Lots of great things come out of Denmark. Lego, red cattle, famous chefs, and now wool-covered Bluetooth soundbars. That last one is exactly what Diva, the all-in-one speaker system with a woollen jacket by Danish audio manufacturer Libratone, is all about.
We've seen Libratone products before in various guises: from the circular free-standing Loop, to the portable Zipp, but the Diva is the biggest and boldest design of the bunch.
But just because this Bluetooth system has a cutesy coat - and even a colourful one, depending on which option one you pick - does it produce the quality audio goods? We've been using the Libratone Diva for over a month to find out.
Bang & Olufsen, perhaps the best known Danish audio manufacturer, produce products that are as much about aesthetic elegance as they are about audio excellence. Libratone doesn't quite achieve the same lofty high in terms of its design choices, but the equivalent smaller price tag of its products put the company into a relative position.
Besides, B&O doesn't utilise wool, which is Libratone's key sell, and the material which gives the Diva its distinctive look. In its signature pepper black, as shown in this review, we actually find the overall colour more mute than the various other colour options on offer. Yellows, reds, blues, purples - with all manner of nuanced descriptive names - are available to add a lick of colour to that woollen jacket.
To the rear, however, all the products look the same, featuring a large white plastic surface which, fortunately, remains largely out of sight. It's not made of Lego, mind, but that thick plastic doesn't feel all too far from it. By comparison, the far more straight-edged Dali Kubik One design - a device which, at £800, costs £150 more than the Diva - gives a far more sturdy, rigid look.
Like the Libratone Loop, which we reviewed 18 months ago, the Diva has the same circular four-way power and volume controller to the front, which is also plasticky and you'll spot from a mile off. It features the Libratone bird emblem within, but, again, we think the company could have made this look more elegant overall - the same criticism we had with about the Loop.
But, to bring things back to order again, there's that wool. Lots of lovely wool. And there needs to be to cover the 98.8cm width and 15.8cm height of the Diva. Complete with prominent, stylised stitching towards the edges to give an extra point of interest, there are glimmers of design wonders that, overall, make the Diva look rather lovely.
A stand is included, which easily pops into place, but if you want to hang the Diva on the wall then there are removable sections which can be removed and ported with a screw-in mount. But don't forget this is a mains-powered device, so you'll have to think where the power cable goes.
One thing the Libratone Loop lacked was Bluetooth, which we sorely missed when reviewing that product in 2013. The Diva, though, has no such issue: whether you want to pair via Bluetooth, or use Wi-Fi for DLNA or AirPlay connections then you can.
When we first received the Diva it wasn't out in the shops. Half way into our first month of listening we were prompted to follow various instructions - courtesy of Libratone, and something that customers won't need to do - to get the latest firmware installed, including up to date software.
Now that may all sound rather boring, but in its latest guise the software makes setting up the various Wi-Fi protocols far easier. There's no more going into a browser window and banging out an elongated series of numbers to get devices to talk to one another. The pop-up window when pairing with a computer makes connectivity easy to handle. There's also a dedicated app for iOS and Android (although our Android one won't update for some reason) for direct output.
We've been using Bluetooth from Android smartphones, AirPlay from a MacBook Pro, and Bluetooth from a MacBook air to deliver tunes to the Diva. The ability to use Bluetooth - which is aptX CD-quality grade - leaps over a huge hurdle we had with the earlier Loop: we can now get certain browser-based and standalone applications to sync audio when that wasn't feasible before. Yay.
Physical connections to the rear of the Diva include a 3.5mm jack input, optical input and a USB port. That, plus the two Wi-Fi/Bluetooth control buttons and power in, is your lot. Nice and simple.
So how does the Libratone Loop sound? This woolly mammoth has got depth, with an abundance of stomping bass springing from the 75W bass driver, alongside two 50W drivers catering for a clatter-free stereo mid-section. It's great for all kinds of music.
There's a lot of high-end output from the two 25W tweeters, though, which gives a prominent separation of such frequencies; perhaps a little too separate from the overall sound design for some musical genres.
But crank up the volume and the Libratone Diva really does sing, with all the frequencies aligning into a whole for a powerful listening experience - assuming you have the product positioned at a sensible ear level. We've been literally making the floor shake in our house - sorry neighbours - listening to bass-laden tracks the forthcoming Skynet album Global Mind.
Swapping the channel over for live acoustic sessions and the Diva really shows its worth: rich vocals don't get lost in among a 10-piece ensemble for Daughter's performance of If You Leave live at Air Studios, with numerous other similar examples also excelling when output through is soundbar.
We would like some on-device bass and treble controls - even crude ones, like the Dali Kubik One features - as there's no equalisation control from some output sources, whereas others, such as iTunes, have independent user-adjustable ones to refine adjustments to suit. A few tweaks here and there will make all the difference, depending on what you listen to.
The Libratone Diva sells itself on being different from other soundbars out there. How many other products in the tech world are encased in wool? Yep, keep on thinking.
With the latest software installed and the addition of Bluetooth wireless connectivity, the Diva is a definite step ahead of the earlier Loop speaker which we saw at the tail-end of 2013. It's easy to use and pair with various devices, whether wired or wireless.
There are only a few possible downsides: first, the plasticky finish won't compare to some rivals; second, some music is delivered with over-enthusiastic top-end; lastly there's the £649 asking price, which makes the Diva slightly more expensive than its Sonos competitor, but a little less cash than the better-built Dali Kubik One.
But all that is by the by when you pop your favourite tunes on, sit back, and enjoy. There's lots of volume, lots of depth and, but of course, lots of wool. The Libratone Diva will wrap you up in an acoustic jacket as comfy as its woollen one.