I believe soundstage has a review of the BeoLab 5s. IMO, they are not colored at all. I had a quick listen a few months and was impressed all around.
The concept is that an all in one system takes away a lot of variables. And you get decent sound. Just the way the designer likes it for his type of music. But your taste will most likly differ and if you are educated enough, you can come up with a much better set of performance parameters by choosing a different manufacture or mix and match different companies products. If you are not educated enough or don't demo the equipment in your system, then you may very likly come up with lesser sound quality.
My opinion is that they were near the top of mid-fi equipment manufacturers. (Based on my experience, back when I had a B&O beogram 3000 turntable about 15 years ago). Their equipment was decent sounding, but not really up to audiophile standards.
In their defense, the turntable sounded comparable (well, close anyway), to similarly priced tables at the time, but with a modern sense of style.
If all you are looking for is a simple, fully automatic turntable, for occasional use, you could do worse. But if you are looking for an audiophile table, look elsewhere.
My two cents worth anyway.
Quite a few pieces of older Bang & Olufsen electronics has found its' way into various museums and art galleries around the world. Sonically, this is probably the best place for it : ) Their latest and greatest speakers are supposed to be very interesting. Their turntables were probably the one part of their product line that wasn't too bad. Sean
They are currently doing very well in the digital amplifier arena, with their "ICE module". It is being used under licence by some of the most highly regarded solid-state amp makers now. This is a state-of-the-art digital amp, at this time.
The new Beolab speakers are also supposed to be quite a treat, but I haven't heard them myself. They are quite different, using some unusual technology, but they are "active" speakers, with the "ICE module" used in a multi-amping active configuration. Not cheaply priced.
Most B&O stuff is more show than go, though it's well-made, relatively speaking (expensive to repair though). Aesthetics-wise, many of their pieces are historically regarded as classics of modern industrial design, and some of the vintage models appeal to me very much on that level. In my experience, the only way one usually uses any B&O piece is within an all-B&O system, with the onetime exception (in certain locales) of their turntables. Given that their speakers didn't sound very good, and their turntables didn't play records very well (albeit that most others didn't either), it was always hard for me to make any evaluation of their electronics sandwiched in between. For at least the last decade, the company's focus shifted toward compact 'lifestyle' stuff that didn't have much pretense of hi-fi, and to me they also lost some of their sense of design integrity as well.
Their corporate participation in the development and marketing of the ICEpower technology and product could change their image within the high end segment, but I went to a B&O store to hear the new Beolab speakers which incorporate ICEpower (among many other feats) and they sounded, not just poor, but really quite incompetent. Not enjoyable or convincing at all - you could hear better at Circuit City any day of the week. Since I strongly suspected they couldn't truly be as bad as they sounded, I had to assume they were being used incorrectly. But even though I had the salesman reset the speakers' built-in measurement and self-calibration system in my presence after pointing out to him that they sounded like ca-ca, things were no better afterward. This is a problem, since you can't sell $15K (or whatever they cost) speakers if you either: don't know how to set them up right; or display broken ones; or in any case don't even possess the expertise to realize they're not remotely coming close to sounding as they probably ought to...
I had a very different experience than Zaikesman. I listened to the Beolab 5s about 9 months ago and was very impressed. They were poorly set up so it was hard to know how much better they could sound at home but I found their presentation very musical, coherent and convincing. My frame of reference at the time: the Aerial 20ts and now the JM Lab Nova Utopias. I decided against the Beolabs purely on the basis of leaving behind the flexibility of choosing my own amps, having to leave behind my EMM Labs Dac 6, and the lack of any real discounting by B&O. Other than that, I would have definitely taken them for a spin, they were that enjoyable IMO.
The Beolab 5 is awesome but the normal presentation is ridiculous. I heard them in a mall store along a 60 foot long wall from 20 feet away. The front of the store to my left was completely open to mall traffic and there was a television system playing about 20 feet to the right of the Beolabs. The
salesman was friendly, slick and gooey.
This was in January of 2004 when they were first being introduced at $17,000 a pair in a mall. Naturally they were not at their best but they were very impressive. The room reset feature broadcasts a signal, reads and interprets it, and adjusts accordingly. When furniture is moved or many people are present you have to recalibrate. At home this would work. In a store, with people milling about and salesmen prattling, it doesn't.
I gave them a pass because of the investment level, the unknown resaleability, and the fact that I am nearly 300 miles from the dealer, they are hard to ship and who fixes them?
If they were marketed through the normal high end channels with the normal high end support, they would be very famous by now.
As for other B&O stuff, very innovative reasonably durable, aesthetically thrilling, costly compared to Japanese alternatives and completely inappropriate for obsessive audiophiles.
I too was turned off by the take it or leave it pricing.
I have a pair of Penta 3's and use my EAD TM for my pre. I use them in two channel and they are tremendous. I bought these for about $1K and had to replace one of the amps for another $500. For this amount of $$, I would stack them up against just about anything. Including some pretty good i/c's, I am under $2.5K for the whole system. The nice thing about B&O is that it is a perfect fit for a small to medium sized room. The one thing I am lacking now is a good transport/player. I am looking at a number of different ones, but nothing seems to grab me....any help?
My previous system was a B&O BeoSound 9000 CD player and a pair of BeoLab 8000 speakers. I've noticed most audiophiles seem to be pretty biased against B&O stuff, and I'm not really sure why. I remember seeing the 9000 and the 8000 for the first time, and I wanted them. They were the coolest looking stereo equipment I'd ever seen, and are still among my favorites from a design perspective. A couple of years ago, I moved to a condo that wouldn't support any kind of audiophile system at all. I got rid of the big audiophile setup, and bought the B&O.
In some ways, the B&O setup was more successful than any system I'd owned before. While most audiophile gear doesn't live up to its expectations long term (look at how many people with "best of the best" components keep changing them around trying to get things right), the B&O did for me. I expected a stereo that went along with my furniture and artwork and sounded great for background music. That's exactly what I got.
On the other hand, as the time went by, I realized that I did want more than background music. The audiophile bug bit again, and though I wanted to keep the B&O in addition to a new audiophile setup, it had to go to raise the funds.
You know, to me B&O looks like the type of gear a rich, single, trendy guy who is not an audiophile would buy, kind of like, "....yeah, it MUST sound good, just LOOK at it...it COMPLETELY compliments my plasma tv"
Audio furniture to some?
Again, just my opinion, as I've never listened to any B&O. But, just like beauty, music is in the heart/ear of the beholder.
B&O is good at what it does. You get what you pay for and what you're paying for is looks and sound. Not everyone can have 300 pound wooden crates and giant racks of tubes chilling in the middle of their carpet. If you have to give consideration to design and space, then B&O isn't really such a bad deal, especially if compared to say... designer furniture. I've thought a bit about one day using one of the B&O 6 cd units as a player/preamp unit out in the open and a nice power amp hidden away. I think this would be more presentable than a straight up rig in a place like the living room and no lay person will come into your house and say you paid what for that box with 2 lights and a button?
That being said... I'd love a B&O turntable and a B&O telephone. Not much else though.
I purchased my initial B&O System in 1985 consisting of the Beomaster-8000 Receiver, MS150.2 Speakers, Beocord-9000 Cassette and Beogram-8002 Turntable that is still in use today. I am by no means an Audiophile but an astute Audio Enthusiast. I have over the years auditioned several of the new systems B&O had introduced but can not part with my current system. The overall experience with the Beovox Uniphase Speakers is still thrilling 20 years later.
I gave the Beolab 5's a listen a couple of months ago. I was quite impressed, despite the fact that the balance was biased to the left and the salesman could not figure out how to correct it. They are dynamic and have a good tonal balanced for the most part, though were still a bit bright to my taste. I couldn't help but smile to myself knowing my Linn Kabers, despite their smaller scale presentation, are a far more refined speaker than these at about 1/7th the price (or 1/15th used).
The B&O salesman, who came from a Hi-Fi boutique background and had sold Linn and Naim in the past, told me that the B&O rep had eagerly asked his opinion about the B5's knowing he had been involved in the 'real hi-fi' end of things in the past. Very telling.
B&O is certainly beyond Bose in tonal accuracy and general fidelity. Of all their speakers, I think the Beolab 8000 (the "organ pipe") is the most suitable for a critical listener. However, it needs good signal coming to it. Most people who have that speaker underserve it. Truth is, it becomes something quite credible within its tonal and dynamic range, if fed by exceptional sources and a good tube preamp. B&O's own associated gear can't live up to the speaker, leaving it sounding constrained and smeared. The 5 has similar merits too.
I knew one of the B&O engineers who did some of their programming on their micros for their receivers. He told me that the top flagship B&O speaker (at the time) had a tweeter that didn't even cost $10 per driver! He basically felt that everything B&O did put was to put styling first, second, third and fourth with their products and the sonics portion of their product line coming in at a dismal 13th on B&O's priority scale.
I do bet that Bose never has spent as much as $10 on one of their tweeters though ;-)
B&O stuff is architect's delight. Many architects spec them for their clients, but purely for the looks. It's almost like "standard issue" for hi-end residential design, especially in Asia where space is a premium. And most of the clients care more about the look than sound. Otherwise, I would have a special niche designing places with good audio systems. ;-)
But my personal experience with B&O has been terrible. The keypad on my B&O phone just decided not to work one day for no reason. My panasonic cordless phone that costed 1/4 of what I paid for the B&O phone has never had any problem for the past 15 years and is still working!
The designer of the Beolab speakers had a demo in Berkeley, California several years ago, and I was not impressed. I can't remember what it was but it did not sound quite right and convincing. When I mentioned that, the designer recalibrated the setup, listened to his CDs, then told the crowd the problem was with my recording, and that the system was revealing som flaws in the recording that I have probably not heard before because my system was probably not revealing enough. I happened to be using a well-recorded CD from Taiwan that has been the "standard" for audiophiles in Asia and has been a popular demo disc at every hi-end show in Asia for the past few years.
I guess, maybe my ears just wasn't good enough for the B&O speakers. Or maybe it was the earwax buildup. That must be it!