Sitting in the darkened SmartLife Audio Video room at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I had a flashback to “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.” In the film, which I’d just watched again a few weeks back, Ricardo Montalban’s genetically enhanced super-villain plots his final revenge on William Shatner’s James T. Kirk after an intense space battle.
As Kirk struggles to get the Enterprise’s engines online, Khan is on another ship rushing to activate the Genesis device, a matter-reorganizing bomb that will obliterate anything close by. To arm Genesis and start a countdown, Khan pushes a button on his ship’s command console, which causes a round metallic cylinder to rise up.
As Colorado-based SmartLife’s Fernando and Deb Salazar prepared to demo the new Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 50 loudspeakers, I noted how I was looking at a large, flat video screen, similar to the one on Khan’s ship. On either side were the BeoLab 50 speakers, so futuristically styled they also wouldn’t have been out of place on the bridge of a 23rd-century space vessel.
Suddenly, I was taken aback as a round metal cylinder started rising out of the top of each BeoLab 50. In this case, however, the motorized appendages were not doomsday arming mechanisms, but rather acoustic-lens tweeters that emerge when the speakers are switched on.
The sides of each cylinder flare out from the tweeter cone in a horn-type design. But here, too, there was engineering that would make Scotty himself proud. Each flare, or “cheek’ as B&O calls them, is adjustable from the listener’s seat to create narrow dispersion for the best possible sweet spot, or wide projection for an enhanced group listening experience.
The rest of the BeoLab 50 ($39,200/pair USD) also was something of a modern marvel. Each triangular speaker includes seven internal amplifiers totaling 2,100 watts. Those power a driver array consisting of a ¾-inch tweeter in the elevating cylinders, along with three 4-inch midranges and one 10-inch woofer on the front baffle. In addition, there is a 10-inch woofer on both of the remaining back sides. Frequency response is listed as 15Hz-40kHz.
The speakers contain DSP processing, allowing buyers to feed them optical, coaxial or USB digital signals, or use B&O’s Wireless Power Link. Analog inputs include RCA or wireless.
Other internal features are parametric equalization and active room correction. There also is an extensive list of customization and convenience options. The speakers are designed to integrate with a large-screen B&O television ($15,700 USD as shown in Denver), but can work with any audio or home theater system.
The Salazars cued up several digital FLAC files through the TV, including Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley.” The BeoLab 50 had firm, full bass; a clean midrange; and fairly smooth, extended highs. The speakers did a particularly good job of handling dynamics with ease.
The BeoLab 50 seemed to cope with hotel-room acoustic issues well, too, possibly because of the side-firing woofers and the active room correction. Bass and high frequencies, in particular, were free from boominess, standing waves, cancellations and weird reflections. At the same time, there was an impressive recreation of instrumental sounds on the Vaughan track, both on the initial notes and on reverb trails that drifted far back into the soundstage,
This sense of spaciousness was not unduly affected by switching from “narrow” to “wide.” There were differences, though, in the midrange, with Vaughan’s voice more focused on the tighter dispersion (for those sitting in the sweet spot), while on the group setting bass seemed to be boosted a little and the soundstage became somewhat stretched from left to right. The latter effect wasn’t unpleasant, though, and actually seemed to work pretty well when I shifted to a side chair.
The BeoLab 50s aren’t inexpensive, but they do contain a lot of technology you’d otherwise have to purchase separately if you were buying conventional speakers. Paired with a B&O television, the 50s can create a sleek, ultramodern system that offers lifestyle connectivity and electronic control with sound that is competitive with some traditional hi-fi rigs. For those looking to transform their living room into something Captain Kirk would envy, Bang & Olufsen is worth a look.