Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 14 first listen: pictures and hands-on
When a surround sound system costs as much as a TV it's got to be pretty special. One glance at the £2,495 Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 14 - linked up to the BeoVision 11 TV for our first listen - and it's definitely got the designer style box ticked. The aesthetic elegance of the white subwoofer cabinet and four satellite speakers, each on aluminium stands, appear to have flown in from another world.
It was apt then that our first listen to the BeoLab 14 was to a scene from another world: the futuristic Tron Legacy, complete with Daft Punk arpeggio-fuelled synth and rumbling bass was the perfect opportunity to hear the system to the max.
The 280-watt subwoofer consists of an 8-inch driver in a 15-litre container which looks rather like a designer stool. It's within this hub that all the hard work is carried out: B&O has individual amplification and EQ adjustment for each of the attached satellite speakers. Digital signal processing controls the bass by sucking up the low-frequencies from the available audio channels and the smooth yet rumbling sound - delivered down to a sub-bass 26hz - has a warm, buzzing impact that really elevated the scene. It boomed without pushing the bass too far.
Each satellite speaker has a 2.5-inch single driver which delivers considerable clarity and decent top-end considering it all comes from the one cone. In a seated position we got plenty of sparkly top-end to the ears, even without dedicated tweeters or a high-mounted position. The sound was very firm and rich.
All this, yet the centre TV channel still projected voice with clarity within the mix. As much as floors rumbled and mid-waves came at us from all sides, it was never a struggle to hear what was going on. The sign of a good mixdown, number one, but equally good output too.
Sound is one thing, but it's the look of the system that really sells the BeoLab 14. Out of the box there are wall-mounts included to hang the speakers, or floor-stands or ceiling mounts can be added for an extra £190 a pair - aluminium doesn't come cheap. But then it's more than just aluminium. B&O has its own style; its own heritage. We've seen before how the company makes its speakers, each from a single piece of metal to avoid any join markings. Pressure of some 70 tonnes is required to flex the metal into the desired shape for each speaker - far from a quick and easy off-the-line production and that's visible in the final product.
READ: Inside Bang & Olufsen
We listened to a 4.1 speaker set-up, as the BeoVision TV is capable of managing its output as the centre front channel to produce an equivalent 5.1 system. If you have a non-B&O TV then a 5.1 speaker system - priced at £2,795 because of the additional satellite speaker - is what's recommended, although it's not essential. However there's no 7.1 compatibility direct from the device.
That B&O hasn't locked down the system to its own infrastructure is a key sell to this surround set-up. B&O isn't foolish: it sells around only 30,000 televisions a year, whereas the global market is closer to two million.
Be prepared to kit out your home though. The speaker system is wired so you'll need to bury those wires to keep the whole system's design as appealing. This is all about minimalism - so we wouldn't want stray wires dangling around anywhere.
Surround sound just got designer. Not only does the BeoLab 14 look good, it sounds great too. The main barrier will be that designer price: it's pushing £3k all-in and that just won't be feasible for many.