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

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

Now $499 is a pretty hefty price to pay for a Bluetooth speaker, especially when you consider the Acro BE100 isn’t fully portable (there’s no battery), it doesn’t double as a Google- or Amazon-powered smart speaker, and it can’t connect to Wi-Fi or even connect to other Acro BE100s for stereo or multiroom sound. That means the BE100 will have to offer something pretty special to draw potential buyers away from more capable options like the $549 Sonos Five or the $349 Bose Home Speaker 500.

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The Astell & Kern Acro BE100 speaker.
Astell & Kern

A&K believes the BE100 does just that, thanks to a combination of elegant design and a feature that is rarely, if ever, supported on Bluetooth speakers: Compatibility with both Qualcomm’s aptX HD and Sony’s LDAC 24-bit audio codecs. Getting true hi-fi sound from a Bluetooth device requires the use of very high-quality codecs, and these two certainly fit the bill. 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 hi-res audio.

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

To take advantage of these codecs, you’ll need a phone, tablet, or computer that also supports them and that, unfortunately, means no Apple devices. While iPhones, iPads, and Macs will still be able to connect to the BE100, they’ll be limited to the much lower-quality SBC codec.

To help the BE100 deliver on its hi-fi promise, A&K has outfitted it with a dedicated 32-bit DAC, another rarity in the Bluetooth speaker world, where most devices tend to make do with whatever DAC is built into the Bluetooth chip. A&K is known for its uncompromising approach to DACs — as you can see in its SR25 portable media player, its Dual USB DAC headphone amp, and it’s over-the-top Acro 1000 — so it’s no surprise the company is touting the benefits of a top-notch DAC for the BE100.

Powering the BE100 is a A&K-designed 55-watt class-D amp mated to a single 4-inch woofer and two 1.5-inch silk dome tweeters.  But it might just be exterior design that wins over some folks. The entire cabinet is made from 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, plus an oversized rotary control knob that can be used to power the speaker on and off, adjust volume, and change the speaker’s modes. It boasts LED illumination that uses a rainbow of hues and varying brightness to reflect volume levels and other functions.

A digital display hidden behind the grille shows information related to bass and treble (each can be adjusted with a choice of five levels), as well as which input is in use. If Bluetooth isn’t your thing, a 3.5mm aux-in port on the back gives you a wired option. In Europe and other markets, the BE100 also gets an FM tuner, but sadly, U.S.-bound models lack this feature.

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