound stage in some form. We only had a chance to listen to the soundbar in flat position.
Around back, we caught a glimpse of the input/output ports. The soundbar is meant to be connected to a TV via the HDMI ARC port. There is also an HDMI input for looping playback devices through the soundbar as well as legacy line-in. Our understanding is that the Ethernet port is meant for integration with LG C9 but we did not get a chance to see how the two devices interplay. We will get back to that once we receive a review sample.
The two editions in silver and bronze aluminum have been formed from a single piece of aluminum, meaning that there are no joints. Also notice how the inner part of the soundbar has been lowered. This is a visual trick to make the soundbar look smaller while still leaving enough cabinet volume to accommodate the speaker units.
The smoked oak version on the other hand has visible dovetail joints. The Bang & Olufsen logo along with functional buttons have been carved directly into the wooden frame. A very nice detail.
For the listening demonstration we moved to a more suitable environment inside a room that better resembled a typical living room. The soundbar was flat on a surface and next to it the company had placed its two ultra high-end Beolab 90 speakers. From cheap Bluetooth speakers to extremely expensive Beolab speakers, Bang & Olufsen now covers almost the full range of speakers. It would be easy - and not very helpful - to compare the new Beosound Stage soundbar to much more expensive B&O products. In our opinion, based on the listening demo, Beosound Stage performs as it should when considering the breadth of the line-up.
Beosound Stage delivers good, well-balanced sound with relatively powerful bass, clear vocals and a wide sound perspective, although a little directional. We had a chance to listen to music, too, and the soundbar convinced us that it can serve both purposes in a typical living environment. Beosound Stage will definitely be a major upgrade over most built-in TV speakers.
It was a relatively short demonstration so we will reserve further observations for our review, except for a brief comment on the price point. After the demonstration, we spoke to some colleagues about how Beosound Stage actually outperforms the Beosound 35 that was introduced a higher price point back in its days. It is always easy to dismiss B&O products as overpriced but when taking into account the choice of materials, finish, design, audio capabilities, and functionality, Beosound Stage looks like a strong package. Flagship soundbars from Samsung, Sony, and others actually cost more.
Beosound Stage supports multiroom through Beolink Multiroom, AirPlay 2, and Chromecast. We did not get a chance to try it but we expect it to work just like any other speaker that supports these capabilities. AirPlay and Chromecast will also allow you to use Stage in multiroom together with speakers from other brands in your home. From an iPhone you will be able to play music on Beosound Stage through Siri voice commands.
Hands on: Beovision Harmony
Beovision Harmony is Bang & Olufsen's first OLED TV over 65 inches. The 77-inch TV was unveiled earlier this year and at the event we had time to sit down and enjoy the picture and audio experience as well as the unique mechanical stand.
Beovision Harmony is based on a 77-inch LG C9 mounted on top of the speaker and mechanical stand system. The screen is an LG TV complete with webOS, 4K resolution, Dolby Vision support, and more. However, it has some modifications. LG C9 has embedded software to let you control it via the Beoremote One BT (bluetooth). WebOS now has a dark theme and the Wii-like cursor that you know from LG TVs has been deactivated in favor of right/left/up/down buttons to navigate the user interface. In our opinion, this is a clear improvement of webOS.
There is not much to add on the subject of picture quality since it is an LG TV with an LG video engine. You will get the exact same picture quality from LG's own 77-inch C9 model, which is not exactly cheap either. The speakers in Harmony on the other hand are unique and in a completely different league. Harmony delivered magnificent sound even in the hall that B&O had chosen for the event. It is a powerhouse that easily outcompetes other TVs. Of course, B&O has even more powerful speakers in its line-up but we are talking about a TV speaker system here.
I think it is fair to say that Beovision Harmony delivers some of the best picture and audio quality on the TV market today. And of course it should considering its price tag of 18.500 Euro when it launches later this year. Is it for everyone? No, of course not. You can get the same picture quality in a much cheaper LG TV but on the other hand you will not find TV speakers - or a music system - this good in other TVs, and definitely not in such elegant and unique design. It is hard not get carried away into dreamland when sitting in front of Beovision Harmony.
Is Beovision Harmony "magic"? We will let Torsten Valeur, chief designer, try to convince you. Harmony starts spreading its wings around halfway through the video.