At first glance, the Beolit 12’s oddly squarish case and leather strap makes it look something like a lunchbox cooler. A little exploration shows that instead of stashing cold beer, it in fact contains an amplifier/speaker. The Beolit 12 also comes with some history: It’s B&O’s take on the Beolit Transistor Radio, a 1960s classic.
Technology has evolved a bit since then. For starters, this Beolit has integrated wireless connectivity via Apple’s AirPlay. Place it in a Wi-Fi hotspot, and you can stream music to it from any AirPlay-compatible source that’s also in the hotspot. Very cool. Not in a spot? No worries. You can plug in a MP3 player or any other source using the Beolit 12’s minijack connection. If an analog connection is just too 1960s for you, you can also get audio into the Beolit 12 via its USB or Ethernet ports. The latter port will also let you place it on a wired network.
There are four buttons (Power, Network, and Volume Up/Down) on the Beolit 12’s rubberized top. Cleverly, the top has a lip on its perimeter so you can safely place your iPhone on it during playback. The power cord can be stashed in an internal bay behind a hinged door. We liked that the Beolit 12 has a built-in power supply rather than using an external wall wart. Its wraparound aluminum grille comes in either a dark gray or yellow-tinted “champagne” finish; blue and gray models are also on the way.
The Beolit 12’s internal battery charges whenever it’s connected to the wall. And your Apple iDevice can charge whenever it’s connected to the Beolit 12 via a USB cable. There’s a built-in IR receiver, but no remote is included, though you can use the company’s pricey Beo4 ($245) or even pricier Beo6 ($780) remote to get around that conundrum. Battery-powered playback is spec’d at about 4 hours (AirPlay) or 8 hours (wired). It played 11 hours (wired) during our day in the sun. An LED keeps you apprised of battery level, its color switching from green to orange to red as the juice flows out.
Setting up Wi-Fi products can range from easy to impossible. The Beolit 12 is easy. You temporarily connect it to a computer using the supplied Ethernet cable for initial setup. Chillax while the Beolit 12 finds the network connection. Various lights and sounds then verify the wireless connection, and warn if the signal strength is low. Next, turn on your source and sync it with the Beolit 12. You’re all set. You can have multiple input sources connected, and the Beolit 12 selects them by priority: AirPlay first, followed by USB and then analog. We tried a variety of wireless sources, including laptop, iPad, and iPhone, and they all worked flawlessly.
Sound quality was marvelous. Bright as a summer day, Colbie Caillet’s “Brighter Than the Sun” proved perfect for a day at the beach with the Beolit 12. While the sound was remarkably clean on Caillet’s voice, the high end wasn’t incredibly extended. For example, hand claps came across as slightly veiled. But this song has a great bass line, and the Beolit 12 handled it wonderfully, with just a slightly tubby sound on the lower bass notes.
The Beolit 12 provided good impact with percussion, something that was especially noticeable on the kick drum in the first verse of “Brighter Than the Sun.” The unit itself is only 9 inches across, so its speakers are rather close together, but there was still a hint of stereo separation (although no real sense of imaging) when I listened directly in front.
Wireless playback sounded almost as good as wired. During choruses, a little fuzz could be heard on background vocals with the wireless connection; it sounded comparatively clean with a wired connection.
During summer, the most important thing is to stay cool, temperature-wise and style-wise. The Beolit 12 will certainly handle the latter. This may be the most expensive retro-Euro-chic boombox we’ve ever seen, but it’s also one of the best sounding ones we’ve ever heard.
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