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Bang For The Buck -BeoLab 9 Speakers & BeoSound 3200 Audio System
Bang & Olufsen combines fidelity, form and function with the new BeoLab 9 Speakers & BeoSound 3200 Audio System

This magazine is known for reviewing high-end audio, which often means corresponding prices. In my quest to cover this segment of the audio industry, I decided to evaluate the most handsomely-styled components available: the Bang and Olufsen speakers and a matching preamp/CD player/tuner. For many years high-end industry players have been saying that B&O, though costly, does not measure up to other high-end electronics made in North America. I believe that B&O is, first and foremost, a lifestyle product manufacturer, with a good grip on quality construction, which results in attractive, high-end products. These are not aimed at the tweak audiophile consumer, but rather at folks who like good sound without "unnecessary complexity" and great aesthetics. It seems to me that B&O knows, probably better than most high-end manufacturers, the market to which they wish to appeal. With over 2,400 employees and over $605 million in sales in more than 60 countries, there’s no question that the company is a success. The B&O family of products range from amazing-looking telephones to LCD TV screens and entire media centres. The company designs and engineers all components in Struer, Denmark which allows them to closely monitor quality.

Founded by Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen in 1925 (that's a couple of years before I was born), the company continues to do an admirable job of producing quality components for those who appreciate good performance concealed within sleek, modern enclosures.

B&O describes the BeoLab9 speakers as "formed to follow function". Indeed, the speakers are not only very attractive but also designed to eliminate as much acoustic distortion (such as diffraction) as possible. A (replaceable) front grille, available in four colours, covers protective ABS molded plastic metal grilles over the speaker drivers. The terminals and AC cords (for the built-in amps) are concealed by a small cover on the rear of each enclosure. The terminals are the DIN type (Deutsche Industrie Norm) - a round, five-prong plug (Bang & Olufsen uses an eight-prong plug, left/right in same cable), the merits of which has been debated for over fifty years. DIN connectors are used by a number of European electronics manufacturers, including Naim and Quad, and are the neatest and most efficient way to connect electronics. If you wish to use premium cables with the BeoLab 9s, they will have to be custom made.

The control centre, the BeoSound 3200, is simply beautiful. It tells you it is ready for operation when the light switches on and the unit's glass doors slide open. All function buttons are clearly visible behind the glass and include 60 AM and FM presets, CD, CD memory and optional access to internet radio via your computer. The unit stands upright at enough of an angle to enable you to see the functions and load CDs appropriately. It can be placed on a table or shelf, but a matching stand and wall brackets as well as a line input adaptor are also available as.

The Sound
Before I begin I should remind readers that the system under review is comprised only of B&O components. As I started to listen, I must admit that I didn't know what to expect. However, based on my 1970s retailing experience (I used to sell B&O products) I anticipated good sound. While I was not looking for high-end performance, I have to admit that the more I listened to the B&O system, the more I appreciated its sound quality and its user-friendly operating simplicity. Having said that, I found the operating instructions somewhat difficult to grasp but, with a little patience, I learned the basics, and it was plain sailing thereafter.
Every morning I turned on the FM tuner (which, by the way, is excellent), tuned in a couple of my favourite stations (all programmed into the BeoSound 3200) and simply enjoyed the music. Over time, I found the correct settings for bass and treble (forgive me, oh audio gods), which really allowed the system to sing at just about all volume levels. The usual visitors to the studio all commented on the B&O's visual elegance - which I expected - and most then proceeded to acknowledge the system's musical calibre.

As part of the system configuration, the BeoSound 3200 fulfills its function admirably as a preamplifier. I enjoyed its rather neutral sonic character, very convincing imaging and I detected nothing hard, harsh or edgy. The unit just sounded musical.

I recently moved to much larger premises and now have an "open concept" living room - not the best listening environment and an outright pain to remedy. However, I did the best I could for my listening tests and managed an impressive sound stage with realistic boundaries and excellent front-to-back dimensions with spatial, out-of-the-box imagery.

The loudspeakers' placement worked well in my listening space when I set the toggle switches to "free standing". In fact, this arrangement provided better room interaction than I scored with the more elaborate Sonus faber loudspeakers (reviewed in the last print issue Vol. 17 No 4) and the Sim Audio Moon electronics (reviewed in Vol. 17, No. 3) - a much more elaborate system. The B&O system sounded sweet and organic, never forced or synthetic. It provided enough bass to reproduce fundamentals at about 35Hz and it never sounded boomy or boxy. I appreciated the system's smooth handling of high frequencies and liked the tweeter's natural sound. Midrange, on occasion, sounded a bit forward and I soon realized that poorly produced CDs will not sound very good - but then again, I'd expect this with any high-end system. I found that the system sounded best when I was seated; when I stood up, imaging and focus became somewhat diffused, although spatial information was maintained.
Synopsis & Commentary
Having lived with the system for about three weeks, I came to the, for me, surprising conclusion that I liked the B&O's overall sound. I noticed that the longer the units were in operation, the better they sounded. My samples came from B&O's U.S. headquarters and, although they had been connected and operated before they arrived, they were not completely burned-in. However, once that was accomplished, the BeoLab 9/BeoSound 3200 combination delighted my music lover’s soul. Occasionally, I missed the out-and-out grandiose impact of mega-buck components. However, this didn't result in disappointment, as the system certainly provided harmonious fidelity. While the B&O system didn't excite my audiophile soul, it pleased me with a very balanced performance - the kind that makes one forget about the audio paraphernalia and just enjoy the music. That's pure entertainment, minus the often present audio anxieties.
For me, the B&O system offered an elevated level of musical enjoyment. While it can’t compete with the likes of Krell, Moon or Cary Audio components, it does offer what this industry is, or should be, all about - entertainment. I believe that consumers will get what they pay for when they purchase the BeoLab 9/BeoSound 3200 system. Its musical performance is up close to the mega-buck high-enders and its entertainment value is nearly off the charts.

BeoSound 3200 Audio System
BeoLab 9 Speakers
Bang & Olufsen
For more information or to locate the nearest store, call 1-866-520-1400 or visit
BeoSound 3200
$4,300.00 CDN
$3,650.00 US
BeoLab 9
$11,650.00/pr CDN
$9,900.00/pr US
Dimensions Weight
Speakers 30.2” (h) 15.6 ” (w) 11.7” (d)
Control Unit 12.6 ” (h) 14.2 ” (w) 6.3 ” (d)
Speakers 38.75 lbs/ea

The BeoLab 9s are unique loudspeakers designed by B&O's head designer, David Lewis. The enclosures are a compact, conical shape and house a 10-inch bass driver, a 5-inch midrange and B&O's tweeter featuring the patented Acoustic Lens Technology. The bass operates in its own 18 litre enclosures while the midrange driver and tweeter operate in dedicated 4-litre enclosures that the company calls “pressure chambers”. Each driver is powered by its own amplifier. The bass unit is driven by a B&O patented 400 watt ICEpower amp (Class D) and two 100 watt analogue hybrid amps power the midrange and tweeter. This completely active system employs electronic crossovers, guaranteed to provide sufficient continual power and the system is safeguarded by a thermal protection circuit. The Acoustic Lens tweeter is mounted at the top of each enclosure and features a 180 degree dispersion pattern to prevent stray reflections off ceiling and floor. B&O provides a switch feature that optimizes bass performance whether the speakers are placed near a wall, in a corner or freestanding on the floor. Frequency response is quoted from 30Hz to 20kHz.

The BeoSound 3200
, the system's control unit, features, in addition to the preamplifier, a CD player, a tuner and a CD memory function - a kind of server - that can store up to 400 CDs in a compressed format with a frequency range from 20Hz to 15kHz (-1dB). The CD section provides a frequency range from 20Hz to 20kHz with a signal to noise ratio of 101dB. Of course, the unit allows editing, naming, moving titles around and deleting. All functions can be accessed via the elegant remote control that features an LCD display. The 3200 may not look like a very serious preamp/tuner/CD player, but it really is a carefully thought-out design which works well with the BeoLab 9s. As far as I can tell, the preamp section is very good, though I was unable to test it with different brand amplifiers, as it only allows DIN connections.
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