MOST PEOPLE ARE familiar with the lofty aesthetics of Bang & Olufsen, a Danish electronics company that has produced high-end audio and visual equipment since the 1920s. Everything they make is both technically forward-thinking and impeccably designed. The company’s vintage equipment — particularly their turntables — is hypercollectible. Their showrooms are like austere mini museums. Essentially, I have lusted after their functional, well-considered products for years, the very definition of perfection to my mind. But until recently, I didn’t feel like I lived in an apartment nice enough to actually host these slick, beautifully crafted objects.
Recently, the fine folks at Bang & Olufsen invited me in to test-drive their speakers. Barely past the front door, I was already transfixed by a table of beautiful noise-canceling headphones (the Beoplay HX in Timber-colored leather is a favorite). But that’s not why I was there. I’d come to visit the A9, the flying-saucer-esque home speaker I’ve coveted from afar for years now.
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Having spent the better part of the past two decades making a living by writing almost exclusively about music, it amazes me that for most of that time I was voraciously listening through the worst possible sound systems — either through cheap, disposable earbuds: ancient headphones purchased at a Best Buy in Kansas during college, or via the tinny speakers of my MacBook. The absurdity of this became even clearer as I was welcomed into the listening room of Bang & Olufsen. There was no going back. Surrounded by some of the most opulent, impeccably designed audio systems in the world, I was seated in front of the Beoplay A9 speaker and told to relax.
I’m finally hearing the song the way it was meant to be experienced — all thanks to this extraordinary little speaker, aptly described to me as ‘an infinite circle of sound.’
The speaker, which looks like a chic satellite dish, begins to pump out the opening strains of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” It’s as if I am hearing the song for the first time. The sound is immersive and impressively loud, but somehow doesn’t seem oppressive or hard on my ears, even when cranked all the way up. Instead, the sensation is something akin to warmth, the speaker optimizing something called “active room compensation.” That is, it automatically adjusts to the acoustic dynamics of the room based on how and where it has been placed. As the song’s famous “woo woos” kick into high gear, I sit hypnotized for the entirety of the track’s six minutes, gradually ticking up the volume. I keep imagining the famous 1968 Jean-Luc Godard documentary about the song’s creation, thinking that it might be only in this moment that I’m finally hearing the song the way it was meant to be experienced — all thanks to this extraordinary little speaker, aptly described to me as “an infinite circle of sound.”
For anyone considering the A9, it comes with an array of interesting, customizable features. While you can sync it with a variety of devices (via AirPlay, Chromecast, Bluetooth, or voice control), one of the pleasures of using the speaker is that you can control it with a few simple touches. Running your finger along the perimeter of it allows you to adjust the volume with a gentle swipe, while a friendly tap skips to the next track or pause. The front face of the speaker (“a perforated polymer shell in the famous Fibonacci pattern which is found extensively in the natural world”) is customizable in over eight different wool-blend covers, while the legs come in four different wood options.
You can also mount the speaker on the wall if the default tripod stand setup takes up too much space. Even though I understand the practicality of mounting it on the wall (the one hanging in the showroom looks very cool), the thing that strikes me most about the speaker is its unusual physicality. Not small enough to be considered diminutive, not big enough to be imposing, it takes up just enough space to feel intentional. Like so many things that Bang & Olufsen makes, it feels as much like an art object or a well-designed piece of furniture as it does a functional audio component. It feels seductive. Even when playing the world’s most famous rock ’n’ roll song about Satan, it’s an object that tells the world you care enough about music to play it in the most erudite way possible. It’s a device that all but demands that you sit down and listen.
T. Cole Rachel Writer
T. Cole Rachel is the deputy editor of Departures. A Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Interview, and the Creative Independent.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.