Most of the portable Bluetooth speakers we review above $200 are often large, with built-in handles, water-resistant builds, and/or built-in LED light shows. The Bang & Olufsen Beolit 20, at $500, is the anti-party party speaker. It isn’t waterproof and it doesn’t have LEDs, and while it has a built-in handle, it’s made of fine leather. But don’t let the clean design and luxurious materials fool you—this thing can get loud, and delivers powerful, rich bass depth for its size. It’s a rich, full-bodied speaker with plenty of detail in the highs. Is it overpriced? If you don’t care about the design and materials, then yes. But if those aspects are important to you, the Beolit 20 is a classy blend of performance and style.
A Handsome Design
Available in black-and-blue or gray-and-gold models, the Beolit 20 is yet another attractive addition to the Beolit lineup of portable speakers. It looks like a very classy lunchbox, measuring 5.3 by 9.1 by 7.5 inches (HWD) and weighing in at 5.9 pounds. It has a sturdy leather strap that, in a cool design touch, attaches to the top corners diagonally instead of running parallel to the speaker’s outer edges. The middle section is covered in wraparound anodized aluminum grille.
Behind the grille, dual 35-watt class-D amps power a 5.5-inch woofer combined with three 1.5-inch full-range drivers and two 4-inch passive bass radiators to deliver a frequency range of 37Hz to 27kHz. The speaker is compatible with Bluetooth 4.2 and supports AAC and SBC codecs, but not AptX.
The top panel of the speaker is recessed and flat, like the interior of a tray. There are controls along the left end of the panel for power, Bluetooth, play/pause, and plus/minus for volume. But the coolest feature is hidden: The middle area is a Qi-certified charging surface, so you can charge your phone while you listen to music. Of course, if the Beolit 20 isn’t connected to power itself, you’ll be using its internal battery to charge your phone.
The rear panel houses a USB-C port for the included USB-C charging cable, which connects to a power adapter for the wall. (Two international plug adapters are included for EU/UK.) There’s also a 3.5mm aux input, but unfortunately no cable is included. There’s no speakerphone function, which seems like it could have easily been achieved without any extra buttons muddling up the design.
Unike most modern portable Bluetooth speakers, the Beolit 20 doesn’t carry an official IP rating for water resistance. Bang & Olufsen tells us that the speaker has a degree of weather resistance and a ruggedized base, but if the company intends for the Beolit to be used outdoors, it needs to be more specific. The lack of concrete information here means it would be safest to assume you should try to avoid getting the Beolit 20 wet. That said, it can be used outdoors, just be careful of the conditions.
The Bang & Olufsen app for Android and iOS is a one-size-fits-all solution for most products in the B&O lineup. It opens up various extra features when the Beolit 20 is paired with your mobile device and the app. On the main page, you can control playback, track navigation, and volume. There are also EQ presets, including Ambient, Favorite, Optimal, Party, and Speech. These modes are named a little vaguely, but you can also go to a custom EQ and adjust as you wish and save the settings. We wish B&O would use actual faders and bands, like most EQs. Instead, you drag a circle from the center of the screen toward words like Bright, Energetic, and Warm. You can also use the app to make the speaker part of a stereo pair (with either another Beolit 20 or an older Beolit 17), and turn off the wireless charging station to preserve battery power.
Bang & Olufsen estimates the Beolit 20’s battery life to be roughly eight hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels.
It Sounds Bigger Than It Is
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Beolit 20’s drivers deliver powerful low-frequency thump, and at top volumes, they don’t distort. The DSP (digital signal processing) makes sure that things never get distorted at top volumes, but it also does a solid job of not overwhelming the dynamics of the mix—you can hear it working, but it doesn’t squash things. Also, this speaker can get quite loud for its size…not that it’s tiny in the first place, but it sounds like a larger speaker.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Beolit 20’s general sound signature. The drums on this track sound almost thunderous here, and Callahan’s baritone vocals receive an extra dose of low-mid richness. This would all overwhelm the mix and make things muddy if the drivers didn’t deliver a clear, detailed high-frequency response, but the vocals get some treble edge and the acoustic strums have a bright presence to them, as do the higher-register percussive hits. This is a sculpted sound signature with full-bodied, rich lows that sound great on drums and electric bass, and high-mids and highs that add clarity and contour to the mix.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence so that its attack retains its punchiness. The vinyl crackle and hiss that’s usually relegated to background status is also pushed forward a bit, indicating some high-frequency boosting and sculpting. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with less subwoofer-like power than a larger system might muster—here, it’s the drums that sound beefed up in the lows, while the sub-bass synth hits pack a slight punch instead of a deep, thunderous presence. So the Beolit 20 can’t quite reach down as low as a real 2.1 system, but that’s not to be expected. For a portable speaker, it definitely delivers powerful bass depth matched with crisp highs. The vocals on this track are clear and cleanly delivered, but they have some added sibilance at times.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get some added low-frequency presence, giving some body and depth to the lower-register instrumentation. Things still manage to sound relatively natural despite the added bass depth, as the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals are bright and crisp, and the lows never overwhelm the balance of the mix. This may not be the high-fidelity flat response system audiophiles are in search of, but the Beolit 20 certainly delivers a rich, powerful musical experience.
Tweaking the sound signature to taste in the app is also possible, but without actual bands to adjust, it can get a bit cumbersome. The best sound signature we found was the default, EQ-free option. Tweaking the EQ might be more useful for outdoors usage, however, where there are fewer reflective surfaces.
Portable But Powerful
The Beolit 20, like most things Bang & Olufsen, is expensive—some might say overpriced. The other side of that argument is that you’re paying for a top-notch visual design and luxurious materials in addition to powerful, capable drivers. Ultimately, the most important thing is audio performance, and the Beolit 20 sounds great. It’s also easy to operate, and the Qi-charging panel up top is a nice extra feature.
But $500 is a lot, and if you really just want a powerful portable speaker you can use outdoors, the similarly priced JBL Boombox 2 delivers more power in a larger design, while the $300 Braven BRV-XXL/2 delivers plenty of thunder in a portable design with a built-in bottle opener. If you like the B&O aesthetic, but want to spend less, the far more compact Beosound A1 delivers style and quality audio for $250.
The Bottom Line
The Bang & Olufsen Beolit 20 is a supremely stylish (and expensive) portable Bluetooth speaker that can deliver rich, crisp audio at high volume levels.
Bang & Olufsen Beolit 20 Specs
|Physical Connections||3.5mm, USB-C|