Braun Audio LE02 Loudspeaker Review
Jay Garrett auditions a thoroughly modern take on a nineteen fifties design classic…
LE02 Wireless Speaker
Braun has been long respected for its timeless designs, centred around the belief that good design is useful. With the likes of Dieter Rams and Peter Schneider amongst its alumni, it’s hardly a surprise that many of the brand’s historic products have become icons in their own right.
Now, after a hiatus of three decades, the company has returned to the home audio market with the reinvention of its L series loudspeakers, initially designed by Dieter Rams in 1959 with the original featuring at the Museum of Modern Art. The new LE wireless speakers sport the enduring design values of their forebears while featuring state-of-the-art technology and connectivity thanks to the assistance of British-based Pure.
The new £749 LE02 model sits centrally in the range, bookended by the squarer and more compact LE03 and the similar-looking but larger LE01. Aesthetically, the LE02 is an essay in ‘less is more’ minimalism – especially when compared with the thoroughly modern offerings of Naim's Mu-so and Bowers & Wilkins' Formation. It comes bundled with silicone feet as well as stylish stainless steel legs. You could also go for the optional floor stand (£219), of course, which is again a nod back to the original L 02. It gives the speaker useful ground clearance, tilting it up towards the listener, as well as looking rather smart to my eyes.
The 480x171x84.5mm (WxHxD) aluminium enclosure – available in white and black finishes – houses a five driver array consisting of a 5.5-inch woofer, two full-range 2.25 inch BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) units and two 6x3.5 inch bass radiators. This grouping is pushed along by a pair of Monolithic HD Class D amplifiers controlled by a 32-bit ARM multi-core digital signal processor. The result is an impressive claimed frequency response of 67Hz-20.5kHz (-6dB).
Connectivity is via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, the former adding Apple AirPlay 2 and Chromecast skills, which bring with it 24-bit/96kHz streaming. You can also hardwire the LE02 to your home network thanks to an Ethernet port; this confers subtly better sound as well as a more robust and reliable connection. A handy 3.5mm auxiliary analogue input allows for another source to use the speaker's output.
The package connects to both Braun’s own app and Google Home. The former features settings for treble and bass, as well as presenting a setup wizard that optimises the LE02's performance – depending on where you're sitting it and whether you're using the silicone feet, the steel legs or floor stands. If you’re using these speakers on floor stands, then position them in portrait mode; the wizard lets you know that you can then use them as a stereo pair which is a setup option in Google Home.
Here you can select the left speaker via the flashing status LEDs on the corner of the speaker behind the grille. Naturally, it employs the other as the right channel. Google Home also gives you the power to Cast your tunes to the speaker, and if you have more than one, you can play music through them as a group, individually, or as a stereo pair, as well as having multi-room control.
The Braun also comes with Google Assistant functionality. For those who get twitchy at the thought of their gadgets constantly listening in on your chatter, a prod of the microphone button on the unit's top panel disables its far-field eavesdropping nature. While here, you will also find physical buttons for Bluetooth pairing and the usual playback controls.
Hooking up my two review samples to both the Braun and Google Home apps was a cinch. I used Spotify as Google Home's default streaming service (you can run YouTube Music, Apple Music or Deezer straight from the app, too), so you can simply command it to play something by saying what you want. Alternatively, if you select Cast, you can use Qobuz, TIDAL, or any other streaming app that you have on your device to supply your tunes.
Despite its dinky dimensions, this loudspeaker shows a great deal of composure and dynamism for something of its size and price. For example, even working in single speaker mode, it proved well able to impart the emotion of Billie Eilish's Your Power. Comfortably Numb from the recently released Pink Floyd Live at Knebworth 1990 set on Qobuz showed the LE02's confidence, as well as its ability to project a convincingly wide soundstage from a single box. This performance was enough to fill my medium-sized living room without having to push it to its limits.
Bringing a second LE02 into play changes the game quite a bit, as it improves not only soundstaging but also the general sense of size and scale. The Pink Floyd track now had far superior width – as you would expect – conveying a realistic sense of a live festival. It also improved the bass, which is tight and controlled, but a world away from Cabasse’s thumping Pearl Akoya, for example. It’s more in line with the likes of Piega’s Premium Wireless 301.
Low frequencies can, of course, be augmented by dialling in a little more bass via the Braun app, as well as more judicious speaker placement. With careful location, and the speakers in portrait mode sat on Solidsteel stands in lieu of the bespoke Braun floor stands, Massive Attack's Angel had really meaty bass. Although I would have liked a bit more attack to the leading edges of notes, this speaker's subtly relaxed attitude will no doubt suit a broader range of listeners.
Although the LE02 does have a relatively smooth presentation, feed it something with more drive, and I very much doubt that you'll be disappointed by its rhythmic chops. Freak On A Leash by Korn galloped along nicely with the group's groove-laden track benefitting from the speaker's fine midband. It let the recording have the space it needed, with the upper mids admirably handling guitar harmonics and the 'clacky' bass style of Fieldy. The higher frequencies also did an excellent job with cymbal crashes.
PJ Harvey's The Letter highlighted to me where the Braun wireless speaker makes some compromises to work as a sole unit. Where I would expect Polly Jean's vocals to sit centrally and forward of the backing, here it was more like all the players were stood in a line. The sound lacked the much-needed depth and nuance of this uncomplicated recording. It’s as if the designers of the LE02 have gone for a room-filling sound over the ability to do focus and depth well. Yet I still can’t really fault this speaker's clarity, even when played at lower levels – even if it does lose some of its drive at quieter volumes.
When you crank up the volume needlessly high, the wheels start to wobble on this particular wagon, as I discovered when getting too enthusiastic with my enjoyment of Iron Maiden's Run To The Hills. Although the clarity remained, especially with the vocals, there was a sense that one more of Nicko McBrain's drum fills could have the LE02 waving a white flag. Things started getting a little ragged around the edges.
Dialling the volume back and changing the programme to the jazzy South Horizon from David Bowie's Buddha of Suburbia, and this was where the LE02 pair really shone. Piano was rendered remarkably well for this sort of product, with a pleasantly natural decay, and the woody tones of the upright bass were a joy. The percussion swung confidently, and the speaker's smooth tonality made for a relaxed listen, even when the breakbeats and synths come in at about halfway through the track.
Braun Audio’s new LE02 certainly performs well and ranks highly on the cool-o-meter – especially for fans of Dieter Rams' work. However, it does come perilously close to the edge of the 'jack-of-all-trades' syndrome. Although more expensive and dimensionally deeper, Naim's Mu-so Second Generation scores higher as an all-in-one, for me. Those seeking true stereo performance could turn to the likes of the Cyrus ONE Cast or Hegel H95 streaming amps, with affordable standmount speakers such as Triangle's Borea BR03 or Monitor Audio's Bronze 100.
But, that would be slightly missing the point because the LE02 offers wireless connectivity and an instantly recognisable aesthetic that has not really been successfully replicated elsewhere. As part of the first batch of Braun Audio offerings, the LE02 is certainly worth checking out should you be in the market for such a thing or things. However, I do hope that round two includes compatibility with higher-res audio and perhaps Roon Ready certification.
StereoNET UK’s Editor, bass player, and resident rock star! Jay’s passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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