Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 5 Speaker

My first encounter with the BeoLab 5 was on an international audio-press tour of the Bang & Olufsen factory in Streuer, Denmark. It's out in quiet, flat, farm country something like the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. But our introduction was anything but staid. "Theatrical" would be a better description, since our initial listening preceded the usual technical seminars and was done with the speakers hidden behind a curtain.

Along with the neutral and decidedly unboxy sound quality and the ability to play really loud with considerable heft in the very clean and smooth-sounding bass, I immediately noticed that the stereo stage was conveyed with an unusually realistic depth and solidity, and that the image didn't collapse to one side as I listened from off center. In fact, I got a reasonable stereo image even while listening from directly in front of one of the speakers. I had encountered this phenomenon only a couple of times before, first in a speaker invented by Mark Davis and made by dbx in the late 1980s. Its claim to fame was an unusual radiation pattern designed to produce this wide-seating-area effect, so I knew that the BeoLab 5 was not a conventional box speaker. But it didn't sound like a flat-panel dipole or bipole model either, since the sound was clearly not coming from a tall source. It also lacked the sometimes excessive spaciousness you get with such speakers.

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