There will be wireless speakers in the future. Whether they will use DLNA, AirPlay, or Bluetooth isn't certain — none of those technologies are quite perfect yet. But some, like Libratone's new Zipp AirPlay speaker, are very close. And it's better the previous Libratone Live in nearly every way.
What Is It?
A $499.95 battery-powered AirPlay speaker that can connect to phones without the need for a separate Wi-Fi network.
Who's It For?
People who want to stream music from a good-looking object at home.
A cylinder wrapped in a coarse wool jacket, which allows the soundwaves to pass through unmuffled. I wouldn't hide it behind a plant — even in spite of its shiny plastic top.
You turn it on, press a single button, wait a few seconds — or 30 — and the speaker creates its own Wi-Fi hotspot. Then, you connect wirelessly.
The Best Part
Pairing without a router. Listening to music at home or in the yard. And having it sound fantastic.
When you use the Play Direct feature — in which it creates its own Wi-Fi network — the Libratone's wireless mode takes over an iPhone's Wi-Fi network and shuts down its 3G radio. That means you can't stream anything from a service like Spotify or iCloud, nor can you really use your phone for anything remotely internetty while you're pushing audio from it. This isn't Libratone's fault — if Apple enables that 3G+Wi-Fi feature it's screwing around with, problem solved. And if you're within range of your wi-fi network, this is a moot point anyway.
The worst thing by far though is the price. The Australia Tax on the Libratone Zipp is nothing short of absurd. If you want the red model in the US, you'll pay $US300, but if you want to pick one up in the land down under, you can expect to pay $499.95. A whole $199.95 extra on the sticker. Even if you give it a bit of leeway for local taxes and shipping, it's still cheaper to get it from the US.
This Is Weird...
Strangely fussy when connecting to my Time Capsule router. It wouldn't connect to my home network using the iPhone app. There's a wonderful feature that allows you to plug in your iPhone via USB, and transfer over network settings — even then, the damn thing still wouldn't work. I had to put the speaker into a manual setup mode and connect via PC web browser. And this is a product designed to work with other Apple products. That said, it worked fine with other routers.
- Used with an iPhone 4S and a MacBook Pro.
- Tested the DirectPlay, network AirPlay and wired audio options. Audio quality was more or less the same across the three.
- Connected to a Time Capsule router, and a more industrial-grade office router.
- The difference in sound quality with the jacket on or off was negligible. That's impressive, considering the thickness of the sleeve.
- The last Libratone Airplay speaker didn't sound nearly this good, which was possibly due to its triangluar design. However, the circular design of the Zipp has speakers arranged in a near 360-degree, omnidirectional configuration. It adds up to sound that is clear, detailed, and lively.
- It won't fill up a room with sound, and quality starts to take a nosedive when you crank up the volume, but this wasn't meant for more than a pretty small room anyway.
- Though portable, this is clearly not meant to be taken on the go. It's meant to be moved around the house.
- Jackets come in eight colours, ranging from neutral to garish.
Should You Buy It?
Yes. $US300 for an AirPlay speaker isn't all that bad (in our test of the best Airplay speakers, the prices ran $US400 to $US800). Plus, this one not only looks great, but sounds wonderful. If you're going to buy it though, have a look at how you might try and import it from the US, because the Australia Tax is a bit too much to bear.
Other major issues Libratone had last time around seem to have been worked out, and now the manufacturer is gunning for a wider audience. AirPlay speakers are likely a product Apple is going to push over speaker docks in the future, which makes this thing somewhat future-proof.
If you mostly use AirPlay speakers around the home (or in the backyard), the Libratone Zipp is definitely worth the extra cash. If you're someone who needs a speaker for the beach, or great outdoors, however, you might be better served by one of the best $100 Bluetooth speakers.
• Price: $499.95 • Speakers: 1x four-inch woofer, 2x one-inch ribbon tweeter • Power: 60W • Battery Life: Four-eight hours • Size: 25.9cm high, 12.2cm diameter • Weight: 1.81kg • Giz Rank: 4.0 stars