Braun reinvents its classic speakers with Google Assistant to compete with Sonos

Back in July, Braun announced that it would be reviving its iconic line of LE audio speakers, created by legendary product designer Dieter Rams in 1959, with a thoroughly modern set of features. The IFA 2019 show in Berlin is, appropriately, the event the German brand chose to give the world its first glimpse of these new Braun speakers, now made under license by the United Kingdom’s Pure Audio. They echo the original LE designs with their polished stainless steel feet while borrowing heavily from Sonos, the current leader in wireless home audio, for the look and function of the speakers themselves.

Three new models have been announced. From largest to smallest, they are the $1,199 LE01 and the $799 LE02 — both of which are rectangular and come with the stainless steel feet — and the square-shaped $379 LE03. Though each model differs in terms of shape, power, and speaker components, they share a common set of wireless audio and smart assistant features:

  • Dual-band Wi-Fi, with AirPlay 2, Chromecast, and Spotify Connect
  • Bluetooth 4.2 with AAC and SBC codec support
  • Auxiliary input for analog sources
  • Ethernet
  • Google Assistant built-in (Wi-Fi only)
  • Stereo-pairing between identical speaker models
  • “Room placement audio EQ optimization” — which we believe is Braun’s equivalent to Sonos’ Trueplay tuning system, but we’ll confirm this once we get a review model to test
  • Four-microphone array for far-field voice recognition and acoustic echo-cancellation
  • Hi-res 96kHz/24-bit compatibility
  • Control and customization via the Braun Audio app for iOS and Android

Both the LE01 and the LE02 mimic the Sonos Play:5 and Play:3’s ability to operate in either stereo mode when placed in landscape orientation, or in mono when sitting vertically. All three speakers can also be mounted to optional floor stands, which in the case of the LE03 in particular, gives them an even stronger tie to the LE’s design history. Another trait all three LE models share in common with Sonos (on the Sonos One and Sonos Beam) is a dedicated microphone-mute button that physically disconnects the microphone circuitry and lets you know that your privacy is being protected by shifting its top and front LEDs from green to orange.

Braun Audio makes a point of indicating just how much of a departure the new speakers are in terms of their internal architecture. “As the LE 1 of 1959 utilized audio technologies widely upheld to be the best available of the time,” the company’s press release says, “the reimagined LE series leverages the cutting-edge of today’s advanced audio technologies.” The company is primarily referring to its use of Balanced Mode Radiators (BMRs) — a relatively new type of speaker driver that can achieve a wider sound field than traditional designs. The primary benefit to BMRs is that they greatly increase the flexibility of speaker placement, though the jury is still out as to whether speakers that use BMRs actually sound better.

The new Braun LE speakers may share a lot of common ground with Sonos, but their prices are substantially higher for equivalent models. The $1,199 LE01, with its five drivers, is the closest of the three to the $500 Sonos Play:5 and yet it costs more than twice as much. To a certain extent, materials can account for the discrepancy — the LE speakers use aluminum for their enclosures, and we presume the stainless steel feet on the LE01 and LE02 also add to the cost.

Nonetheless, if the LE series doesn’t perform like speakers that cost twice as much as Sonos, will people be willing to shell out the extra money to own a new take on a legendary product? We’re also curious to see if the Braun Audio app can match the impressive usability of the Sonos platform.

The new Braun Audio LE speakers come with a two-year warranty, but so far there’s no word on a date for U.S. availability.

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