iPod and iPhone speaker docks are practically grocery store items these days. What’s a bit harder to find is an iPad dock, especially one designed with an audio enthusiast in mind. Aside from the fact that the iPad is less than a year old, there’s also the issue that users don’t generally think of it as a music device.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a good music player. In fact, it can be a very good source for digital music, and its large screen means you don’t have to hold it in your hand to see the album art.
So leave it to Bang and Olufsen, the Danish electronics company known for innovative designs, both from an aesthetic and engineering perspective, to launch an iPad speaker dock that will appeal to discerning listeners as well as discerning interior designers. Don’t expect anything from B &O to look conventional. The BeoSound 8 is basically two metal cone speakers held together by a small bridge. The cone speaker cabinets are powered by an internal class D amplifier with a dynamic range of 38 Hz to 24,000 Hz. The speaker design helps to reduce standing waves within the enclosure and also allows for flexible placement on a table or mounted to a wall. To help prevent sound distortion due to placement, there’s an equalizer switch with three settings: table, wall and corner.
One of the features I like most about the BeoSound 8 is the way the iPhone or iPad fits into the dock. Rather than one inflexible dock with several adaptors to fit different devices, the BeoSound 8 let you place your iDevice on the connector and then adjust a small knob on the back to get the perfect fit for your player. I used both an iPhone 3GS and an iPad, and both fit perfectly. I didn’t even have to remove the iFrogz case from my iPhone, though we did have to remove the iPad case to install. It has to be said, though, that the iPad does look a bit odd sitting on top of the speaker system. The smaller iPhone looked less conspicuously vulnerable.
I first plugged in my iPhone 3GS and played selections from the Grinderman 2 CD (ripped at 320kbps). Nick Cave’s voice at times seemed inspired by a John Deere tractor pull—low gears and hard working, just the way I expected it. For something a bit less aggressive I switched to She and Him’s Volume Two (also ripped at 320kbps). Zooey Deschanel’s cool and folky voice was summery and clear.
I then switched to an iPad and played custom channels streamed off Pandora. Of course Pandora is much more heavily compressed, and I expected the music to have a lot less presence than higher bit rate listening. While I was right, it still sounded pretty good and held up well at high volumes. Higher bit rate jazz played directly off the iPad was much better.
The BeoSound 8 overall sounded very good, though it lacked some of the wide soundstage and depth of another high-end speaker system, the B & W Zeppelin. However, the Zeppelin is not iPad compatible, so if the iPad is your device, you’re out of luck there. The BeoSound 8 also is very pricy. At $999, it may be the most expensive dock on the market, but it’s also one-of-a-kind and sounds much bigger than it’s tabletop size suggests.
In addition to the music stored on your iPad, you can pull in streamed music from an Airport Express, or you can download B & O’s own app, the BeoPlayer that includes a selection of 20 internet radio stations and an alarm clock. A step-up app for $20 will get you 10,000 internet radio stations, though with services like Pandora, Slacker and Last.fm already free, I don’t see much use for the $20 app.
Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 8
Instantly compatible with multiple iDevices
Free internet radio app
iPad placement leaves it exposed to bumping
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.