Rare sighting of B&O BeoLab 90 – photo set from Vancouver

BeoLab 90 by B&O. $75,000 USD retail per pair.

I’d never seen them in person until this afternoon.

B&O BeoLab 90 active DSP loudspeakers are rare as hens teeth, so when I found out I could see a set in person, and that they were just a few blocks from my place in Vancouver, B.C. at the Bang & Olufsen dealer , I could hardly believe my good fortune. I’d had a brief conversation with B&O North American representatives at CES in Las Vegas about scheduling some time with a pair of 90s at their flagship store in Chicago when I hit AXPONA in April, so to have this opportunity appear was fortunate indeed.

Imposing without a sense of crowding.

Chris Jones of Commercial Electronics told me the only reason the store had a pair in (the only pair in Canada to Jones’ knowledge) was because they were minding them for a customer who was having their home remodeled. Unfortunately the DSP set-up hadn’t been performed in the store yet, but Jones assured me that he had ordered in the custom B&O microphone, and set-up software to perform a full, proper DSP set-up of the 90s. He estimated the speakers would be good for a listening session within a week.

Look ma, no amps.

If you’re not familiar with the BeoLab 90 they are Bang & Olufsen’s 90th anniversary statement flagship loudspeaker, and feature 18 independently-powered (8,200 watts in total), and DSP-controlled drivers, and were 10 years in the making.

They’re big, but actually don’t create a sense of physical imposition when you experience them up close. They’re not a refrigerator if that makes sense. They come off as more of an aesthetic presence – like art, or sculpture, a person even – than a set of speakers. While I liked them from the drop when I first saw photographs of them more than a year ago, seeing them with my own eyes was even more impressive. They reminded me of silent, brooding sumo waiting to launch themselves into the air. There’s a coiled-up feel, a tension if you will, to how they squat in a room. I found them impossible not to look at almost constantly.

The sound was very deep, powerful, completely effortless – like hard slabs of muscles rippling under a tight shirt – and was instantly captivating. While not optimized, and playing only in “wide” beam mode while I was photographing them today, I heard enough of what B&O has put under their hood to make sure I get back for a serious listen once the DSP set-up has been performed.

Check back for further listening impressions next week when I go back to see what these 90s can do.

–Rafe Arnott