After years of neglect, competition in the portable speaker market is finally picking up with credible choices across a range of budgets. Now joining the ranks at the top end is premium Danish speaker manufacturer Libratone and it has high hopes of wooing those with a little more cash to spend.
Its weapon of choice is the Libratone Zipp, a device which continues the shrinking theme that has seen Libratone follow up its debut product, the home cinema focused Libratone Lounge, with the Libratone Live AirPlay speaker. At £329 the Zipp costs as much as, if not more than, some extremely accomplished docks so what justifies the significant outlay?
The first thing that will catch your eye is how the Libratone Zipp looks. Combining wool with a Pringles tube may not sound like a wise idea, but somehow Libratone pulls it off and the 260 x 102mm, 1.8Kg design is both stylish and different. Interestingly its "handpicked wool from Italy" covers are interchangeable too with Libratone shipping black, yellow and red covers in the box with further shades (grey, pink, purple, green and blue) available online. Build quality is also superb, so if you want a portable speaker that stands out this is it.
Beyond looks, however, the Libratone Zipp is also a smarty pants. Its headline feature is 'PlayDirect' Libratone's adaption of AirPlay which allows the Zipp to be used on the move, freeing it from the usual constraint of your Wi-Fi network. Libratone achieves this by equipping the Zipp with its own Wi-Fi signal and the result is a portable, lossless streaming standard without the need for dongles. At present you do need to manually add proxy settings to allow your iDevice to use 3G when connected via DirectPlay, but it is clearly explained in a standalone page in the box and takes minutes to setup. It only needs to be done once. The Libratone Zipp can also switch to standard AirPlay with buttons for it and PlayDirect cleverly hidden behind the leather carry handle. The switchover takes about 10-15 seconds. The handle also hides a battery indicator, 3.5mm jack and USB port which can be used for charging devices on the go.
On paper this has the potential to make the Libratone Zipp the ideal device. It can charge like a dock without the bulky connector, it does AirPlay and it also offers lossless streaming on the move. Furthermore this flexibility makes the Zipp a doddle to setup – just connect to its Wi-Fi network – and Libratone also offers an app which will both configure AirPlay and let you adjust the sound between seven presets and even tweak output for its position in a room.
All of which means the Libratone Zipp has the style and functionality to succeed, so what of its performance? By default the Zipp pacts a surprising amount of bass. Unlike most portable speakers which use passive bass radiators to conjure the low end, the Libratone Zipp has managed to squeeze in an active bass driver creating a mini 2.1 system. This is capable of outputting up to 60W or 96dB at a sound pressure level (SPL) of one metre (aka when you're within one metre of the device).
Furthermore the Libratone Zipp's projection of sound is good as Libratone has used the tubular design to angle the tweeters and midrange drivers to fire in different directions. Libratone dubs this 'FullRoom'. The downside is Fullroom somewhat muddles the left and right stereo channels, but given most portable speakers offer little-to-no separation this isn't a huge compromise. It wipes the floor with the disappointing Jawbone Big Jambox.