- Lossless audio on the move
- Stylish, customisable design
- Short battery life over WiFi
- Bass overwhelms treble
- Extremely expensive
- Review Price: £329.00
- 60W 2.1 speaker arrangement
- Up to 9 hours battery life
- AirPlay & DirectPlay lossless streaming
- Dedicated iOS configuration app
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?
Libratone Zipp Design
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.
Libratone Zipp Features
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.
Libratone Zipp Performance
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.
Libratone Zipp Performance
That said, while we were impressed with the Libratone Zipp’s performance, it didn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. As mentioned bass performance is excellent and provides a warm, satisfying undercurrent particularly to bass heavy tracks, but it does so at the expense of the treble and a significant amount of detail is lost. This is less noticeable outside where sound quality is compromised anyway, but indoors it detracts from the Zipp’s ability to be your main dock.
In addition for all its acoustic might, the Libratone Zipp isn’t actually that loud. We suspect this is because Libratone has curtailed the maximum volume to avoid distortion and the Zipp is indeed distortion free, but it can be drowned out by the 15W, 424g Pasce Minirig which also offers far more detail. The Zipp has more bass than the Minirig, but the greater high frequency treble performance actually makes the Minirig carry further outdoors.
As for battery life the Libratone Zipp is good, but not great. Libratone quotes up to eight hours, but we found this was achievable only when connected via the 3.5mm jack. When connected via AirPlay we achieved just four hours – not enough for a full day out in the park – and we suspect this would drop further had we had it at maximum volume the entire time. In addition, while the Libratone Zipp has a battery indicator it shows just full charge with a green light and low battery (under 10 per cent charge) with a red light which isn’t overly reassuring. By contrast the aforementioned Minirig lasts for up to 60 hours or nine hours at maximum volume with a graduated battery indicator, but it lacks any form of wireless connectivity.
Libratone Zipp Value
All of which brings us back to the question we posed at the start of this review: is the Libratone Zipp worth £329. This is simultaneously an easy and difficult question to answer. On the one hand the Libratone Zipp is a beautifully styled portable speaker that can do just about everything and it has superb bass performance. In fact there is no portable speaker on the market that can currently match its functionality so if its needs match yours there is no other choice.
That said the Libratone Zipp isn’t actually as loud as you would imagine, its battery life is mediocre and that powerful bass reproduction actually overwhelms a little too much of the detail in the high end. Furthermore for £329 you can buy a brilliant dedicated dock like the Monitor Audio i-deck 200 (now selling for a bonkers £150), buy a £90 Pasce Minirig for out and about and still pocket £90. In fact you can buy two Minirigs and pair them together for a bombastic listening experience wherever you are.
Libratone Zipp Verdict
In many ways the Libratone Zipp is a triumph. Libratone has reinforced its superb design credentials with a beautifully styled product that combines AirPlay with lossless wireless audio on the move and its 2.1 driver arrangement is unique in a speaker of this size. Then again you are paying a huge premium for these achievements and arguably lossless audio isn’t worth it for a speaker whose bass overwhelms detail in the higher frequencies, especially when it badly affects battery life. As such this potentially revolutionary product comes up a little short both at home and on the move. It’s a flawed genius.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7