Scandinavian elegance in tech design isn't a new phenomenon, a quick peek into a Bang & Olufsen store will demonstrate that - and Danish audio startup Libratone will be hoping to tap into the trusted formula with its début speaker - the Libratone Beat.
The Beat is a simply stunning looking piece of kit. Standing at 47cm high, with a width of 19.5cm, a depth of 15cm, and with a curved-triangular disposition all wrapped in Italian wool (on the cheaper grey variation), or cashmere if you prefer (for the pricier vanilla beige, blood orange, or black variations) and a sturdy looking chrome handle, the Beat looks more like a exhibit at a modern art gallery than a speaker.
It takes minimalism to the extreme as well. Don't expect to see a wealth of ports on the Beat - there is just the one, a 3.5mm aux-in, that its makers would prefer you didn't use anyway. And that's because it sees wireless playback as its strong point. In the box you'll find two wireless adapters, one for the 30-pin Apple iDevice dock connector and also a standard USB one too, that will chuck your tunes over to the Beat via a 2.4GHz connection. There's also a modified USB lead that lets you charge your iPod, iPhone or iPad whilst still transmitting your tunes.
Along with the one port, you'll find an on/off switch on the back and a white illuminated button on the top, up front, which is the only button you'll (rarely) need. One tap of the button when initially setting-up changes it from red to white when it's matched with a device (it takes less than a second) and it changes to orange if you tap twice to scan for additional devices (you can pair up Libratone speakers as well).
It's all well and good looking great and being easy to use but, as this is a speaker we're reviewing here and not a lamp, it's crucial that we discuss the most important aspect - how well it performs.
And, you won't be disappointed to hear that it performs really well. Although you may be disappointed to hear that the performance perhaps doesn't match the aesthetic beauty of the Beat. Sure, it sounds crisp, full, and fills a room quite well - but it doesn't quite kick on and take our breath away quite as much as say, the B&W Zeppelin does.
But that's not to say this isn't a high-end single speaker, because it is. In terms of drive units it packs in one 5-inch bass speaker, two 3-inch drivers for the midrange and two 1-inch ribbon-based tweeters. It has an amplified power output of 50W bass and two 25W tweeter/midrange with a frequency range of -6dB at 50Hz and -3dB at 20.000Hz. Its max output is 100dB SPL/1m.
But it's the “Full Room acoustic technology” that its makers are most proud of. Libratone states that “the tweeters and midrange drivers disperse sound in different directions, reflecting it off the walls, providing 360 degree sound”. In theory this sounds great – but does it actually work? The answer is yes … but only sort of.
You need to position the speaker around 20cm from a wall to get the best room filling sound, and it doesn't really like corners - so take that into account before buying a Beat. But, after some fiddling, it's quite a satisfying sound when you do finally find the optimum position for the speaker. It's not exactly room filling, you can still tell the sound is coming from one place (but most high-end docks are guilty of this) but it is a nice, full sound that holds back the deep bass enough to let the treble come through. If you're not happy with the sound, you'll need to tweak the EQ settings on the device you're playing back from as the Beat has no adjustable settings itself.
Ultimately, the price-tag has to play a part when deciding how to rate the Libratone Beat. Sure, it's an absolutely looking stunning piece of audio tech, and it does perform bloomin' well but you're going have to part with £550 to get one into your living room (not in a corner, and 20cm from the wall, of course).
So, is it worth the money? That kind of depends on what you're after. If you're looking for a high-end single speaker solution, or a replacement for your old iPod dock then definitely. The Libratone Beat is a minimum fuss machine that has brilliant audio quality on board. But, if you're looking for a multi-speaker solution, and you think that the Beat will suffice, then think again. The room filling technology is good, really good in fact, but it still isn't enough to convince you that the sound is firing in from all angles.
In short, the Libratone Beat is one of the sexiest, easy to use single speakers that we've come across - with excellent playback too. But it is just that, a single speaker - so consider what you want before parting with your readies.