A beautiful object capable of delivering glorious audio but it’s unashamedly expensive
- Wonderful sound quality
- Beautiful design
- Good range of wireless connectivity
- No remote control
- No separate subwoofer or surrounds
- High price
By now, everyone knows the benefits of adding a soundbar to your TV system. A good one, even a mediocre one in fact, will boost audio quality considerably and your enjoyment levels no end. They’re hugely popular, too, which must have been a factor in Danish audio manufacturer Bang & Olufsen finally caving in and making one of their own after years of holding out.
In true Band & Olufsen fashion, however, this is no normal soundbar. Modelled after the classic (and very exclusive) Beogram 4002 turntable of the 1970s it looks the business, trimmed neatly in thick-gauge, brushed aluminium with trendy Kvadrat fabric covering the drivers, and it’s set to make a hefty hole in your bank balance.
READ NEXT: The best soundbars to buy today
B&O Stage review: What do you get for your money?
Indeed, with prices starting at £1,250 (for the black model – other colours are more expensive and the Smoked Oak is £1,700), the Stage is right up there with the priciest soundbars.
The top-end Q950T from Samsung, for instance, costs a touch more (from £1,299) but comes with more in the box – a wireless subwoofer and a pair of satellite speakers.
The Bang & Olufsen Stage, on the other hand, is a very simple, albeit elegant, offering. All you get in the box is the soundbar itself, a mains cable and a kit for wall-mounting. There’s no option to add a subwoofer or rear surround speakers later, either.
Physical inputs are limited. You get one HDMI input (which supports 60Hz 4K passthrough), one HDMI output that supports HDMI ARC and one 3.5mm analogue jack. And, in a move that confused me initially, it also doesn’t come with a remote control. Simple stuff, like volume and power are controlled via HDMI CEC or the touch buttons on the front edge of the bar; the rest is handled via the B&O app.
Still, the bar does at least support music streaming, courtesy of Google Cast and Apple AirPlay 2 technology. The Stage also supports Dolby Atmos, although it’s only a three-channel (3.0) setup and doesn’t have any discrete height or rear channels.
Not that Bang & Olufsen is completely short-changing you here. This soundbar is an extraordinarily well-built piece of equipment. It’s very heavy, houses 11 drivers, all individually amplified and, most important of all for its potential customers, it won’t spoil the look of your carefully cultivated minimalist decor.
It’s available in black and silver, smoked oak and grey, “anthracite” and “bronze tone” and looks fabulously expensive in any of these options. Just make sure you pair it with a TV at least 48in in size. Anything smaller will be dwarfed by the sheer size of this thing.
B&O Stage review: How good is the app?
Given that the app is going to be your main means of control — unless you happen to own one of B&O’s 300 universal Beoremote One controls — it’s good to see that it’s suitably comprehensive.
Initial set up is, oddly, carried out via the Google Home app, which is easy enough to do. Once the Stage has been added to your Wi-Fi network you’re switched over to the Bang & Olufsen app where the only remaining task is to choose between whether you’re going to wall mount or table mount the soundbar. It’s important to select the right thing here, too, as the DSP will adjust the sound automatically, depending on how you have it installed.
With that done, you’re into the app proper, and there’s plenty to get your teeth into. As with most soundbars, there’s a selection of sound profiles to choose from: TV, Music, Movies, Night listening, and None. Interestingly you can also tweak the DSP processing within each one to suit your own taste with five settings to choose from. Upmix aims to create a signal for the centre channel when only a stereo signal is being sent to the bar. Virtualize attempts to create virtual surround and height channels. “Low-frequency effect tuning” turns the subwoofer (.1) channel on or off and, finally, Content processing gives you control over the dynamics of the sound – ie the difference between the quietest and loudest passages of a mix.
The customisation continues with the ability to set the EQ for each preset and the ability to set a preset sound profile for each input, whether that be physical or digital. Your Bluetooth, Google Cast and AirPlay inputs can be set to Music, for instance, while your Blu-ray on HDMI 1 is to default to the Movie preset and the audio coming into the bar via HDMI Arc to the TV preset. It’s all highly configurable.
B&O Stage review: What does it sound like?
For a standalone soundbar, the Stage is a wonderfully musical and surprisingly muscular speaker. Its strength is its ability to deliver both music and movie soundtracks with authority and subtlety and its lack of a subwoofer is, surprisingly, not too much of an impairment.
If I’m being really picky, it lacks a little airiness and sense of space but there’s a decent sense of width to the sound and it can go seriously loud if you want it to. You’re not going to get quite the sense of subtlety a price-equivalent Hi-Fi setup can deliver here but it’s pretty darned impressive for “just” a soundbar.
What you don’t get with the Stage is much sense of surround sound, which is hardly surprising given that it delivers audio across only three channels (left, centre, and right). And although it supports Dolby Atmos, it doesn’t add much sense of height to movie soundtracks, even with the Virtualize option toggled on.
It’s also disappointing that no form of DTS audio is supported. That means for a lot of Blu-ray discs you’ll be relying on the stereo mix provided on the disc instead of the soundbar interpreting the surround soundtrack for you.
On the plus side, just as with music playback, sound quality is superb. Voices and dialogue are delivered with coherence and clarity and sound effects track from left to right across the soundstage with a convincing sense of position and great separation.
There’s a surprising amount of bass here, too, given the lack of a separate subwoofer with a huge amount of low-end thump on offer. My only complaint is that it isn’t always the best controlled low-end, with explosions and bass notes often dominating affairs and low notes in music playback sounding a touch flabby and overblown.
This is where automatic room EQ adjustment – as Sonos and Bose provide with their premium soundbars – would come in useful, keeping unwanted resonances to a minimum and balancing out the rest of the sound. You can do this manually, of course, using the EQ adjustment options in the app but I usually find room EQ to be more effective.
READ NEXT: The best soundbars to buy today
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage review: Should I buy one?
Despite the Stage’s weaknesses, though – and to be sure it does have some – its musicality and glorious good looks are good enough that it’s not hard to look past them.
This is a soundbar that sounds great with music and movies alike and it combines this with a good range of wireless connectivity choices. It’s one of the best sounding single box soundbars in the business.
What’s slightly harder to ignore is the high price. At £1,250 it’s hard to argue that the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Stage delivers convincing bang for your buck, especially when the Sonos Arc, which is arguably nearly as good and offers room EQ, costs £450 less.