The more Apple fiddles around with its dock connector, the less iOS speaker manufacturers seem to care. The proof of the pudding is that there are far fewer dock-based audio systems sent our way compared to the enormous wave of Lightning-agnostic wireless speaker systems. That doesn’t mean that the likes of this Libratone Zipp here aren’t interested in the iFamily. On the contrary, they’ve just realised that AirPlay is a safer way to go.
The Zipp divided opinion on the looks front. Some love it as a fine example of modern design with the ergonomics and the contemporary colour palette to match. For others, it’s a big, felt log. It’s up to you what you make of it, really. It is very much as you see in our pictures - a good-sized, cylindrical, black cage which houses a 360-degree speaker array covered in a choice of different, zip-close, fuzzy material sleeves. It’s as much something that you could have sitting on the shelf between your Chris Keenan teapot and your vinyl collection as it is a gadget, and we suppose that’s rather the point.
What’s more, it also comes with that all-important leather strap attached to the top which indicates that this is a portable item, just in case you’d missed the point when you made your purchase, and it plays the part well. It’s not so heavy that it’s a chore, nor so light that you fear for its safety. The sleeves also add a fairly decent layer of protection from sand, mud, fag ash and a minor soaking from rogue flying mojito. It’s not rugged, but it will do.
Each box comes with three different colourways to alternate, and they’re certainly easy enough to zip on and off. Topped with a simple white platform and single big button with the Libratone bird symbol, you can rest assured that the company has done a decent job on the design front. Oh, and if you want to know where the controls are, there’s a small vertical panel just below the strap. Very neat.
AirPlay their way
The Libratone Zipp isn’t just an AirPlay speaker. Well, it is, but it’s a bit cleverer than that. While Apple’s wireless standard uses your Wi-Fi network to link up smoothly enough between your iThing and your audio unit, PlayDirect is Libratone’s “look Ma, no hands” approach, with the hands, in this case, being your router.
Much like the portable hotspot system on a smartphone, the Zipp can create its own little wireless network. Just search for the SSID Libratone on your iPad or iPhone, hit the AirPlay button on your music software and away you go. Naturally, it’s going to drain the juice a lot quicker with the Zipp broadcasting its own signal, but the 4-hour Wi-Fi battery life on this device is good enough that it’s not really an issue on a daily basis. Head off camping for a few nights and it’ll doubtless pack up by day two.
There’s a bit of jiggery-pokery when it comes to switching between standard AirPlay and PlayDirect and the Zipp didn’t quite make it once or twice during initial set-up but there’s an interesting language of light colours and flashes to tell you where it's at, and a comprehensive but compact enough set of instructions to decode them.
The only other connectivity of note is for those without AirPlay capabilities. There’s no wireless for them, just a 3.5mm input. You know the routine. The bottom line is that if you haven’t got an iPod, iPhone or iPad then you’re wasting your time and money by buying the Libratone Zipp.
What we liked most about the sound quality from the Libratone Zipp is its balance. It’s a 2.1 system consisting of a pair of 1-inch ribbon-based tweeters and a single 4-inch bass unit which, combined with Libratone’s FullRoom technology, mean that wherever you put this device, you’ll find yourself in a good place to appreciate the sound.
The Zipp is certainly powerful enough for a portable speaker; more so than some of the tiny units out there and just about enough to have yourself a reasonable one-room or open air party. The one thing we don’t like about it is that the quality of sound isn’t what it could be. As we say, it’s balanced but it’s rather like someone has taken all the excitement out of it. Just to be clear, this isn’t because we prefer the bottom-heavy Beats-type creations of latter day. We don’t. This is about a richness and warmth that isn’t quite there. The sound is clear and faithful but less than we’d expect from a £329.99 device.
Much of that cost, it seems, goes into the design, the connectivity and likely the licensing. While it’s money fairly well spent, the main reason to buy an audio device is for the audio, and it’s not an area where we wish to compromise; not when the hard dock or open Bluetooth competition at the same price offers more.
The Libratone Zipp is a great consumer device and just the kind of thing that those in the Apple community will enjoy. It looks great, it’s easy to use and the wireless functions and efficient battery life make it an incredibly practical portable music tool.
If you’re predominantly an Android or other system user, stay well away. The audio quality, while respectable, is not what one would hope for from a £329.99 device once you take away all that AirPlay accessibility.