The Libratone Loop is a stylish wireless speaker designed for Apple devices like iPhones, iPads and iPods. Aside from looking terribly trendy in a slightly Scandanavian way thanks to its colourful furry coat, it also tries to take up as little space as possible.
The Libratone Loop looks like a giant furry dinner plate, a mossy UFO or a little version of the £1700 B&O A9, depending on how you look at the world. This is every bit the lifestyle-focused wireless speaker. It can be a conversation piece or can melt into the background depending on where you put it, and which cover you choose.
The speaker uses furry woollen coats that are used across the Libratone speaker range. You can dress the Libratone Loop up in grey, black and red garb (only one is included), and they cover the whole front of the speaker bar the Libratone button. It's a bold design, but we like it.
The Libratone Loop is possibly the most eye-catching speaker Libratone has produced, by virtue of its circular design. To give you an idea of whether it'll fit into your living room, the Loop is about 35cm high and – here's the important bit – just 15cm deep including its stand. There's no rear-firing port either (that hole on the back is a handle), so you can place the speaker more-or-less wherever you like (ports generally need to sit a little way back from walls.)
To keep the dish upright, the Libratone uses a plug-in leg that acts as a stand, tilting the Loop back at a light angle. There's no control over this angle, but a mild upward angle will suit most likely situations.
You can also wall-mount the Libratone Loop. And it'd look dead classy, like, on the wall of a minimalist, outrageously expensive city flat.
Libratone doesn't just care about looks, though. It has also put some effort into making the Loop easy to use.
Plug an Apple device into the USB port on the back, press a pair of buttons on the rear and you'll be able to share the device's internet connection with the speaker. From then on you'll be able to transmit audio to the Libratone Loop using AirPlay. Setup is unusually pain-free.
All the booklets in the Loop's box assume you're using an Apple device, but you can use others too. PlayDirect (Wi-Fi Direct, more or less) and DLNA support mean you can use Android devices as well, or even computers. However, ease of use is most notable when using an Apple phone or tablet.
Want to plug in your ancient MiniDisc player or turntable? The Libratone Loop also has a 3.5mm jack input on its back.
Features and design both get the thumbs-up, but how on earth is Libratone going to make such a slim speaker sound like it should cost £400?
The Libratone Loop uses a very interesting and unusual array of drivers, visible if you disrobe the speaker of its woollen cloak. They're all covered by plastic speaker grilles, ensuring they won't be destroyed following their first encounter with a toddler.
Right in the centre of the Libratone Loop is a 4-inch paper cone driver. This is the boring one, a standard mid-range driver.
What's above and to the sides of it is far more interesting. There are ribbon tweeters to each side, and a large oval-shaped passive radiator up top.
Ribbon tweeters are extremely rare in speakers like this, generally used in high-end, entirely non lounge-friendly speakers. And the passive radiator is what lets the Libratone Loop be as thin as it is without offering the bass response of a newborn baby's giggle.
The tweeters are the best bit of this speaker. The Libratone Loop's treble extension is excellent, with oodles of top-end detail without sounding too harsh as a result. Libratone has placed the tweeters at opposite ends of the circle to give as much stereo separation as possible, but this is more-or-less a mono speaker.
If you don't like your speakers bright-sounding, though, you may not like the Loop's sound signature. And it offers a pretty weak mid-range compared to the impressive treble fidelity. It's not the most lush and full-sounding speaker you can get at the price, not by a long shot.
From a surface-level perspective, the passive radiator does give the Libratone Loop great bass impact given the speaker's size. A passive radiator is a speaker cone driven not by the amplifier but by the air flow of the cabinet produced by the active drivers. Its job in a speaker like this is to add bulk that would otherwise be impossible given the volume of the speaker box.
We were fairly impressed by the wallop it can produce, but there's a serious issue we've encountered with other space-frugal speakers like this – distortion. At mid-level volumes and up, energetic music causes the passive driver to distort, producing a buzzing sound. It's down to the passive radiator being insufficiently dampened.
As much as we like the Libratone Loop's sound in other respects, this isn't really acceptable in a £400 speaker.
The Libratone Loop is a good-looking, surprisingly flexible speaker that's among the easier-to-use wireless units. Its top-notch ribbon tweeters supply it with a bright, seriously detailed sound that fits in well with the polite, refined sound of the previous Libratones we've listened to.
However, the distortion caused by the passive radiator means you should probably rule it out is you're going to listen to music loud. Do we still want one? Yes. Would we pay £400 for one? Probably not.
Read our round-up of the best wireless speakers
The Libratone Loop is a lifestyle speaker that will look and sound good in a lounge. However, its inability to deliver music distortion-free at high volumes mean it's sadly not the perfect hi-fi-replacer – close as it might get.