You’ve probably seen Libratone’s speakers on display in Apple’s retail stores. They’re the visually striking, fabric-covered things that look like little sculptures.
The Danish company’s lineup of AirPlay wireless speakers offer a big sound with a decidedly Euro-upscale styling — and a very high price to match. The Libratone Live ($700) and the Libratone Lounge ($1,300) arrived first, and now the company brings us the $400 Zipp. It’s clear from my testing that it’s a very nice-sounding speaker, but that several concessions went into the design that make it slightly less capable than its competitors. Still, it has enough exceptional qualities to recommend it, but only if you’re OK with the high cost.
Like several newer AirPlay devices currently making the rounds, the Zipp features a way to connect directly to the speaker from an iOS device, much like a Bluetooth speaker. Normally, AirPlay requires that both your source device and your speaker be connected to the same larger Wi-Fi network. But this doesn’t work very well at the beach, the park or anywhere without Wi-Fi, and since the Zipp speaker has a battery that makes it portable, it wouldn’t be much fun without some sort of direct-connect capability.
Libratone’s implementation is called “PlayDirect,” and it involves pressing a button on the Zipp, then linking your device directly to the speaker over an ad hoc Wi-Fi connection. While it has the advantage of keeping audio quality from being lost in the transfer of sound to the speaker (like what happens with Bluetooth), you pay the price of losing your Wi-Fi network connection.
So the sound is solid, standard AirPlay operation is as simple as it comes, the PlayDirect stuff isn’t too complicated, and it’s very pleasant to look at. All good, but not cheap. If you’re looking for a portable AirPlay speaker, it would be difficult (but not impossible) to find something that sounds this good for under $400. But if you’re not an absolute stickler for audio fidelity, you’d be better off going with Bluetooth and buying something like the $300 Big Jambox, which sounds almost as good, works with any OS and doesn’t require any extra dance steps to get a connection working outside the home.
Also, keep in mind that AirPlay still isn’t perfect. During my testing of the Zipp, it was hard to ignore the two- to three-second delay between pressing a button on my iPhone’s screen and the playback responding. That precious gap can be a mood killer, and it’s a problem that Bluetooth speakers don’t have.