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Bang & Olufsen beosound explore review: Long battery life and superior outdoor sound in a portable package

Bang & Olufsen’s rugged outdoor speaker has a battery that will last all week

Steve Hogarty
Monday 24 May 2021 13:25
<p>It comes in a choice of colours, but there’s much more to this speaker than good looks</p>

It comes in a choice of colours, but there’s much more to this speaker than good looks

Bang & Olufsen is known for engineering high-end speaker systems that look like they’ve just beamed down from an alien mothership.

The Danish audio firm’s designs are distinguished by sharp angles, luxury materials and delicate silhouettes that wouldn’t look out of place at a modern art exhibition — but they’re not known for their ability to survive a fall. Bang & Olufsen make graceful speakers that, if you were to accidentally drop one on a hard marble floor, would land you in a lot of trouble.

The company’s newest speaker, however, couldn’t be farther from the comfort of a climate-controlled hotel lobby – the beosound explore is a rugged speaker engineered for the great outdoors.

It’s designed to tumble down a sheer rock face, to be booted across a pebble beach and to take an unscheduled plunge in a lake without complaint. Essentially, it’s the Bear Grylls of portable speakers.

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So how hardened can a speaker be without sacrificing audio performance? To find out, we popped on our hiking shoes to take it on a tour of southeast London’s most inhospitable outdoor spaces – here’s our verdict.

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Bang & Olufsen beosound explore

Buy now £179, Amazon.co.uk

Bang & Olufsen have built waterproof and outdoor speakers before, but none designed to be taken this far from home. The beosound A1 — the donut-shaped speaker with a toughened aluminium exterior — could handle being chucked in a backpack and thrown around at a picnic, but it had always aspired to luxury with its dainty leather strap and elegant touch controls. Beneath its hardened shell, the A1 was a pampered indoor speaker at heart.

The beosound explore is fully committed to the outdoors. Gone is the fashionable brown leather shoelace, replaced by a weatherproof woven nylon strap and aluminium carabiner clip. Instead of touch controls, which don’t work when you’re wearing gloves, there are five physical buttons on the top of the speaker. The beosound explore is only slightly bigger than a Coke can and can be held and operated with a single hand, ideal when you ever find yourself in a 127 Hours situation and need to skip tracks.

It’s not just the exterior that’s been adapted for the wilderness, the innards have been too. It has a pair of 1.8in, full-range drivers, tuned to sound at their best on beaches and mountaintops rather than in the corner of your living room. Bang & Olufsen say that special attention has been paid to the explore’s bass capability, which at a claimed 59db is surprisingly beefy, especially for a speaker that’s shorter than a pint glass.

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That intensity of bass from such a tiny device can sound muddy when used inside at higher volumes, but bring the beosound explore back out into its natural habitat — or the woods near your flat, whichever is closer —  and this bass-heavy tuning sounds more natural. The lows aren’t washed out by ambient sound, and remain loud enough to be heard clearly without distorting vocals.

The Bang & Olufsen app lets you tweak the speaker’s EQ to tame the bass when you’re back home at your desk, but it’s telling that, straight out of the box, the explore readily sacrifices some indoor performance to achieve better overall fidelity outside, where it’s designed to be used. Thumpy bass tracks held up without sounding stressed or overdriven, while the seven minute Rafael Mendez trumpet solos that Spotify keeps recommending to us sounded crisp, bright and chirpy.

The concentric rings running the length of the anodised aluminium case produce sound in every direction. Not only does this make for a striking looking piece of tech — this is the sharpest looking outdoor speaker we’ve tested — but true 360-degree output means you can enjoy a more consistent volume when you’re hiking with it dangling from a backpack, or while sitting around a campfire.

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Cementing the beosound explore’s adventuring credentials is the speaker’s frankly enormous battery life, which at around 27 hours handily beats all other speakers in this class. The Sonos Roam looks positively sleepy by comparison, with its 10 hours. The JBL Charge 3 clocks in at 20 hours. That means the explore can go days of heavy use without needing to be recharged, likely outlasting whatever device you’re using to play music on it. Recharging takes around two hours.

This extended lifespan is partly down to the more energy efficient Bluetooth 5.2 standard, which also allows for fast pairing with Android, iPhone and Microsoft devices. But it’s also because the beosound explore has ditched the modern convenience of voice controls, as well as the ability to add the speaker to multi-room speaker groups at home.

This is the second clue that Bang & Olufsen was willing to make a merely adequate indoor speaker in order to create an excellent outdoor one. It’s worth mentioning that while you can’t make it part of your smart home setup, you can still synchronise two devices to create a stereo pair, which is always a nice touch when travelling or camping with groups of friends.

The verdict: Bang & Olufsen beosound explore

The beosound explore looks and feels indestructible. Ten thousand years from now, future archaeologists will be digging these things out of the ground, dusting them off and displaying them in their orbital space museums.

But what makes this an outstanding portable speaker isn’t just its survivability; it has an unparalleled battery life to last the entire trip. It’s an ultra-tough compact speaker uniquely adapted for windswept highland peaks, remote sandy beaches and campsites with nowhere to plug in. It delivers the sound performance and bass of a speaker three times larger, and it looks gorgeous while doing so.

If we were ever to find ourselves lost and hopeless in the wilderness, foraging for berries and taking shelter in hedges, we’d want this speaker by our side.

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