You must have a PhD to understand the technical side to these speakers - so I'll limit the context of this post to their practical differences.
To begin with, I don't think the comparison Beoplay M5 vs Beolit 20 makes sense, but since I'm asked about it a lot lately I'll do my best to explain.
The reason I don't think it makes sense is because they have completely different intended uses:
- Beoplay M5 is a home/stationary speaker. For single room use, it's one of my top B&O home speakers as I also clarified in here.
- Beolit 20 is a portable speaker with nearly 8 hours of battery life (assuming full-on listening) and 2.5 - 3.5 hours of charging time.
This is what your decision should 100% be based on. Portable vs stationary. Because, as you see, they are NOT the alternatives of one another.
Keep this in mind as you read further.
Sound quality, strength and propagation
Let me tell you something right off the bat.
The sound quality performance you'll end up getting from a speaker will always depend on your room acoustics - particularly room dimensions and speaker positions.
The impact of the combination of these two is actually so strong that in most cases, it doesn't even make sense to utter a single word on sound quality without speaking of them.
This is also why it's not unusual to see completely different reviews of the same speaker.
In one case the speaker might be placed in a sweet spot inside the room and hence the user might be satisfied. In other cases the same speaker might be ill placed and hence user might even have returned it.
The point most people miss here is that it mostly isn't even about the engineering behind the speaker itself. It's about where you place the speaker inside which room.
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So, in order to solve this problem, I've partnered with an Acoustics and Audio Engineering PhD and created Soundton - a simple, 2D, browser accessible online speaker placement calculator.
With Soundton, now there's a way to figure the sound quality of most speakers before you buy them.
Read more about its working principles at soundton.com.
The end colormap provides you the locations with the best (green) and worst (red) acoustics.
ASAP Science also made a video on the loudest and quietest rooms in the world. A mind blowing example of the importance of acoustics (play time adjusted video below).
Other parameters such as the age/materials of the building, the furniture & carpets in place, etc can and will, of course, have an effect on room acoustics, too. But it's much less compared to other parameters mentioned above.
Also, while you're at it, blast my Hidden Electronic Gems list to test the speakers:
Huge size (23 H x 18.9 W x 13.5 D cm - 9.1 H x 7.4 W x 5.3 D inches) of Beolit 20 allows placing more drivers & amplifiers of various sizes and hence enables high sound quality.
Beoplay M5, on the other hand, still offers 2 more amplifiers - which is enough to make a noticeable difference with the sound quality.
1 x 40W class D for the woofer (160W peak power)
1 x 30W class D for the mid range (120W peak power)
1 x 30W class D for the front tweeter (120W peak power)
1 x 30W class D for rear tweeters (60W peak power)
2 x 35W class D for bass and treble (240W peak power)
37 - 22.000 Hz
37 - 20.000 Hz
1 x 5” woofer
1 x 1.5” midrange
3 x 3⁄4” tweeters
1 x 5.5” long-stroke Wideband Woofer
2 x 4” Passive Bass Radiators
3 x 1,5” Wideband Tweeters
96 dB SPL
93 dB SPL
79 dB SPL
77 dB SPL
One of the things I and many others admire the most about the Beoplay M5 is that it offers the highest sound quality - particularly at aggressively high/low bass and aggressively high/low volumes.
Sound remains clean in every setting. You can hear each instrument clearly. It's quite a bit pleasant in your ears.
You'd expect the speakers like this to hold back on the loudness department but that's far from reality with the Beoplay M5.
It fills the bill for even relatively large sized (say, 50 square meters) rooms without a hitch.
Beolit 20 is weaker than the Beoplay M5 in this department, but not by a huge amount. The fact that its sound quality distorts and levels at aggressively high/low volumes is more noticeable and restrictive than its loudness.
Speaking of which, true 360 degree sound design of both products help a lot with their strengths.
Because they're able to propagate the sound equally in each direction when they're positioning in the room is closer to the center.
To be honest, Beolit 20 isn't really 360 degree, but more like 300-330 degree. If you're going to be listening to the audio in a full circle (which I'd doubt), this might be a problem. Beoplay M5, on the other hand, is truly 360 degree.
Lastly, it's possible to introduce their positioning into both speakers: corner, wall or center (freestanding). It'll then do its magic and adjust the audio accordingly.
You can't take Beoplay M5 out with you even just for once. It doesn't have an internal battery and hence requires consistent power all the time.
Beolit 20 is portable - but it's still huge. Meaning that you can simply just put it in your bag and forget about it. You're going to have to haul it.
Ease of use
Beoplay M5 is slick. Tap it to let Beoplay M5 join other speakers playing in your home. Simply turn it to adjust the volume.
Beolit 20, on the other hand, uses a simpler but not less effective method: Buttons.
Unlike Beoplay M5, since Beolit 20 isn't a Wi-Fi speaker, it lacks the ability to connect other speakers in your home.