Behind the oh-so-fancy grill of the Libratone Lounge is a pretty traditional speaker arrangement. At each end are two 2in mid-range drivers, with a 1in tweeter above them, effectively mimicking what you'd get put placing two bookshelf speakers about 80cm apart. In the centre is an 8in bass driver
What the Lounge effectively does is to jam together two bookshelf or large satellite speakers and a subwoofer. It's not doing so in a 1m-wide slab of wood that concerns us so much as the 12cm depth, which doesn't give as much sound for the bass driver's output to ruminate as a standard sub would. Subwoofers aren't large just so that they look powerful and impressive, you know.
The arrangement also tells you that this is strictly a stereo system, not a soundbar that tries to recreate 5.1 surround sound in a single box. Libratone does try to get around this, though, by claiming that if offers "360 degree" sound. Clever wording here stops the manufacturer from getting into any hot water about false claims, because it's merely talking about wide dispersal of stereo audio. However, we imagine several buyers lured into an ultra-fashionable boutique selling the thing might be confused by this, which is a shame.
While it's a good stylistic companion to a great big flat-screen TV, the 2.1 speaker setup ensures it isn't the perfect partner to films - more on how well it copes sonically later. It works wonderfully with an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, though. Airplay is very easy to use, transmitting over your home broadband connection, while you can switch between Airplay and the 3.5mm/SPDIF input using the button on the top right of the unit - the only physical control on the device.
Libratone offers an iOS app that lets you optimise the sound for your room. You tell it how far the Lounge is from the back wall, and how high up it is positioned and it tailors the sound accordingly. This is a very neat feature, but shouldn't be overestimated. Bass levels can be optimised, but the positioning of the speakers does not change when doing this - and it's much easier to perfect a 3-speaker setup than the 6-speaker array you get with a 5.1 system. And, of course, no amount of tweaking will turn poor sound into great sound, if the Lounge can't provide the goods…