Bang & Olufsen’s B&O Play sub-brand is supposed to be the Danish audio specialist’s more affordable line, but the latest member of its portfolio rather belies that expectation. The new Beoplay M5 wireless speaker costs a cool $599 (£529 in the UK or A$899 in Australia), which makes it more than $100 pricier than Sonos’ top-of-the-line Play:5. Given how entrenched Sonos is as the go-to name for connected home audio — and how good the Play:5 sounds — B&O is making a bold bet that it can not only match but outdo the incumbent leader.
To feed music to the M5, you can connect via Bluetooth, Chromecast, AirPlay, Spotify Connect, or Bang & Olufsen’s own Beolink Multiroom. Multi-room support is a big feature for the M5, though B&O Play mostly emphasizes the default capabilities that any Chromecast-compatible speaker can offer. The one substantial advantage of this speaker over the Sonos Play:5 is that it doesn’t require a dedicated app like Sonos does and can just play all your computer or smartphone audio as a regular Bluetooth speaker. But even that is being eroded by Sonos gradually moving to allow other apps, like Spotify, to control its speakers directly.
I’ve had a chance to test the Beoplay M5 ahead of CES, and the immediate, unmistakeable impression of this speaker is that it’s got a lot of bass. Take any other wireless speaker on the market, hit the Mega Bass, Extra Bass, and Bass Boost buttons and you’ll start to approach what the M5 produces.
If I didn’t have to worry about upsetting the neighbors, I’d love it. That booming, rumbling low end doesn’t interfere with a good presentation of mids and high notes, and in most cases adds to the enjoyment of the music rather than taking away from it. B&O Play offers a smartphone app to let you tune the speaker’s sound as well, including presets for position: whether it’s free-standing, in the corner, or up against a wall.
The Beoplay M5 is a 360-degree speaker, meaning it radiates sound in all directions and can be positioned anywhere — though pictures of the thing don’t properly convey its size. At 7.5 inches (19cm) tall and with a 6.5-inch (16cm) diameter, this is a quite formidable cylinder of sound. It’s topped by an aluminum volume knob (literally the entire top is a volume control, which can also be pressed in to play / pause music) and is ensconced in a woollen surround. The "acoustically transparent wool-blend fabric" comes from fellow Danish manufacturer Kvadrat, and it can be replaced with something better matched to your home’s interior. B&O Play stresses the importance of the M5’s look as a harmonious part of your home decor almost as much as it underlines its sonic qualities.
The look is certainly minimal, and I suppose it’s intended to convey a stylish appearance, but I can’t say I’ve ever associated rough wool with the heights of elegance. It looks fine and I appreciate its omission of unnecessary buttons, but that’s as much praise as I can offer it.
If you’re on the hunt for the most faithful music reproduction, I might advise giving the full Sonos range a closer look (especially a stereo pair of Play:3s, which costs exactly as much as one Beoplay M5) or, on the higher end of the scale, the $999 Mu-so Qb from Naim. I’ve listened to the Mu-so Qb and definitely find it a crisper, more accurate sound than the new Beoplay, which also lags behind the Sonos Play:5, in my estimation. Those are legitimately high-end home music systems, whereas the Beoplay M5, with its preference for exaggerated bass, feels more like a scaled-up Bluetooth speaker.
As it stands, the Beoplay M5 is a reasonably handsome, amusingly bass-heavy, but unadvisedly pricey new option on the wireless speaker market. I like it. I just don’t think I like it to the extent of $599. If you feel otherwise, the M5 is available to buy right away, from B&O stores, via the company’s website, or through select third-party retailers.