B&O hopes WISA-certified Beolab 17 and 18 speakers and Beolab 19 subwoofer will "reinvent wireless streaming" with support for high-resolution audio
Bang & Olufsen has revealed plans to expand its range to include wireless music streaming for the first time, with the launch of the WiSA-compatible Beolab 14 and 18 speakers, and Beolab 17 subwoofer. Whether you own a B&O TV or not, WiSA speakers will let you stream 24bit high-resolution audio files or play wireless 7.1 surround sound from a connect Blu-ray player.
The Beolab 17 effectively replaces the existing BeoLab 4000 bookshelf speakers as the go-to wireless model for anyone looking for compact yet high-powered sound. With a 6in mid-range driver and 3/4in dome tweeter, each powered by its own 160 watt class D amplifier, the Beolab 17 is incredibly powerful for its size, plus it looks every bit as stylish as we’ve come to expect from B&O.
Designed in partnership with David Lewis design director Torsten Valeur, each Beolab 17 is made from a polished sheet of unbroken aluminium, which has been painted and grinded to give it the appearance of raw metal. Inside, four WiSA-compatible wireless antennas ensure a strong signal, despite the all-metal enclosure. The “Broken Ice” speaker grilles are certainly eye-catching, but can be exchanged for less ostentatious white, black or blue cloth grilles if you prefer.
Naturally for a B&O product the Beolab 17 was built with custom installation in mind – it can be wall-mounted, laid on its side and attached to a low floor base or high floor stand. Each set will cost £2,590 when it launches in November.
It is joined by the Beolab 19, an eye-catching compact subwoofer shaped like a dodecahedron. Unlike more generic wooden subs, this all-metal woofer is meant to be put on display rather than hidden away. Twin 8in drivers are mounted back-to-back and driven by separate 160 watt amplifiers, which again makes it surprisingly powerful for its size.
An anodised metal grille surrounding each open driver contrasts beautifully with the glossy painted cabinet, which is designed to sit on the floor but will also happily take a seat on any furniture should you desire to really show it off. It again includes four WiSA-certified antennas for optimum wireless coverage. It will cost £2,195 when it launches in November.
Finally, B&O also revealed a wireless-enabled successor to its legendary 8000 series column speaker. The Beolab 18 builds on the original design, adding a crescent of lamellas to cover the speaker drivers built specifically for B&O by a Danish furniture supplier. It also replaces the opaque black stand with a transparent one.
The original 8000 column speakers (left) next to the Beolab 18 (right)
Two 4in mid-range drivers, driven by a single 160w amplifier, are paired with a 3/4in tweeter built into the top of the unit. It has its own dedicated amplifier, as well as four WiSA antennas. Each Beolab 18 can be wall-mounted as well as used as a free-standing column speaker. It will cost £3,990 for a model with black lamella fronts, or £4790 for wooden lamella fronts.
WHAT IS WiSA WIRELESS STREAMING?
Unsurprisingly B&O focused the launch on the design of each speaker, rather than the hardware inside them, but thankfully WISA President Jim Venable was on hand to talk us through the technology.
Essentially a wireless standard which uses the 5.2-5.8GHz range to avoid interference from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other signals, WiSA equipment shouldn’t have any problems with dropouts or interference that would otherwise trouble some Wi-Fi-based streaming systems. Unlike Sonos, which uses its own proprietary wireless standard, WiSA could be incorporated into any hardware – potentially providing an alternative to Wi-Fi-based streaming. Once certified, a WiSA product from any manufacturer would work with every other piece of WiSA equipment.
Because regular Wi-Fi standards were designed to transmit data than audio streaming they often have a several second delay between playing a track and the music starting. As it operates on a proprietary frequency, which is constantly checking for interruptions and automatically changes channel if it detects a conflict, WiSA equipment should never have more than a five millisecond delay between pressing play and sound coming out of your speakers.
That applies to surround sound audio as well as music. WiSA transmits all eight channels from a 7.1 soundtrack to every speaker, which then plays the relevant channel based on its assigned location. It has more than enough bandwidth for uncompressed 24bit audio files too, which could make it the system of choice for fans of lossless music.
To show its commitment to WiSA, Bang & Olufsen revealed that every Beovision 11 television sold from this month onwards will include a transmitter box designed to allow customers to add WiSA speakers instantly, without the need to buy additional hardware. For existing owners, or for anyone with a TV from another manufacturer, a separate transmitter box will be available to add WiSA compatibility.
Based on what we saw at B&O’s announcement event, WiSA has real potential to rival established brands like Sonos – if it can get more manufacturers on board to incorporate the technology. As it stands, B&O’s initial WiSA speaker range is so expensive as to be out of reach of most people. For the time being, we’ll just have to envy anyone with the cash to splash on a wireless B&O system.