These days, when people talk about leading-edge industrial design in gadgets and audio, the name on everyone’s tongue is Apple. But as far as I’m concerned, Bang & Olufsen still dominates (as they have for decades) when it comes to drop-dead gorgeous appliances. Though I can’t prove it, I’m convinced the Danish audio company inspired much of Apple’s current design philosophy. One look at the MacBook Pro’s minimalist titanium design should be enough to confirm this theory.
But my presumed shared-design-DNA idea aside, the two companies have never competed with each other by tackling the same device. But this might soon change. B&O’s BeoSound 3, introduced in late 2005, is a portable FM transistor radio, alarm clock and MP3 player all rolled into an aluminum tower with a black carry handle. As such, it circles two areas that Apple has claimed: Digital audio players and stand-alone speaker systems, without actually reproducing either experience.
The BeoSound 3 quite literally stands alone. From its highly unusual use of transistor technology to its iconic form factor and svelte motorized antenna, this product can’t be mistaken for any other device. As B&O admirers have come to expect, the controls are as much an exercise in design elegance as they are in engineering innovation. Fused to the top surface and responding to the lightest touch, they evoke the iPod’s familiar click-wheel while remaining true to rest of B&O’s audio products in terms of overall design.
MP3 playback is handled via the integrated SD (secure digital) card reader, which can be loaded up with tracks from any PC, or, if you’ve got room in your pockets after buying the BeoSound 3, from the BeoSound 4 audio system.
The transistor FM radio isn’t the only aspect that hearkens back to an earlier time. The integrated mono loudspeaker reminds me of my grandfather’s multi-band Grundig tabletop radio. I’ve listened to similar systems in the past, notably Tivoli Audio’s iPAL radio/speaker and found that though they sounded remarkable for single-speakers, I wanted the sound separation that only stereo can achieve. But there’s a price for the kind of portability that the BeoSound 3 offers and I suspect most prospective buyers won’t be put off by the lack of stereo sound. Besides, the stereo headphone jack is always there if hi-fi sound is what you crave.
Sadly, the one missing feature on this unit is an important one: an auxiliary stereo input for listening to other sources. It’s highly likely that people who are considering the BeoSound 3 have already dipped their toes into the portable digital music space by picking up an iPod or similar device. Why force these folks to transfer all of that music (up to 80gb!) both physically – to a series of SD cards – and virtually, from their native AAC format to the supported MP3 and WMA formats?
If you’ve ever gazed fondly at B&O’s products through a shop window or online, you probably won’t be bothered by this oversight. And you won’t be surprised that the BeoSound 3’s sophisticated design comes with an equally um, lofty, price tag. At $1,000 CDN, this clock-radio will make its way onto precious few night tables.
Do you own one? Would you buy one? Have you listened to it?