The Libratone Lounge is not a cheap speaker. It costs more than a thousand pounds, which is twice the price of the B&W Zeppelin Air and Arcam rCube, and around £400 more than the rather special Philips Fidelio DS9800. A grand is also enough money to buy an entry-level home cinema receiver and a decent speaker package, such as the Jamo S426. You could also buy 4425 Chomp bars. Yes, we're going on a bit, but you really have to care about the looks of the Libratone Lounge to make the price remotely digestible.
The sound you get for that price is, like the design, eminently tasteful. It's refined, balanced, detailed and sweet-sounding. The Lounge can tackle music that would cause harshness in lesser systems thanks to the impressive resolution of its high-end.
With classical and singer-songwriter type fare, it sounds musical and insightful. However, it's not perfect across the board. The Lounge doesn't offer a particularly powerful sound - the bass is reserved and measured, which is fine, but it can't make rock and electronic music sound exciting or aggressive. Perhaps it's just too well brought-up - too dedicated to elegance for its own good.
We also found that the maximum volume wasn't quite loud enough for our tastes. It will fill large rooms, but it can't blast out tunes at the ear-splitting volumes a proper Hi-Fi can muster. For normal listening, it's no problem, but if you live in a detached house and like to hold raucous parties, those Libratone Lounge manners may start to annoy. The sound also lacks scale compared to other systems you could get for around half the price.
It's likely, in part, because of the size of the speaker unit. While the drivers themselves are large enough, there's little speaker cabinet space here compared with less lifestyle-oriented speakers.
Libratone's claim of 360-degree sound isn't pure hokum, though. The Lounge uses standard cone speakers for its main drivers. These are usually very positional, but you can listen to this soundbar from a pretty extreme angle without the sound suffering significantly. The stereo image starts to break up when you get very close to the Lounge - a metre or less - but this is to be expected when the mid-range drivers are the best part of a metre apart.
The Libratone Lounge succeeds in several very important respects. It looks great, it's very well-made and it's utterly convenient in both its sound dispersion and overall usability. However, you are paying for this ease and style as much as you are the sound. For a thousand pounds, you can get a much bigger-sounding system.
If you're not going to tax the Lounge with much more than soothing Norah Jones tracks and Chillout Classics 2010, this is a nigh-on perfect partner. If you want it to rock hard occasionally, or shake the walls from time to time, you may be a little disappointed. Unless you fall in love with its looks, there are much better-value options out there - but we don't deny this is a lifestyle system worth listening to.
The Libratone Lounge is one of the most impressive-looking Airplay devices we've seen. It's big, but elegant too. And it has a sound to match - refined, elegant and detailed. However, it can't provide the clout and volume other cheaper audio solutions offer. If looks and convenience are of top importance, the Lounge remains very desirable. But £1099 can go a very long way if you're willing to compromise a little on either of these factors.