Bang & Olufsen Beolit 12 is impressive and expensive
At a Glance
Bang & Olufsen's $799 Beolit 12 looks like nothing so much as a compact picnic basket. Available in dark grey/dark grey, blue/dark grey, yellow/light grey, and light grey/light grey, it’s a rounded-edge, rectangular box with a leather strap around the top. Oh, and it’s also a speaker system designed for AirPlay and direct playback (via USB) from iPhones, iPads, and iPods.
The Beolit 12 weighs about six pounds and measures 9.1 inches wide, 7.4 inches tall, and 5.2 inches deep. That makes the Beolit 12 fairly portable; indeed, I carried mine around the house one-handed using the leather strap.
On the right-hand side of the unit, near the bottom, sit a USB port, a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) line-in jack, and a battery-charging status light. On the rear of the unit, you’ll find a long, rectangular door. Push in to unlock it, and you expose a compartment hosting an ethernet port and a connection for the included power cable. The compartment is large enough to store the AC cable when you’re transporting the unit or running it off battery power.
This compartment was a source of frustration, however. First, the AC port is deeply recessed and positioned against the top of the compartment, making it difficult to connect the power cable. There’s a little hook to the left of the plug, where you’re supposed to thread the power cord—“for safety,” according to the manual—but my fingers simply couldn’t make that happen. Finally at the bottom-left corner of this back door, there’s a small cutout for threading your cables if you want to close the door with those cables connected. The power cable alone fits, but if you want to leave an ethernet cable connected, as well, it becomes a very tight squeeze.
You'll need to use that Ethernet port at least once if you intend to take advantage of the Beolit 12's AirPlay functionality. To configure the unit to use your Wi-Fi network, you first connect the Beolit 12 to your Mac using the included ethernet cable, use your Mac's Web browser (via the provided IP address) to access the speaker’s built-in, Web-based configuration panel, and provide your WiFi network’s details. The Beolit 12 then restarts and connects to your network. You can then ignore the ethernet port unless you want to later update other settings, such as the speaker's network name—you can’t access such settings via Wi-Fi.
On top of the speaker, you’ll find four touch-sensitive, backlit buttons: Power, Internet, Volume Up, and Volume Down. There’s no remote included with the Beolit 12, but Bang & Olufsen says that you can use a Beo4 or Beo6 remote with the unit. (I didn’t have one of those to test.) A clever feature is that the on-board Volume Up and Down keys dim when you can’t go any louder or softer, respectively. You can also control the volume from your audio source, whether you’re connected via AirPlay or USB.
Streaming audio to the Beolit 12 via AirPlay was painless. I tested AirPlay streaming with iTunes on my Mac, as well as from my iPhone and iPad, and I didn’t experience any audio dropouts in hours of streaming. You can also connect an iPhone, iPad, or iPod—using a standard dock-connector cable—to the Beolit 12's USB port. In this configuration, the dock-connector cable functions much like a dock cradle: On an iOS device, you launch the Music app and play your music; on a traditional iPod, you just press Play. (The Beolit 12 will charge your iOS device when connected this way, even when the speaker itself is running off battery power, although as with many iOS accessories, it can't charge an iPad unless the iPad is asleep, and even then it charges much more slowly than the iPad's own charger.) If you connect multiple sources to the Beolit simultaneously, the speaker system uses a built-in priority to determine which source to favor: AirPlay first, then USB, and finally line-in.
Bang & Olufsen recommends you charge the Beolit for eight hours for a full charge, which should net you eight hours of USB or line-in playback, or four hours of AirPlay audio. In my testing, these estimates seem reasonable.
Despite its small size, Bang & Olufsen says that the unit employs a Class D digital amplifier packing a total of 120 watts. Indeed, the Beolit 12 can get hilariously loud—as in, ”I need to go into a second room before I turn the volume all the way up” loud. The system uses two 2-inch tweeters and a single 4-inch woofer. Without a subwoofer, you shouldn’t expect floor-shaking bass, and you don’t get it. That said, I was impressed with the audio the Beolit churned out: Music sounded full, rich, and clear, and while bass presence wasn't jaw-dropping, it was plenty substantial given the unit’s compact size.
One sound issue I experienced is that if you leave the Beolit 12 powered on without music playing, the system makes a noticeable, if quiet, hum, even if you reduce the system's volume to the minimum. The hum is masked whenever you’re playing music, and it’s pretty quiet even when you’re not, but it’s there.
Macworld’s buying advice
I'd like to see AirPlay battery life longer than four hours, and I've made clear my beefs with the ports and compartment in the back, but those grievances are minor. Overall, the Beolit 12 is very good: Its AirPlay functionality is great, and its portability is impressive.
The real question for many readers will likely be: Is the Beolit 12 worth $800? If you don't need portability, Klipsch's G-17 Air AirPlay Speakers ( ) offers tremendously impressive sound quality with similar ease of AirPlay use for a comparatively paltry $550. Alternatively, if you just need a good portable system for listening to your music out and about, there are a number of quality transportable speaker systems in the $200-to-$300 range that offer good sound quality, albeit without AirPlay. For me, the Beolit 12's price is tough to justify, but if you've got the money, this is the first system we've seen that offers this combination of quality sound, portability, and AirPlay support.