At IFA 2019, Bang & Olufsen launched its first stand-alone soundbar, namely the Beosound Stage, which offers some unique features - if you happen to be an LG C9 owner. Stage features Dolby Atmos decoding, a multitude of streaming protocols, and of course a dash of B&O design. At a starting price of €1500 ($1750) it is also priced to compete with high-end soundbars from other more brands - and not completely out reach for the average consumer. Let’s find out if it’s any good.
B&O is entering the soundbar market a little late in the game as all of its previous TV speakers have been reserved exclusively for a Beovision TV. Sure, you could connect some of the previous solutions to another TV brand, but you’d have to jump through hoops to get there. B&O has also provided an accessory that would allow their active speakers to be connected to a non-B&O TV, but these products have managed to stay off most people’s radar. With the introduction of Beosound Stage, we finally get a B&O soundbar that will simply connect to any TV with an HDMI-ARC port.
Beosound Stage comes in a few varieties, with the plain aluminium or bronze versions being the cheapest ones. Should you fancy more organic materials, you can hand over an additional €700 ($850) to get a smoked oak frame and grey Kvadrat fabric. In the plain aluminum version Stage doesn’t stand out remarkably amongst the crowd, but opting for the bronze or oak version, people should start to notice it. Each version comes with a special front fabric (black for the plain alu, taupe for the bronze, and dark grey for the oak one) but each of them can also be bought separately for about €150. The plain aluminium and oak versions both come with a black base, whereas the bronze version is white. Stage is about the same height as the Sonos Playbar but a bit wider - and quite a bit prettier. We have gotten our hands on the smoked oak version. Note that I have used my own cables during the test. The ones supplied in the box are all black.
Taking a closer look, we find the buttons for operating Stage on one side of the bezel nicely carved into the wood (or etched into the aluminium), and all of them are touch sensitive. There are dedicated buttons for audio adjustment, changing tune in your playlist, the B&O “touch to join” button, standby, and pairing of either a mobile phone or the BeoRemote One. The buttons are very subtle but probably won’t be something you would use on a daily basis. Flipping Stage over we found a lid concealing the (few) connections available: two HDMI ports of which one is the ARC/eARC connection (for connecting it to the TV), an analogue input, a LAN port, and an additional LAN port for connecting Stage to an LG C9 OLED TV.
Two bright diodes reside below the buttons, and to my liking their are a bit too bright during startup. There is no way of manually adjusting the brightness but it start to dim automatically after some time. Beosound Stage can be operated in two positions: lying flat on a benchtop or mounted on a wall. This is possible as the side units of the speaker are angled just as we have seen on e.g. Sonos Playbar.
Taking the lid off, we found 11 speaker units distributed between 3 tweeters (left, right, and center), 4 full-range drivers (left, right, and two in the center), and 4 bass drivers. The drivers will operate differently, depending on the placement of Stage; if lying flat the left and right channels will act as front firing units, whereas the center drivers will do the front firing when wall-mounted. The remaining drivers will act as fillers for spatial sound.
Inside the box we also found an HDMI cable, a paper template for wall mounting, and two small rings that act as wall brackets by neatly sliding into a slot in the back of Stage. As wall mounting is a bit troublesome during short-time testing, we used a pair of angled metal brackets for keeping Stage upright in order to be able to test both placement options during our review, so if you spot these on any of the pictures note that they are not part of the usual setup.
To set up Beosound Stage you need to use the Google Home app, i.e. it needs to be added to the Google Home system in order to be visible for your other gadgets and to let it connect to your WiFi. This process is identical to many other soundbars including the Sennheiser Ambeo, and it enables you to control Stage using your voice (via another microphone-enabled device). After adding Stage to your Google Home, it can be operated using the “Bang & Olufsen” app, and this app is essential for getting access to the additional features of Stage, such as changing the sound mode or placement setting. One would think that the latter could have been handled automatically by sensing which direction Stage was facing, but this is not the case.
You should definitely connect Stage using the HDMI connector, to allow control of Stage with hour own remote, but you can also use either analogue or SPDIF. Stage supports HDMI eARC meaning that lossless Dolby Atmos (in Dolby TrueHD) can be passed through a compatible TV (with eARC), but currently this feature is mainly useful if you own an UHD Blu-ray player as all streaming services only offer Dolby Atmos in its lossy version (Dolby Digital Plus). HDMI eARC does, however, provide better support for ironing out lipsync issues, which we luckily didn't experience during this review.
Stage is not meant to deliver an immersive Dolby Atmos surround experience but rather it takes advantage of object-based audio to add a bit of 'volume' to the sound stage in front of the viewer/listener. To this end there are no real requirements relating to placement or reflective surfaces - unlike Sennheiser Ambeo.
The configuration of Stage allows you to use different sound modes depending on the input source, which will come in handy as “Movie” and “Music” modes are very different by default. You also have the option to adjust each of the modes to your liking by using B&O’s 4-quadrant adjustment tool that lets you steer the sound nuance in the direction of “Warm”, “Excited”, “Relaxed”, or “Bright”. The magnitude of each of these settings can be fine-tuned and it lets you create a mix of adjacent presets. This is an easy way of adjusting preferences as you are playing with the sound in ways you wouldn’t be able to using just an equalizer - even though a 2-point equalizer is provided.
Besides being able to adjust the nuance of sound you also have the option to enable or disable some technical features such as upmixing (converting 2 channels to 3 ), “Virtualisation” that fills the room, low frequency tuning, and something called “content processing”, which could be described as artificial sharpening for sound.
Beosound Stage has no built-in room correction or microphones that allows it to interact with surroundings so if you want to operate it using Google Assistant you need a separate speaker with this capability. You should also know that there is no way of adding speakers to the setup, i.e. no additional subwoofer and no rear speakers. You can, however, use Stage as a multi-room speaker and it will play nice with both Google's Chromecast, Apple's AirPlay 2, and of course other B&O Beolink-enabled speakers.
LG TV apps mirrored in BeoRemote One display
The partnership with LG becomes very obvious with the introduction of Stage as it will actually pair with an LG C9 OLED TV to create a sort of integrated unit that is controllable through a B&O BeoRemote One. This will only work with an LG C9, so you can't connect to older models nor any of the other LG models in the 2019 line-up (such as the B9 or E9). The C model is also the one being used for both the Bang & Olufsen Beovision Eclipse TV (C7) and Beovision Harmony TV (C9).
Pairing C9 to Beosound Stage is done by connecting both HDMI ARC and LAN between the two units, and by downloading a dedicated B&O app on the LG TV. This app will unlock a hidden function inside the C9 and after connecting the BeoRemote One to Beosound Stage and rebooting the TV, you are now ready to operate the TV as if it was a B&O BeoVision TV. This includes mirroring of installed apps on the LG TV onto the BeoRemote One display (as seen above).
What you won’t get - just like Eclipse and Harmony - is LG's MagicRemote motion cursor (which is no loss in our opinion). You won’t be able to use the IR-repeater functions that true Beovision TVs offer, and you won’t get your hands on the advanced sound menus and sound processing of e.g. 7.1, which also usually tags along with a Beovision TV set, simply because these features aren’t included in Stage.
Bang & Olufsen is offering the LG C9 models in stores (prices should follow the general market trends) and they can also provide you with a BeoRemote One for an additional €280 ($310). Those of us without an LG TV might wish they would bring this functionality to other brands as well, but since it is not a simple matter of HDMI CEC, but rather direct control via a LAN port, we don't expect it to happen anytime soon, and not in Beosound Stage's lifetime. But hey - Christmas is coming up and you can always wish for it...
Connecting Stage to any other TV through the HDMI-ARC port will of course allow you to control audio volume of Beosound Stage using your TV remote control, so you don’t need the BeoRemote One. For this review, Stage was connected to a Sony AF9 through HDMI eARC, and it was recognized as being capable of accepting Dolby Atmos with for example Apple TV 4K.
Sound: Movies & TV
Beosound Stage hasn’t been promoted as a surround sound Atmos speaker that will deliver immersive room-filling sound, and doesn't feature drivers meant for bouncing sound off of walls or the ceiling. It is promoted as a speaker system that delivers room-filling sound without the need for a subwoofer. As mentioned you can install Stage in one of two ways and both will be evaluated during this review.
The first thing you will notice when firing up Beosound Stage is that speech is handled very well. Voices are clear and balanced with no muffling effect. Depending on your choice of sound mode especially low frequencies may sound different as “Movie” mode adds more punch than the “TV” mode does. As mentioned earlier you can tweak either profile to your liking, but for the most part I was happy with the default settings for “Movie”.
As you probably know there are very few TV channels broadcasting in Dolby Atmos or any object-based audio format. Stage has the capability to upmix soundtracks to 3 channels, but as with everything else your are mostly just changing the original sound, which often sounds quite strange. Re-watching old TV shows that I'm familiar with became a bit distracting while using this up-mixing function. Up-mixing is the default setting for Movie mode but you can deactivate it from the app, which affects all sources that use Movie mode.
I am quite fond of Blade Runner 2049, which includes several great Atmos sequences and it quickly became evident that you shouldn’t expect the same level of immersiveness as you get with the Sennheiser Ambeo. The room isn’t filled in any way near what the most potent Atmos soundbars out there can do, but as mentioned this really isn’t what B&O promised.
What was promised was that the bass performance shouldn’t leave you wanting, and in this regard Stage really does surprise. It delivers significant punch in the low range and heavy explosions will rock your living room. At the same time loud gunshots and shattering glass are delivered without sound becoming shrill. You can sense that the bass is not as tightly controlled as in Sennheiser's Ambeo (which has more speaker volume) but B&O's claim of Stage making a subwoofer redundant is not an exaggeration in my opinion.
Another favorite of mine is Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, as well as its predecessor Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Both offer a nice blend of dialog mixed to a dramatic soundtrack, and action sequences alternating between swirling flyovers and stuff being ripped apart by magicians in overdrive. Once again, I miss ambience being lifted out into the room and only occasionally do you feel some mythical creature appearing over your head, but at least the explosions pack a punch.
Stage certainly delivers a sound field that a standard 2-channel setup doesn't, but we think it is important not to expect an all-encompassing audio experience when you spot the Dolby Atmos logo on the cover of the box. I found that Stage's upright position, when mounting Stage on a wall, provided the best Atmos effect as the center channel wasn’t just throwing sound straight towards the ceiling like when it is placed on a table top.
In Venom there are plenty of in-your-face action sequences and sound effects meant for Atmos and here you really get a feel of the performance of the bass drivers, when bad guys are being tossed around. At times I strongly considered turning off the “Low frequency response tuning” to lighten up the weighty bass end as the balance seemed to tip too much towards low end. A good compromise seemed to be just lowering the bass with the 2-point equalizer. Even though Stage doesn’t reach the same levels of surround that Ambeo does you do feel that the voice of Venom is not just coming from the speaker but also filling some of the space in front of you. In this movie I actually found that the table top placement provided the most pleasing sound stage as regards to low frequencies, but as you kind of have to pick one and stick with it so I would suggest trying to find a comfortable level of bass using the equalizer instead and go for the wall mount.
I think that Beosound Stage delivers on its promise. For movies and TV entertainment I would be happy to have it hanging on my wall. Performance doesn’t match that of Sennheiser Ambeo, but unless you opt for the oak version prices are not comparable either. Sure I would love to have had the option to add rear speakers just like the Sonos Playbar or Samsung Q series, but in direct comparison with the Playbar that resides in my living room, Beosound Stage definitely takes the lead in terms of bass performance and voice clarity. Still, it is a touch decision to choose between enhanced surround effects or better soundbar performance overall. I am torn myself.
Stage was connected to my Sony AF9 TV throughout the review and those of you who have read any of our other Sony TV reviews will know that we have criticized Sony TVs for spontaneously waking up during standby. Usually this doesn’t present a problem, other than increased energy consumption (and maybe privacy?), but somehow Stage reacted to this and decided to also wake up. B&O is aware of the issue, but instead of rushing a firmware update out to our review sample that would potentially ruin things for other TV brands, they will be releasing an update to address the issue once they have confirmed that the proper fix doesn’t affect general performance. This should happen within the next couple of weeks.
Another issue that we experienced was a noise emanating from the speaker when turned on; a slight coil whine could be detected from the center of the speaker. You would only hear the noise with everything else quiet, but combined with the previous Sony-related issue the noise would appear when Stage woke up. The noise was too faint to hear in everything but complete silence.
B&O sells multiple audio products in the form of dedicated streaming speakers and more potent active speakers. Within the line-up Beosound Stage is one of its cheaper products. To suit your music streaming needs, Stage supports a variety of wireless protocols, including AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Google Home integration, and B&O’s own Beolink system. If you still have analogue sources, you can also connect them to the minijack port on the bottom.
Using a soundbar for playing music presents several challenges of which the first is the lack of separation between the left and right channels. This makes it difficult to achieve a wide stereo perspective. Stage is of course also bound by this physical constraint and sure enough you won’t experience the same broad stereo perspective as you do with dedicated 2-channel stereo speakers. Bird on a Wire by Jennifer Warnes, however, was produced with nice and clear vocals, but I really missed wider stereo sound. The song also revealed that Stage might be missing some something in the midtones
In Butterfly by Jason Mraz we get nice and deep bass, but it doesn't strike as nicely as on Sennheiser's Ambeo. Same observation was made after changing the tune to Sing Sang Sung by Big Phat Band, which wasn't delivered with the precision in the trumpets or percussion as on Ambeo. Compared to the Sonos Playbar, however, it’s still ahead on points. Electronic tracks in my playlist such as Undone by Spaces & Sarah de Warren or Breathe Into Me by Marian Hill are better matches for Stage’s temper, and it generally does a good job with music genres that don't require full precision in bass or a wide stereo perspective, a description that would probably fit most music in the charts nowadays. At times I felt encouraged to reduce bass a bit using the equalizer, and in general I think the quest for bass performance might have pushed the balance a tad too far towards the low end, so in the end I just decided to keep reduce bass a little for both movies and music playback.
I don't consider Stage the kind of speaker that allows you to really “listen” to music, but since the price is considerably lower than several of B&O’s other streaming speakers (such as the BeoPlay 9 or Beosound Edge), I almost consider Stage a bargain. As with other soundbars, it is not entirely fair to judge Stage by its performance as a pure music source as the primary function is to alleviate people of the horror of built-in TV speakers - not to replace a dedicated stereo system. But with many consumers settling for small streaming speakers as their only source of music in the living room, it makes perfect sense to buy a soundbar that can outperform these solutions. In this regard, I think Stage is a great choice.
In general I preferred the sound performance delivered from a wall-mounted Beosound Stage opposed to the table-top mounted option, but since the left and right speakers are mounted at an angle and therefore always throwing sound forward, it doesn’t actually matter all too much how you place it when it comes to music playback.
Unless the box says “Beoplay”, and not “Bang & Olufsen”, we have grown accustomed to a high price tag, but with the introduction of Beosound Stage, Bang & Olufsen has, surprisingly, launched a speaker system that actually seems like a bit of a bargain.
Taste in design can’t be argued, and some will hate it while others will love it, but Stage does offer varieties in looks that should satisfy most buyers. The oak version is my personal favorite but it comes at a premium and our value-for-money assessment here applies to the aluminium and bronze versions.
On the feature side Stage is a mixed bag with HDMI eARC support but only one HDMI input, Dolby Atmos support but only three speaker channels, and Beolink access but no option to connect additional speakers. A unique feature, however, is that you can pair Beosound Stage with an LG C9 OLED TV, which essentially transforms the TV into a B&O Beovision that can be fully operated with a BeoRemote One - only lacking the expansive speaker and IR connections of a Beovision set.
Sound performance is excellent and especially bass performance was a surprise. Voices come across as distinct and clear and the bass can rock your living room, without the need for a subwoofer. The Dolby Atmos effect isn’t profound, but the 3-channel system still manages to expand the sound stage to some degree. Beosound Stage also handles music well as long as you keep in mind that no soundbar is able to match a similar priced stereo speaker system. As an alternative to small streaming speakers, Stage is an appealing option as you get an elegant solution for the living room that delivers powerful TV audio and serves as a wireless music system, too. Beosound Stage challenges other soundbars in this price range and if you are in the market for an OLED TV you should definitely consider the combo of Stage and LG C9.
Deep bass & great voice clarity Build quality & flexibility Doubles as a music system HDMI eARC ’Wall bracket’ included
No option to connect rear speakers Dolby Atmos effects Only 1 HDMI input Oak frame is expensive