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Sound profile - a perspective on comparing Beolab 9 with Beolab 20

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Michael
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Michael Posted: Thu, Sep 13 2018 8:54 PM

This week I acquired a pair of Beolab 20. I already own Beolab 9's and I was planning to replace them with Beolab 20.

I currently have my Beolab 20's set up with WISA to my Beovision Avant 55". They stand next to their siblings, the 9's. The nines act as front speakers and I have a stereo speaker group for music. I made one for the Beolab 20's as well. I've calibrated and checked my settings, both on the speakers and in the settings. 

So far so good. Now, I think they should sound pretty similar. At least that is what I expected. I was dreaming of this surreal emotion of "wow, they sound like Beolab 9s, just BETTER!". Well, was I wrong.

First of, they sound good. The bass is deep, punchy. I think my brain sent around some signals saying huh, these low frequencies has never been heard in this household before. The mids are there and so is the high pitch sounds of the tweeter.

I started listening and I liked what I heard. Then I switched to Beolab 9 and was immediately struck that the sound was extremely different.

I've been listening now a little bit every day. I can't compare and focus listen for too long, my ears start to hurt by all analysing and it feels like shards of glass entering my ears. But, what I feel is that the Beolab 9 has more of everything very pronounced. It feels like what I would define as flat. The mids and especially the higher tweeter sounds is very pronounced. They feel on par with the bass or elevated even. I switch to Beolab 20 and sound changes dramatically. The strong focus on mids and highs disappears, the bass is still tamed but volatile. I sense depth and a stereo image that feels interesting. I had to walk up to my TV and check if the speakers inside was on, I even had to check the settings because I didn't really believe my ears. They were off. But it felt and sounded like some of the sounds was directed just from the middle. Switch back to Beolab 9 and I hear the sounds very easily pushed from both right and left. 

I first, and a little still, feel like the sound is a bit boring in Beolab 20. Music seems 'quieter* and a little more distant than in Beolab 9. At the same time this feels more relaxing to listen to, and more importantly, it feels more real. I switch back to Beolab 9 and I feel like I get hit by something, the music is strong, closer, less vivid, flatter. Its hard to explain. I could argue it feels more energetic, louder, crisper. Good things but it feels like it comes with the flatness and and less dynamic sound as negative side effects. 

It's a weird feeling. On some songs the crispness of the higher notes feels more like mids on Beolab 20 than on Beolab 9, for example this is very evident in Moneys too tight with Simply red". At the same time, I really like the higher sounds in that song and even though they ARE audible in BL20 it feels like they are further away. The drummers hi hat is way and in BL9 he seems to sit just in front of me. The bass packs a punch in the BL20 in this song, I can feel it in my gut, it shakes my couch. The BL9 does not. 

I change to something else, Arvo Pärt, spiegel im spiegel (as performed by Angele dubeau on violin). Again, the tweeter seems to be tuned down a notch compared to BL9. (I must add, when I first got my BL9 I was unhappy with how sharp and strong the tweeter was - now three or four years later I might have adjusted to this perhaps 'imperfection'). This music is harder to compare but I think the depth is greater and that I can form a better map of placement when I close my eyes as I listen to Beolab 20. In this music the high pitch sounds is important and Beolab 9 with its perhaps exaggerated higher notes makes the violin cut through paper. It feels rewarding, going to Beolab 20 the sound drops an octave or so. Yet, still I hear a few very high pitched sounds. Is the width wider here? The slow breaths caught sometimes during the play is easier to make out and I like that. I also like how the microphone caught some wind in the beginning, its so low frequency that I can't hear it on Beolab 9 but on Beolab 20 I notice it, I feel it and I can hear a subtly yet annoyed microphone :). 

 

Feeling a bit drowsy, so I change to something with more power. What, Dies Irae from Verdis Requiem, of course. Yuri Temirkanov must have had a red bull before, because the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is on fire. In both Beolab 9 and Beolab 20. But yeez, Beolab 20. My big oil painting a meter away from the right speaker is starting to jump on the wall, creating a scratching noise. It feels like the apartment itself is shaking! Switch to Beolab 9 and the bass is there but not anywhere near as deep. The pronounced mids make the bass feel more like a punchy midtone speaker. The tweeters level, in tandem with the mid I suppose brings the choir closer. I continue through to the next parts of Requiem. Constantly I feel that the sounds are closer on Beolab 9 and further away from me on Beolab 20. There's the casual unintended noice that I hear on Beolab 20 that I don't hear on Beolab 9, funny ones, someones foot on a hollow box or walking by. I thought it was a neighbour first, but after listening three times I can relax, because it wasn't :).

It's confusing. The width of range of which the tweeter, mid and bass speaker can produce sounds SEEMS wider in Beolab 20, at least that is how I try to explain the effect. Beolab 9 is great but it feels like there isn't as much variance in the more detailed frequency jumps on the different scales (high pitched sounds, mids and bass). What I mean to say is that a wider group of frequencies are pushed together into a less detailed and less precise sound on Beolab 9. It gives the immediate impression of a fuller, more powerful and "better" sound if you will. Switching to Beolab 20 after that makes me feel bored at first, because first off the tweeter seems so much less loud. But after a while I feel like the depth and imaging is much better. Sounds surprices me and sudden bass can come like thunder from a clear sky. The sound is more vivid, theres a wider amount of frequencies I can make out and that the speaker can produce individually. I cant hear where the tweeter starts and where the mids take over. I can on Beolab 9. At least I feel like I can. 

Change again, to Jan Garbarek - Vast Plain, Clouds. The Beolab 20 blows the candles out of the candle holders, the choir is immediately swept away and a cold storm is filling the church around me with deep bass and leaves flowing around be. The saxophone playing ever so soft and beautiful. I switch to Beolab 9 and immediately feel how the church changes and everything is louder, closer. Sounds not bad. I switch back to Beolab 20 and immediately miss the sharper brighter sound of the saxophone in Beolab 9. Then he plays a brighter tone and I notice the difference. The difference is wider. Alough its not as loud as in Beolab 9 it has more depth and reality too it. It's easier to listen to. But when switching back and forth it feels like the mids is more pronounced here on Beolab 20 than on Beolab 9. Maybe in a bad way, maybe not. Because when I change to Beolab 9 it feels like I am listening to a wall where all the sounds is pushed straight to me from the same distance. 

I change again, this time to junko nishi trio and the track Caravan. Not surprisingly its sharper in Beolab 9, "louder" and closer. More boomy. Beolab 20 feels different, less catchy. I feel like I am sitting in the band playing along on Beolab 9. Its nice, I like that in jazz, the unexpected and being there in a jam session makes it much more fun. Beolab 20 makes it sound like I a band playing, I walk up to the open door and listen from afar. It sounds good but less catchy, I can easier make out the placement and the softer noises of the pianos pushes on the stiff strings. I can't on Beolab 9. Even though it feels like I'm just next to the piano it simply sounds like "piano". Theres a depth to the pianos pitch on Beolab 20 that isnt there on Beolab 9. 

 

Lets go on, Keith Jarret - Margot. Surprise here, the sound is elevated on Beolab 20. The piano is loud, the drummer on the side is not interrupting but doing his thing. The buzzing noise from the bad recording is audible. It's audible on Beolab 9 too, perhaps even more. I can easily make out that the bass player is on the right side and the piano is a little bit everywhere. On Beolab 20 the bass players placement is easier to make out and the placement is more detailed overall, Beolab 9 on the other hand has harder contrasts and it feels less real. I hear Keith jarrets typical humming in the background on Beolab 20 but on Beolab 9 they are more direct. I don't think they should be. I think those sounds are barely perceived by the microphones in the piano. Surely they don't wan't to pick up that noise. I think Beolab 20 is more accurate here, with what I feel is its wider depth of sound. 

All right, time for something else again. Johnossi - Man must dance. Same here, wider and more clarity on Beolab 20, but stronger on Beolab 9. The difference is so extreme. It feels like everyone is angry when I listen to Beolab 9, the music feels more rapid. Everything is more in focus. On Beolab 20 its less of that, for both good and bad. But I notice how I catch up on all those small vibrations of the guitar cords. I love that. I imagine how they vibrate against my own fingers. I don't with Beolab 9 because everything is so loud and compressed. It is almost like when you push the contrast up too much on a picture, colors pop but all the hues and details disappear and becomes harsh and ugly. Thats the best way I can think of to describe it for now.

 

Last song for now: No one ever loved performed by Lykke li. Her voice is brighter, louder on BL9 and it stands out from the rest very much by volume alone. On Beolab 20 it's better blended with the acoustics. I believe they put ambience microphones in the room and mixed it with microphones closer up. It's nice to hear it so strong on BL9 but almost to strong. Its easier to listen to on Beolab 20 where the ambience gets more room. 

Okey, one more. Vi er perfekt men verden er ikke det - Astrid S. The piano is more pronounced on BL20 than on BL9 where instead the viola is louder. Astrids voice is stronger on BL9 and it sounds like she sings into the microphone from to close. It's not like that on BL20. The mids take more place on BL20 than on BL9 where focus in on higher tones. I like her voice on BL9 but its too loud perhaps. It's more evenly balanced with the rest on BL20.

 

And a bonus song, Fly - Ludovico Einaudi. Its brighter on Beolab 9 but more dynamic on Beolab 20. The mids are obviously more pronounced on Beolab 20 and the bass is clearer. The piano isn't as sharp or high pitched (can't decide if I prefer it more on BL9) but has more depth. It's hard to explain. When I listen to this on Beolab 20 I visualize the width by spreading my arms out and on Beolab 9 I can instead hold my arms to a certain extent and say exactly where the sound stops. Theres a much more interesting width with Beolab 20. As I've said before. It fels more compressed on Beolab 9. 

 

It's hard to compare these speakers. Beolab 9 feels more engaging due to its more pushy, and direct sound. But it comes at the cost of depth and precision. There's a depth to Beolab 20 in both imaging and lower frequency and air pressure that Beolab 9 simply can't reproduce. This makes Beolab 20 seem a bit bored, it seems do do more effortlessly. But then when you least expect it you'll get a lot of punch, drama and even physical feel of pressure. 

I remember when I first auditioned Beolab 5 in a B&O Store and was a bit surprised it sounded so "boring" compared to my Beolit 12. The Beolit 12 exaggerates, it enhances bass and sounds to make it sound fuller. The Beolab 5 doesn't have to do that, but it plays it all with more clarity and contrast. I believe this is about the same for Beolab 20. But I do not know. I feel it is easier to listen to Beolab 20. 

I'm so curious about how these speakers are toned. It feels like different persons calibrated the 9s and 20s. But taste also change, as do ears, and technology. 9 is more analogue and 20 has more technology to keep it adapting. I want to believe the BL20 is the better. But it is hard to know because I don't know how the sounds SHOULD sound. It is like walking into a TV shop and see all TVs playing vivid video, everyone a bit different, you will like one for one thing, and another one for another. 

I like the deeper bass and detailed sound of Beolab 20. I like the crispness of Beolab 9. I Like the design of Beolab 9 from an aesthetic point of view. It has its hanging head ascew from the rest of it. the belt on its body as a person. Its very soft and almost sad. Subtle, with its zink casted smooth surface ALT lens. Hiding on the floor. 
Beolab 20 is a different person. Its pompous, it has an aluminium ring below (I do not understand why, the bright aluminium is just annoying, it should have been black - you barely see it anyway). And it stands strong with its tighter coat and stiff neck. Polished and straight lines instead of bent ones. It seems less relaxed and more flashy. Its more noticeable. I thought I would prefer Beolab 20 but actually Beolab 9 is very beautiful in another way. I like how soft the lens feels when I touch it and how it stands out forward when I pass it or see it from the side. Beolab 20 has a sharp edge on its lens top and its not soft, its aluminium and with a spinning pattern. Looks nice but its not the same feel. 

A lot of people has commented on my Beolabs 9 thinking they are statues. I think thats fun and great. I do not think people will think the same of Beolab 20. But time will tell. One interesting side effect of the polished aluminium is that I now notice solar reflection in my speakers, which the Beolab 9 did not show. 

So this was my strange, and lengthy review of Beolabs for tonight. It ended with the magic flute (der vogelfänger). Beautiful, on any speaker - almost. 

Conclusion is that both speakers are very same and very different. They seemingly share the same box. The same elements (except for the bass that is now a twin wired one). I could even use the same plastic cover on both models. The height difference is due to the ring below and the higher tweeter (which on BL20 resides on top of the cut out for the BL9 head! - altough not visibly so). The amps are different, from a mix of ICEPower and A+B ams from SHARP to an all in digital ICE powered speaker. BL20 has more options when it comes to inputs and it also dims it's light which BL9 never do. 

I like them both for their perks and I think both are great for what they are. I enjoy both very much. I really do. 

For this comparison I played music over AirPlay (2?) from my iPhone 7 plus, using Spotify in extreme mode and with volume normalization turned off, streamed to my Apple TV 4K, connected over HDMI to the Avant 55" (Not the android model). Beolab 9´s connected over Powerlink. Beolab 20 over WISA. I am sure there might be a difference in sound over WISA and PL but I can not test this since I don't have more BL20s. I could put one in PL mode though... Maybe another day. 

What is your impressions of the speakers? I am curious to hear :). 


Michael
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Michael replied on Thu, Sep 13 2018 9:05 PM







Geoff Martin
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Hi,

A couple of comments as a quick reply:

The BeoLab 9 and the BeoLab 20 are completely different loudspeakers. They share some aspects of the mechanical design - however, the entire internal workings, the tunings - almost everything that determines the sound performance are different in these two loudspeakers.

It was never the intention to have the BeoLab 20's merely be an update of the 9's. Since they are based on digital signal processing, it was possible to do much more to sculpt the sound of the loudspeakers.

I can guarantee that your guess that the 9's and the 20's were sound designed by different people is correct. :-)

I would not expect a significant difference in the sound of the BeoLab 20's using PL instead of WiSA. Although this would be true for BeoLab 50's and 90's, it is less so for the 17's, 18's, and 20's. There are differences, but they're very small.

One thing that you might want to consider is to swap the positions of your loudspeakers - just to verify which aspects of the differences you are hearing are the result of loudspeaker position instead of type. However, as I said above, the main differences in these loudspeakers are the loudspeakers themselves.

All of that being said - it was interesting reading your comments!

Cheers
-geoff

 

Geoff Martin
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Hi,

A couple of comments as a quick reply:

The BeoLab 9 and the BeoLab 20 are completely different loudspeakers. They share some aspects of the mechanical design - however, the entire internal workings, the tunings - almost everything that determines the sound performance are different in these two loudspeakers.

It was never the intention to have the BeoLab 20's merely be an update of the 9's. Since they are based on digital signal processing, it was possible to do much more to sculpt the sound of the loudspeakers.

I can guarantee that your guess that the 9's and the 20's were sound designed by different people is correct. :-)

I would not expect a significant difference in the sound of the BeoLab 20's using PL instead of WiSA. Although this would be true for BeoLab 50's and 90's, it is less so for the 17's, 18's, and 20's. There are differences, but they're very small.

One thing that you might want to consider is to swap the positions of your loudspeakers - just to verify which aspects of the differences you are hearing are the result of loudspeaker position instead of type. However, as I said above, the main differences in these loudspeakers are the loudspeakers themselves.

All of that being said - it was interesting reading your comments!

Cheers
-geoff

 

Jeff
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Jeff replied on Thu, Sep 13 2018 9:19 PM

Interesting. I'd suggest reversing the positions of the speakers, put the 20s where the 9s are and vice versa and repeat your test. Sometimes speaker positioning can make a big difference. Thanks for taking the time to write up your observations!

The bass doesn't surprise me, as the way they used a dual voice coil woofer in the 20 allows more tailoring of the low frequencies to extend below a traditional sealed enclosure. WIth that and DSP and two bass amps lets you do some things that you can't do without that. From what I recall from listening to the 20s in my then local dealer's shop is that to me, they sounded a bit more forward, upper mids and at least lower treble were pushed up a bit compared to the more polite 9s, to the point I think they would have cause me (everyone's ears are different of course) more listener fatigue over time. My 9s have enough highs and mids, but seem more relaxed and smoother to me.

 

Jeff

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Millemissen
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Hi Michael,

thank you for taking the time for this comparison and the writing.

It is not often, that someone has this opportunity.

So- which ones will you keep....maybe both.

As already suggested it would be nice to know if a change in the location might bring a difference.

It would also be nice to know how these two speaker sets behave at different sound levels?

Does this change things?

At which SP (or volume of the BV as seen on the screen) level did you do your tests?

 

For Geoff - will the same volume level produce a different SP level using PL as using WiSA......or is that perhaps equal?

 

MM

There is a tv - and there is a BV.

Michael
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Michael replied on Fri, Sep 14 2018 1:48 PM

Geoff Martin:
-geoff

Thanks Geoff for your quick reply! Surprised to read that so late on a thursday evening and super glad you replied. 

I had been listening for hours and had to go out for a late dinner hence my late reply. 

Thanks for clarifying that they are completely different speakers with some similarities.
Also thanks for answering the question about the sound design, It felt like so and Im happy to read your confirmation :). 

Regarding PL vs WISA, I wonder if that the PL link can introduce som low distrurbance noise that is not audible on WISA since its digital. Maybe I am wrong. How come the BL50 and 90 will be more different on PL vs WISA? They are more extreme of course but WISA is supposed to be pretty much lossless right? 

I remember many years I read that class D amps wasnt optimal for high frequency sounds and that it was a good reason for not using Class D for Mid and tweeter in BL9, although BL5 does. Can you elaborate on this or was my source material completely wrong? I suppose if there was an issue that this has been fixed in newer iterations of the technology.

On swapping the speakers, do you mean switch the left and right one or swap places with Beolab 9? (as also Jeff and MM asked). I will try this but I am going to Venice on sunday so might have to try it after I come back!

And thanks for reading my comments. I hope it wasn't too much text :). 

 

Jeff:
the way they used a dual voice coil woofer in the 20 allows more tailoring of the low frequencies to extend below a traditional sealed enclosure. WIth that and DSP and two bass amps lets you do some things that you can't do without that. From what I recall from listening to the 20s in my then local dealer's shop is that to me, they sounded a bit more forward, upper mids and at least lower treble were pushed up a bit compared to the more polite 9s, to the point I think they would have cause me (everyone's ears are different of course) more listener fatigue over time. My 9s have enough highs and mids, but seem more relaxed and smoother to me.

Sounds about right regarding the bass, clever way to make it stronger. Interesting to hear you saying that the mids and treble was pushed up on BL20 compared to your BL9s in your opinion. For me the 9s (that I have) feels more screaming and stronger in the higher notes. I like the sound though but in a different way than BL20. I think the BL20 felt less "active" in that part of frequencies. It didn't enhance these notes or play them very loud. Hard to explain.

Millemissen:

So- which ones will you keep....maybe both.

As already suggested it would be nice to know if a change in the location might bring a difference.

It would also be nice to know how these two speaker sets behave at different sound levels?

Does this change things?

At which SP (or volume of the BV as seen on the screen) level did you do your tests?

Good questions. I will keep BL20 I think. They are flexible in connectivity, matches the Avant pretty well and sounds good. The bass is stronger and while the sound is different from BL9 I believe I will enjoy it and become accustomed to it. Its not a comparison between good and better, its more like a comparison between either this tuning or this other tuning. But one of them comes of course with a little higher speced technology. 

I think these speakers will behave somewhat similar going up in volume but at the same time not exactly. Since BL20 uses a new bass speaker and technology it can be pushed to produce lower frequencies at volume up to a certain extent (I suppose) and this BL9 wont be able to do in the same way - even though it has ABL. Thats probably the biggest difference in behaviour(?). 

Speaking of sound level on the BV I changed it a lot (to not have angry neighbours). I did feel like music sounded louder on the same level on BL9 compared to BL20. But this is probably because the sound is so "compressed" on BL20, meaning the mids and tweeter were louder than on BL20. 

They also might be calibrated a little differently and the placement is probably also afflicting. 

 

 

Jeff
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Jeff replied on Fri, Sep 14 2018 9:40 PM

Right now you have the 9s on the outside and the 20s on the inside, swap them so the 20s are on the outside and the 9s on the inside. Comparing speakers is difficult due to placement issues and harder to switch quickly. Harman has a fascinating listening test setup where they can put up to three speaker up for testing, each side has two large turntables, well damped so you can't hear them rotating that can rotate very quickly. Put three pairs of speaker sup, behind an acoustically transparent curtain so you can't see which is which, and you can swap quickly back and forth. Genius. Great idea. Not easy to do though.

Jeff

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Esax
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Esax replied on Sat, Sep 15 2018 11:38 PM
If you like beolab 9 don’t buy the beolab 20. You need the beolab 50. Or beolab 5 if you can’t afford it. The beolab 20 is a big disappointment. Yes the sound is tight but it sounds like the base comes from the room next door, or the neighbors. Not balanced at all. You have to crank it up real good before it sounds good at all. And it’s sounds like there is not enough power. I regret I sold my 9 until I managed to returned the 20 and bought the amazing 50.

And yes the beolab 20 is different from beolab 9. But not good at all.
Michael
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Michael replied on Sun, Sep 16 2018 7:30 AM
Esax:

If you like beolab 9 don’t buy the beolab 20. You need the beolab 50. Or beolab 5 if you can’t afford it. The beolab 20 is a big disappointment. Yes the sound is tight but it sounds like the base comes from the room next door, or the neighbors. Not balanced at all. You have to crank it up real good before it sounds good at all. And it’s sounds like there is not enough power. I regret I sold my 9 until I managed to returned the 20 and bought the amazing 50.

And yes the beolab 20 is different from beolab 9. But not good at all.

I’m surprised to read your review on the BL20 and your big disappointment with them. I don’t think they are bad. I like them, the sound is different than BL9 which I found to be too pushy on the higher notes. But I wouldn’t mind if the BL20 was possible to adjust like BL9 (technically) is.

I think BL50 is a bit expensive. I don’t feel comfortable spending that much on speakers and I believe the design is a bit much. I chose between BL5 and BL20 and picked BL20 because of the smaller footprint and more modern technology.
elephant
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elephant replied on Wed, Sep 19 2018 8:14 PM
Michael, thank you so much for your exhaustive review and selection of music.

I have saved your post and will study it well when I am re-united with BL20s.

Currently mine are in a room that would have very different acoustics from yours. It will be very interesting Smile

BeoNut since '75

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