As you might expect for such an outlay, the Libratone Live doesn't sound like any ordinary dock. It matches the Lounge's 150W power and is comprised of five dedicated amps powering a 5in bass unit, a pair of 3in midrange drivers and a pair of 1in ribbon-based tweeters. These are arranged around the Live's triangular circumference to maximise dispersion and create a wide, room filling sound. Unsurprisingly Libratone dubs this FullRoom, the notion being sound waves are sent in multiple directions so they reflect off all walls and eliminate the need for a sweet spot.
The company then goes a step further with a free Libratone app (currently available for Android and iOS) which allows FullRoom to be tweaked depending on position (Neutral, Shelf/Table, Floor) and precise distances entered for its distance from surrounding walls. In addition different 'Voicing' (think graphic equalisers) can be applied from 'Neutral', 'Soft and comfortable' and 'Easy Listening' to 'Rouse the House', 'Jazz club', 'Movie Time' and 'Live concert'. Each has a helpful description explaining what it provides: Rock the house, for example, means "extra drum kick - smooth midrange". The app also acts as a remote control (no remote is supplied) and for applying firmware updates. Libratone has Mac and PC software in the works.
We like the theory and the reality is excellent too. The Live goes after established high end docks like the Zeppelin Air and Arcam rCube and it is right at home in this company. Audio reproduction is clean and precise, there is plenty of kick to the bass and easily enough volume to fill a large room. Tweaking the voicing does make a difference and the Live is equally comfortable playing hip hop, heavy metal, dance or classical music. Sound also holds together at maximum volume, though it compromises a touch of bass to achieve this. Combine with the small footprint and unique styling and Libratone appears to have hit a home run.
Except it hasn't. For all the talk of FullRoom, we found sound separation to be lacking. The Live certainly does fill a room and Libratone is right that it reduces (if not totally eliminates) the need for a sweet spot, but there isn't as strong a sense of stereo separation as we'd like. This is a fault shared by the Zeppelin Air, but B&W's dock is louder (despite the same 150W rating) while the rCube excels at sound separation and matches the Live's volume (despite being rated at 90W). Furthermore both the Air and rCube have wireless streaming, work as docks as well as speakers, come with remote controls and the rCube has a built in battery for up to eight hours of playback. With a £599 base price the Live is also £100 more than the Air and £250 more than the rCube.
The Libratone Live is a beautifully styled and refreshingly different AirPlay speaker. Its AirPlay setup is the most intuitive we've seen, its smartphone app is well featured and sound quality is clear, loud and successfully lives up to the billing of Libratone's 'FullRoom' audio technology. Where there are problems are the lack of features and high price. £599 (£699 with cashmere wool) makes the Live overpriced compared to equally competent, better value and more functional rivals like the Zeppelin Air, Arcam rCube and Soundfreaq Sound Stack. Despite this we are loathe to write-off the Live. It is an excellent speaker and those who can afford the outlay in order to chase a design aesthetic without sacrificing audio quality will be thrilled.