Beolab 5 - Four Questionable Technologies

I'm looking to buy a high-end speaker system and have become enamored by the Beolab 5 Powered Speakers by B&O.

In their literature the tout 4 technologies that set them apart.
I am not an audiophile (yet) but wonder what those with more experience think about these four ideas.

1. An Acoustic Lens technology
This means a much wider dispersion of high frequencies. Supposedly this makes sweet spot for listening is much larger. This means you can sit in different places or move around and still have optimal sound.

2. Adaptive Bass Control
This uses a microphone in each speaker to calibrate the low frequency interaction with the room. This permits a wider range of speaker placement. For example, one could be near a wall, or one could be near a corner and this would compensate.

3. Digital Signal Processing
Being all digital, each speaker is calibrated (tweaked) before leaving Denmark to match a reference speaker. This is not possible with analog systems. It assures a that all of the speakers sound the same, a sort of quality control.

4. Digital Amplification
Each of the speakers has four digital amps; one for each driver. Somehow, by being digital Class D amps they can be smaller and run cooler than other amps. That allows them to put 4 powerful amps insider the very confined space of the speaker enclosure. The high power allows peak sound levels of 115 to 120 dB.

Thoughts and comments on any of these four technologies would be appreciated.

And, if you have heard these speakers, do you think they are for real.
I gather you are referring to the lack of the illusion of the musicians laid out properly in space in front of you.
Yes Exactly.

I wonder if that flaw is the price one pays for the benefits of the Acoustic Lens technology? This technology allows for a much wider “Sweet Spot” but perhaps the sweet spot we get isn’t as sweet as it would be in a more conventional speaker.

No. Other conventional box speakers can have wide dispersion and hence a large sweetspot AND image like there is no tomorrow. Like Marty - I fully expect a vocalist to appear as a solid single image in a mix - clearly positioned - not dispersed vaguely in front of me. When a duet is singing I can clearly hear that they are positioned two feet apart in the soundstage when they are mixed that way. I felt that the Beolabs hinted or gave glimpses of precise imaging in certain sounds or vocals but did not do so solidly all the time - much of the time there was a certain diffuseness to everything)

To help accomplish this{Soundstage}, do Audiophiles always try to sit at precisely the right spot when they are doing active listening?

No it is not necessary to sit at precisely the right spot on widely dispersive high quality speakers such as you can find at this price. Location of sound is NOT all about volume level in fact this is a misconception propagated by the industry to try and sell more center channels. You can have one speaker 10 DB louder than the other and yet the sound can come from directly between is timing that tells us the location much more than volume level (most people are unaware of this). Of course the image will move slightly as you sit in front of one speaker or the other but the soundstage should not collapse. Also if timing is messed up or poor then volume level will weigh more heavily in how you determine the position of instruments in the soundstage.

You both also complained about “congestion/compression” and “congested/cluttered in upper midrange”. Please help me understand. I’m guessing that you mean that in parts of the music the differences between instruments might blur, which makes it hard to differentiate or even identify the instruments?

Yes is was "blurred" or not razor sharp clear in the upper mid range. It sounded "softer" or less piercing and less harsh then I would expect from natural sound. It made for a less exciting or involving sound as there was no "edge" to leading instruments or vocals. If this is indeed the 3' Vifa Dome Midrange driver that is being used then it only has a linear Xmax of +/- 0.5 millimeters - which is not much better than most tweeters (i.e. terrible) - this dome midrange will compress all to easily if driven too low in frequency which means that either you lose lower midrange energy from compression at high levels or you need to crossover very high into the midrange with the 6 inch woofer - either way this concerns me but it is conjecture as I have no proof that is definitely is the 3" Dome Midrange from Vifa that Beolab 5's are using. (The midrange dome on my speakers has an Xmax of 3.0 mm or six times more linear excursion than the Vifa mid - so I get more than enough crystal clear midrange energy before non-linearities/compression sets in)

I spent a couple hours in the afternoon listening to the B&W 800Ds in a very fine listening room. The words that kept coming to my mind were “natural” and “real”. Perhaps those are the speakers I will buy…

Yes do buy these over the Beolab - far better, IMHO. This is a fine speaker. A bit hard to drive but with the right SS amplification they will sing. The large midrange tends to "beam" slightly in the top of the midrange (less wide dispersion or even sound field from 2 to 4 Khz) and they come on a bit strong around 4 Khz (when the widely dispersive tweeter kicks in) - however this is nitpicking - this is an absolutely outstanding speaker. World class.

It would seem to me that the ideal next step would be to get the Beolab 5s and the B&W800Ds into my listening room at home, preferably at the same time for some extended A:B comparisons.

I am not sure I agree but it is your taste that counts not mine. (As you know by now I think the 800D is a far better speaker, however, I also think you owe it to yourself, at this price, to audition a few other speakers. It would be worth the price of a weekend trip to CES just check out other designs, at your price point.)
Also, the congestion I heard at demo may be due to distortion generated by the speaker as loudish, complex musical passages tax the drivers and force them to misbehave. Or, as I noted, it could have been the set-up or some defect. I was not listening at crushing levels and I found the problem instantly identifiable.

Marty, I agree with you. It was immediately identifiable. In my audition they were about three feet from the corners - so to me the congestion was from the speaker not the placement. I too felt that taxing passages at higher volumes stressed the midrange, as the lower/middle mid range seemed to get buried by the bass and treble. However, like you say, it is impossible to be "conclusive" about this in a short listening test with a Sales Rep over your shoulder. All I can say is that it was pretty obvious to me, although I am used to a rather forward midrange presentation so my impression could be influenced by my reference. In any case, there is no way I would be reaching for the checkbook for this sound. So it seems we heartily agree. I would add that there is no way I would bother to get these in the home (given my tastes for precision - they just don't suit me at all except for their impressive tight bass response).

I just have a question for you regarding your audition of the BeoLab 5.

You said that the speakers were in a square-shaped room with glass on both sides and no acoustic treatment. How much space was there between the speakers and the side walls?

The reason why I ask is because of the design of the Beolab permits almost 180 degree dispersion throughout the treble and midrange, and the high reflectivity of the glass surfaces would undoubtedly play havoc with the speaker's ability to produce accurate imaging and soundstaging.

I've never heard the BeoLab 5 yet, but I am quite interested in hearing it for myself. So far my most favourable impression of an omni-directional speaker was a Morrison, but that's going back many years. My current speaker is the Merlin VSM-MM, so it would be interesting to hear firsthand how the BeoLab 5 sounds in comparison.

Aside from this, I just have to call you out on two claims you made.

1. "Other conventional box speakers can have wide dispersion and hence a large sweetspot AND image like there is no tomorrow."

It has to be clarified that any conventional front-firing box speaker will be highly directional the higher you go up in frequency. If you observe the lateral frequency response graphs published by Stereophile, typically for box speakers the treble frequencies from 10Khz on up will fall off rapidly the more that you move off axis. "Wide dispersion" in this case just cannot be compared to the dispersion characteristics of a true omnidirectional loudspeaker design, which means that special consideration is required for room positioning, in order to minimize early reflections that can cloud the sound and make it seem congested.

2. "No it is not necessary to sit at precisely the right spot on widely dispersive high quality speakers such as you can find at this price. Location of sound is NOT all about volume level in fact this is a misconception propagated by the industry to try and sell more center channels. You can have one speaker 10 DB louder than the other and yet the sound can come from directly between is timing that tells us the location much more than volume level "

I would agree that your lateral seating position isn't overly critical for a box speaker with wide dispersion if you were only listening for tonality. However, I completely disagree with you that seating position does not matter if you are listening for imaging and soundstaging.

While it is true that the human ear perceives spatial relationships through detection of amplitude and timing differences in the sound that reaches our left and right ears, I think that your example is rather exaggerated, and isn't very helpful to Hdomke's attempt to understand how to optimize his ability to hear proper imaging and soundstaging.

A 10 DB difference in amplitude would make speaker "A" sound twice as loud as speaker "B". Thus if both speakers and the listener were positioned like points on an equilateral triangle, the centre image would be perceived to be shifted toward the side that speaker "A" is on. In practical terms, if you were listening to a vocal track where the singer is supposed to be situated dead centre, now the singer will sound like s/he is standing to one side.

In order to equalize the effect of the amplitude difference, you would have to significantly increase the spatial distance between speaker "A" and the listener, until the increase in arrival time and the attenuation in perceived volume of the sound coming from speaker "A" no longer predominates over speaker "B".

Should anyone auditioning speakers have to go through this? I don't think so. If you want to listen for imaging and soundstaging, then sitting in the sweet spot (equidistant between both loudspeakers) is essential in my opinion.
Hdomke, one of the issues that comes up in high end audio is system synergy. A great system functions better than the sum of its components. Speakers like the Beolab greatly simplify the issue. If you were to purchase a speaker like the B&W or Wilson you would have to match them to an appropriate amplifier, preamp, digital converter, interconnects and speaker cable. At the sonic level you're dealing with each component interaction can be critical to the overall system's performance. The Beolab narrows your choices down to a single digital source component.. For most audiophiles this would completely eliminate the Beolab from consideration since part of the fun of being an audiophile is working out the system synergy issues! I would also advise you to look at Audiogon members virtual systems and see if you like the visual effect of having a large amount of audio equipment in your living space. Audiophiles like big hulking speakers and 100lb. amplifiers dominating a room. Is that what you want?

Two people have taken the time to listen to the Beolab and report their findings. In reading their comments you should take into account that both writers favor monitor type speakers which excel at pinpoint imaging. If you go to a concert hall you won't hear pinpoint imaging, but a more diffuse type of sound. Instruments emerge from clearly defined areas, but they are not point sources. I also suggest that you re-read the available reviews of the Beolab in light of the posters' comments. A reviewer typically has a product for weeks if not months in order to evaluate its performance. That gives someone ample time to work out issues that can't be resolved in an hour or two audition.

One other thing to consider is that you could get a "better" speaker than the Beolab and paradoxically end up enjoying it less. There are countless posts about people who comment that their highly resolving systems make their music collections sound "bad". This is partly due to the synergy issue I mentioned earlier, but it also involves listener preference in both sound and music. You may not want the most accurate speaker.

Finally, if you like the Beolab concept you should also consider the Meridian line of active speakers.
Finally, if you like the Beolab concept you should also consider the Meridian line of active speakers.

I agree wiith this suggestion. I am partial to active speakers - so it is goes against my preference to recommend a passive speaker over teh active Beolab 5's.

Onhwy61 is correct that I prefer mointors that image like no tomrrow and sound as accurate as possible and that this is not what the majority of people seek. These speakers will sound harsh just like real instruments ....when a trumpet is played loud then your hair will part - not everyone's cup of tea!! So as I said above in a previous post- take into account my preferences when you read my impressions of the Beolab 5 (it is after all a fine and awesome speaker)...a grain of salt if youu like.