HiFiBerry BeoCreate amplifier review

The HiFiBerry BeoCreate is a four-channel amplifier for adding WiFi and audio streaming capabilities to old speakers. As well as the BeoCreate board, you’ll need a power supply and some 3D-printed parts. If you want to include Bluetooth and wireless functionality, you’ll also need a Raspberry Pi and microSD card. The full working setup comes in at £181.80 – this is just for the equipment to upcycle the speakers and doesn’t include any actual speakers themselves. This is obviously not cheap, but high-quality audio hardware rarely is.

Altogether, this provides essentially all the hardware and software you need for creating a high-quality wireless speaker, except the actual speaker and enclosure. This is because it’s designed for upcycling old Bang & Olufsen speakers to give them the ability to work with modern music sources.

HiFiBerry has detailed guides on how to use the BeoCreate to upcycle the CX100 and CX50 speakers, and guides for the Beovox RL2000 and Beovox RL6000 are listed on the website as ‘coming soon’. The process involves taking a hacksaw to your speakers and cutting wires out, so it’s not exactly plug-and-play, but the guides are detailed and include pictures of all the steps to take you through. We really wouldn’t recommend this for beginners – mostly because of the cost of making a mistake – but if you’ve got some experience tinkering with electronics and soldering, we wouldn’t expect you to encounter many problems.

There’s nothing that fundamentally ties the BeoCreate to these specific speakers, other than the form factor. However, the cross-over frequencies are set correctly for the B&O speakers. If you’re planning on using this in other speakers, you’ll need to tweak the frequencies to your hardware using SigmaStudio. There is a guide for getting started with this on the HiFiBerry website at hsmag.cc/VqNNoJ. It isn’t an entirely straightforward process, but it does mean that you’ll be able to adapt the hardware to perfectly suit a wide range of different speakers.

Versatile system

With four channels (each of which can drive a 4–8 ohm speaker), you can power two double speakers, but if you need more than this, you’ll need additional hardware. You can do this by using the fibre-optic TOSLINK input and output to daisy-chain multiple BeoCreate boards together.

The BeoCrate can provide up to 180 W of power (via two 30 W and two 60 W outputs). This audio is fully controllable from a Raspberry Pi via a four-channel digital-to-analogue converter with sample rates up to 192 kHz. As it uses its own DAC, the sound quality is better than systems that rely on the audio coming directly from the Raspberry Pi’s audio out.

In addition to hardware, there’s a suite of Raspberry Pi software that allows you to play directly from AirPlay, Bluetooth, or Spotify, as well as upload configurations to the Digital Signal Processor (DSP) on the BeoCrate. You don’t have to use this software (or indeed, the Raspberry Pi), as the board can work as a standalone amplifier.

While you could probably put something similar together from other parts, the BeoCreate is the most versatile of the integrated high-end solutions we’ve seen. However, the downside of getting a fully integrated solution like this is that you may not need the full range of bits. For example, if you’ve already got an amplifier for your speakers, it will be far simpler and cheaper to add a Bluetooth or Spotify input than to rip out the entire electronics system and replace it with a BeoCreate.

BeoCreate is designed for upcycling old speakers, but we also think it’s a useful option for using as the basis of a homemade stereo. Pick your speakers, build your own housing, and you can add a BeoCreate and Raspberry Pi to create a custom sound system. The software behind it is open-source, so, for people who like fiddling with audio, there’s a lot of tinkering to be had. The DSP can be programmed over the network, so you can hack your sound settings without having to physically connect to the speakers. For those who prefer to listen to music than tweak endless audio settings, the defaults are good enough for most people, other than audio geeks.

Good sound

Both Bang & Olufsen and HifiBerry have a history of producing great audio products, so it should come as no surprise that the BeoCreate sounds great. We’re not an audio magazine so we’ll avoid using adjectives that are wholly inadequate at describing sound such as ‘open’ or ‘smooth’, but we were impressed with the sound quality. When matched with good speakers, the BeoCreate can fill a room with clear, clean sound (or Guns N’ Roses if you prefer).

There are a wide range of high-quality speakers sitting in lofts and cupboards around the world. Many of them have made their way onto internet auction sites, and many can still produce high-quality audio. Not only is this a great way of hacking together your own high-quality speakers, it’s a great way of keeping this old gear out of landfills.

Verdict

A powerful and high-quality amplifier and control board for wireless speaker projects, with a price tag to match.

9/10

More features from HackSpace magazine

Subscribe