Bang & Olufsen Beosound Explore: two-minute review
The Bang & Olufsen Beosound Explore continues the company's tradition. Think of B&O and you probably imagine futuristic satellite-shaped speakers that you can physically roll to increase volume, premium hi-fi systems that double as art installations, dark and somewhat foreboding 8200-watt monolithic speakers comprising 18 drivers, or TVs that unfurl just like a butterfly showing off its wings – yes, these are all real B&O products.
At the more compact and portable end of the scale however, B&O is still a player, making our best Bluetooth speakers guide more strikingly beautiful and otherworldly with every release – and the Beosound Explore is no exception.
To buy Bang & Olufsen is to shun the cheapest option on the market – know that now. The Danish audio specialist's niche is the high-end, premium, aspirational kit that brings with it a certain pride of ownership. That being said, the Beosound Explore is actually the cheaper of B&O's two most notable portable speakers (the excellent Beosound A1 2nd Generation is $250 / £199; the Explore is $199 / £169) and it is arguably the more outdoor friendly of the two, with a longer battery life (27 hours versus 18 hours), Bluetooth 5.2 (versus Bluetooth 5.1), and a marginally more durable build, with a scratch-resistant hard anodised shell.
Like the A1 2nd Gen, it has a handy strap, but it also has a neat little carabiner to lash it onto things, and the ridiculously chic aesthetic really can't be beaten. Pull this thing from your bag at a picnic and get ready to revel in the oohs and ahs of your friends.
There's Bang & Olufsen app support too, which opens the gate to various EQ presets as well as the option to link your Spotify account, your iTunes library, Deezer, DLNA streaming from local servers in your household and also your favorite TuneIn radio stations. What it doesn't do, is offer multi-room audio grouping, because Beosound Explore does not support multi-room, although you can pair two devices at once to share DJ duties – and you could always pair two of them in stereo, to beef up the sound.
That one small issue aside (this is a portable speaker, after all) there's a lot of detail and expanse here for the size. We might have worried its barrel-like dimensions would make the sound congested, but absolutely not. Our one gripe is the bass. This can be augmented in the app, of course, but it still doesn't offer quite the same levels of grip and boom as the Beosound A1 2nd Generation – which makes us reach for the marginally more expensive speaker every time.
B&O Beosound Explore review: price and release date
- $199 / £169 (around AU$289)
- Released in May 2021
The Beosound Explore was unveiled in May 2021 and, considering its support for Bluetooth 5.2, the USB-C charging port and fast pairing whatever your source device, it still stands up against the most up-to-the-minute products on the market right now.
B&O products rarely see a discount, but as mentioned earlier, the Beosound Explore is actually the cheaper of B&O's two portable speakers, namely the splendid Beosound A1 2nd Generation ($250 / £199) and the Explore under review here.
As the newer of the two (the A1 2nd Generation launched in May 2020), the Explore has dropped Alexa support which we don't miss – this is portable territory and the support was flawed in the A1 2nd Gen. anyway.
The Explore also boasts a longer battery life (27 hours versus 18 hours), Bluetooth 5.2 (rather than Bluetooth 5.1) and a super-tough build, with a scratch-resistant hard anodised shell built in solid rings around the speaker-holding interior. So, things are looking good…
That said, the JBL Charge 5 is an excellent proposition that will also charge your phone as it streams music from it, and that is cheaper still, costing just $179 / £159 / AU$229.
B&O Beosound Explore review: design and features
- Compact, classy design with built-in strap and bundled carabiner
- Dual driver configuration
- Up to 27 hours playtime – which is excellent
Look at the JBL Flip 6, then look at this beautiful creature: visually, there's no comparison. The B&O product is all brutalist angles, cool aluminium and one of the most high-end B&O-branded metal carabiners we've ever seen (and I'm an aerialist, so I know carabiners).
It has none of the speakerphone/power bank features of the aforementioned JBL Charge 5, mind, and it costs a little more, so you really do have to prioritize the aesthetic – and there's nothing wrong with that.
Under the cool casework, you're getting two 1.8-inch full range drivers powered by two 30-watt Class D amplifiers, but given the inclusion of a Bluetooth 5.2 chipset, it's a little disappointing to read that your wireless codec support is limited to plain ol' SBC, so no aptX higher-quality streaming support and no AptX Low Latency.
The Beosound Explore will take up about the same space in your bag as a travel coffee mug or coke can, but it's quite a bit heavier than these items. At 637g with the carabiner (and if there's a carabiner going, we're always going to attach it) it's about the same weight as a basketball – reassuringly weighty rather than heavy, but the similarly-sized Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 weighs just 420g. That metal bodywork and meaty battery (which offers a class-leading 27 hours) do make a difference.
The base and top plate are covered in rubberized polymer that contrasts beautifully with the cool metallic casework, and the top plate features the expected buttons for power, pairing, play/pause and volume adjustments, as well as a subtle power LED light. Beneath the fabric strap (it is a shame this strap is too small to slip over our wrist, as you can with the Beosound A1 2nd Gen, but that's a small issue) you'll find a USB-C port for charging, but there are no other ins or outs here.
B&O also assures users the Explore is rated IP67 for dust- and water ingress, which means it can be submerged in freshwater at up to a meter deep for 30 minutes and live to tell the tale.
The app is a joy to use, with EQ customization and the option to corral your various streaming subscriptions into one place – although of course, you can still go into each respective app to handle your tunes. We particularly like the radio tab, though, which offers easy access to Linn Jazz, BBC Radio 4 and more – and it's something you may not expect at the level.
- Design and features score: 4/5
B&O Beosound Explore review: sound quality
- Expansive, detailed sound given its dimensions
- Refuses to distort, even at higher volumes
- Bass is a little lean
We kick off our listening with Les Gordon's Flirting With June and are pleasantly surprized by how expansive the soundstage is, given that this speaker is roughly the size of a tall latte. Sonic articles do indeed ping at us from various angles and the sound from the Explore feels truly omnidirectional as we walk around the speaker.
In Lady Gaga's Million Reasons the keys feel three-dimensional, backing vocals are impactful through the midrange and Gaga's talented vocal is delivered centrally and with detail and space to shine, the likes of which are rarely seen at the level.
During John Frusciante's Omission guitars are held resolutely in check as the dual-verses join in a cohesive mix. But it is here that we become aware of a minor shortfall through the lower registers. The tambourine shines, as does a harmonica and a lamenting female vocalist, but the walking bass guitar that underpins everything needs to come forward more.
Switching to Backroad Gee's Live in the Flesh serves to shine a spotlight on what we mean; this track goes right down into the juicy bass registers and here, we find the performance a little lean and unable to faithfully sink quite low enough to be impactful. Of course, a speaker of such bijou dimensions is always going to struggle to deliver oodles of bass clout, but the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 does a better job here, especially when we head outside where the UE product offers the option to deploy an 'outdoor boost' button which cuts through ambient park noises.
It's not that the bass is flabby or distorted, we just want more of it, although if you regularly listen to acoustic tracks or opera, you may actually prefer this sound profile; through the mids and treble it's impossible to quibble with the audio quality at the level. If you're all about the bass though, you will need to give the Beosound Explore a hard pass. We should note that the B&O A1 we've mentioned a few times actually does give you the deeper bass you crave, while still offer the same great detail in the rest of the soundstage.
- Sound quality score: 4/5
B&O Beosound Explore review: value
- Incredibly competitive pricing
- A recommended alternative to bigger brands
Whether the B&O Beosound Explore represents great value to you ultimately depends on your priorities.
Do you want the best looking thing for this money? You've found it – the Explore seriously expensive. The A1 2nd Generation is sort of cutesy, like a piece of viennoiserie, whereas this looks like a serious piece of audiophile-grade gear.
Want the most long-lasting speaker of these dimensions? Again, bingo, 27 hours is seriously impressive for something of these dimensions – remember, the similarly-sized JBL Flip 6 offers just 12 hours.
Or do you want something with a thumping bass and small proportions? The Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 is just $60 / £60 (around AU$86), so buy two and you've still spent less and easily bettered the sonic performance through the low end – but you don't get app support for EQ alterations.
Even the bigger Tribit Stormbox Blast (which does get app support) is only $199 / (around £163, U$290) so if you want one of the best party speakers going, you might be better served here.
- Value score: 4/5
Should you buy the B&O Beosound Explore?
|Design and features||A thing of beauty and the app is a joy, but forget mics, aptX streaming or phone charging||4/5|
|Sound quality||Detailed and incredibly agile, but there is a small issue with the bass weight||4/5|
|Value||Good value for this level of build and finish, but there are cheaper, bassier options out there||4/5|
Buy it if…
You want a supremely beautiful speaker
It's so beautiful, you'll probably spend half the barbecue, picnic or beach party talking about it – and how different it is to everyone else's fabric-covered blob speakers.
You're into tech that you can suspend from trees
Or rucksacks, or your tent; that carabiner is a classy addition that is also useful.
You need good battery life
Unlike other bijou designs at this price-point, B&O has somehow taken the average eight-hour stamina at the level and made it a whopping 27 – so it'll last a whole weekend at the campsite.
Don't buy it if…
You want the cheapest little Bluetooth speaker going
This is not B&O's style. Look to Tribit or Earfun, by all means, but B&O Is premium territory.
You need mics for speakerphone duties
No dice, sadly. You can get those in the Beosound A1 Generation 2 though…
You want an aux-in for wired listening
The only port you'll get here is a USB-C two-way charger – and you can also forget charging your device while you stream.
Think the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Explore might not be the Bluetooth speaker for you? That's cool, here are three alternatives that could offer just the design, feature-set and sound quality you're looking for.
Tribit Stormbox Micro 2
It's small, it's cheap, there's a rubberized strap on the back that essentially does the same as the carabiner/fabric strap on the Explore, and while it might lack the wow factor of B&O's inimitable designs, the sound quality is simply undeniable.
JBL Charge 5
Still small (if more a bottle of wine size, rather than a large can of coke), this is another throw-and-go option that boasts a talented sound and also, power bank capabilities to charge your phone.
Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2
This lovely mug-sized design boasts an enviable sound for its proportions. You also get an outdoor mode plus the option of pairing older Wonderbooms in mono, or two second-gen. models in stereo. The downside? It's a 2019 release and it sports an older micro-USB charger. Oh, there's a Wonderboom 3 now too, but that is more expensive and also still charges via micro-USB. Odd, but true…
- First reviewed: August 2022
- How we test: explore TechRadar's review guarantee