Sound controls

Astell & Kern’s first BT speaker delivers hi-fi sound for $499

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Want a decent Bluetooth speaker for portability or beach parties? There’s no end of choice in a wide price range – Amazon has literally hundreds to choose from. But if what you want is a high-end speaker that also offers the convenience of Bluetooth, we’re down to a much smaller group of products now. Starting February 25, you’ll have one more to consider. That’s when Astell & Kern (A&K) is starting to take pre-orders on its first-ever Bluetooth speaker, the $499 Acro BE100 – a sharp-looking device that comes in black and white for s adapt to most decors. It starts shipping on March 7.

Now $499 is a pretty hefty price to pay for a Bluetooth speaker, especially considering the Acro BE100 isn’t fully portable (there’s no battery), it only doubles not a smart speaker powered by Google or Amazon, and it can’t connect to Wi-Fi or even connect to other Acro BE100s for stereo or multiroom sound. This means that the BE100 will have to offer something special enough to drive potential buyers away from higher performing options like the $549. Sonos Five or the Bose Home Speaker 500 at $349.

Astell and Kern

A&K thinks the BE100 does just that, thanks to a combination of sleek design and a feature that’s rarely, if ever, supported on Bluetooth speakers: Compatibility with Qualcomm’s aptX HD audio codecs and 24-bit LDAC from Sony. Getting true hi-fi sound from a Bluetooth device requires the use of very high quality codecs, and these two certainly do the trick. They may not be lossless, but they’re as close as you can get without Wi-Fi. LDAC is considered one of the only codecs to satisfy the Japan Audio Society’s definition of wireless high-resolution audio.

The Astell & Kern Acro BE100 speaker in black and white.
Astell and Kern

To take advantage of these codecs, you’ll need a phone, tablet, or computer that also supports them and that, unfortunately, doesn’t mean any Apple device. While iPhones, iPads and Macs will still be able to connect to the BE100, they will be limited to the much lower quality SBC codec.

To help the BE100 deliver on its hi-fi promise, A&K equipped it with a dedicated 32-bit DAC, another rarity in the world of Bluetooth speakers, where most devices tend to settle for nothing. any DAC built into the Bluetooth chip. A&K is known for its no-compromise approach to DACs – as you can see in its SR25 portable media playerits Dual USB DAC headphone amp and over-the-top Acro 1000 – so it’s no surprise the company is touting the benefits of a high-end DAC for the BE100.

The BE100 is powered by an A&K-designed 55-watt Class-D amp coupled to a single 4-inch woofer and dual 1.5-inch silk dome tweeters. But perhaps it’s just the exterior design that appeals to some people. The entire cabinet is wood and wrapped in leather-like polyurethane, with an angular aluminum front grille that mimics the lines found on many other A&K products. The top panel features several control buttons, as well as an oversized rotary control knob that can be used to turn the speaker on and off, adjust volume, and change speaker modes. It features LED lighting that uses a rainbow of hues and variable brightness to reflect volume levels and other functions.

A digital display hidden behind the grille shows bass and treble information (each can be adjusted with a choice of five levels), as well as the input being used. If Bluetooth isn’t your thing, a rear 3.5mm auxiliary input port gives you a wired option. In Europe and other markets, the BE100 also has an FM tuner, but unfortunately the US models do not have this feature.

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