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Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 8
However revolutionary and convenient they might be, iPods and their kin don’t do much to further the cause of awesome hi-fi sound quality.
Sure, audio compression systems have come a long way in recent years, and you can adjust the amount of compression your iPod applies to your favourite tunes depending on how much memory space you’re willing to let a song occupy. But for the most part, iPod music is never going to rival a good SACD, DVD-Audio, or even high quality CD for sheer, eargasmic sound quality.
Not that this has prevented them selling like the most molten of hotcakes, though, as countless people have become accustomed to sacrificing sound quality for convenience. Which is a bit of a bummer if you happen to be a manufacturer of high-end hi-fi gear.
For the likes of Linn, B&O, B&W and Meridian, the way the iPod (and downloaded music) has gradually reduced accepted standards of sound quality must have created a commercial headache quite separate from the one induced by all that compressed music insulting their finely tuned ears.
Eventually, of course, many of the big hi-fi brands have had to conclude that if you can’t beat them, you really need to join them. Meridian’s had its £1,500 F80 and i80 iPod dock system for a while now, B&W’s got its Zeppelin iPod speaker dock systems... jeez, even marvellously bonkers valve-based outfit Fatman has its brilliantly named iTube Fatdock systems.
It was inevitable, then, that eventually even Bang and Olufsen would have to learn to stop worrying and love the iPod, despite the premium brand’s inevitably circumspect approach to new forms of AV technology. What we hadn’t expected, though, is just how far B&O would go to make its first dedicated iPod product truly memorable.
Once you’ve clapped eyes on the BeoSound 8, it’s not a sight you’ll forget in a hurry. Its design (from the ever-imaginative David Lewis) is a true original, even by B&O’s usually 'out there' standards.
Particularly eye-catching - and promising - are its frankly huge speakers. As well as hitting you in the face with their 10in width, they’re also unusually deep round the back by speaker-dock standards, to give their sound room to breathe. The speakers' design also funnels back to create a cone-like shape that both hides the speaker rears from view when you’re looking straight at the system, and avoids internal parallel surfaces so that the sound won’t be distorted by standing waves.
Given, though, that the iPod docking section of the BeoSound 8 is essentially just a slender but sumptuously solid aluminium bar sitting between and just behind the front of the two speakers, the speakers’ depth would seem to represent a pretty major balancing problem for the BeoSound 8. But B&O has ingeniously turned this problem to its advantage by tucking little feet on the rear end of the speakers so that you simply rest the whole system back onto them. This has the added advantage of tilting the BeoSound 8’s front up, further adding to its aesthetic appeal and potentially helping it deliver a more room-filling sound.
If you prefer, you can also mount the unit on the wall - provided you can accommodate the amount it sticks out!