This is an AirPlay speaker entry that sits itself firmly on the steeper side of the AirPlay speaker pricing spectrum. But does its hefty price of £599 in the UK and $700 in the USA translate an impressive AirPlay speaker?
The Libratone Live Speaker has an alluring, simplistic and warm design. Its triangular shape is very eye-catching and pleasant when placed anywhere upright or in landscape within a room. The main exterior comes in many optional hand stitched colours; slate grey, lime green, blueberry black, vanilla beige, and blood oranage wool fabrics, each of which is interchangeable. This exterior wool covering is the element that really reveals this speaker's distinguished look. The base of the unit has padding for grip and balance which serves its job on hard flooring, but we have found that it also rests gently on carpets, not causing damage and not leaving behind dense lines. On the front, one single button is positioned and one single switch and cable are situated on the rear. The uncomplicated idea that is AirPlay has been translated into the way the Libratone Live has been aesthetically designed and we admire this greatly.
As already briefly mentioned, the triangular design allows the speaker to lay on its side or upright. So it could be sat on a shelf big enough for its shape. Moving the speaker from one room to another isn’t much of a hassle due to its incorporated chrome handle which is positioned on the rear of the unit. It isn't particularly heavy and because one plug is all that's required for the speaker to function, it can be moved to different rooms and areas very easily. However, outdoors this isn't really an easy speaker to setup, with its need for external power and a Wi-Fi network, so the Libratone Zipp is much more suited for indoors.
The first setup process was far easier than we had originally anticipated. All we had to do was plug the Libratone Live into the mains and go to a specific local URL via a web browser for connecting to a computer, or download the iOS App for setup with an iOS device. Then we were required to name the speaker and choose which Wi-Fi network we'd like it to join. Once this had been completed the speaker will always join that network the next time it's turned on and is in range. At our studio we only have one network so this was ideal for us but those who have more than one network would find this slightly restrictive. This is because the user has to be using an AirPlay compatible device which currently includes the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Mac on the same connected network that the Libratone Live is on.
The Libratone Live also sports a feature called PlayDirect. This allows you to use the Live speaker without connecting it to a Wi-Fi network, it instead sends out its own Wi-Fi signal and you connect to it just like you would a network.
iOS devices allow all audio to be outputted via AirPlay, so videos, music and all Apps output their respective audio over AirPlay. However, using a Mac with OS X Lion installed only allows iTunes music to be streamed whereas those who use Mountain Lion can stream all audio over AirPlay. The concept of streaming over AirPlay is ridiculously easy, simply select the speaker you’d like the audio to play through and then it plays. In practice the Libratone Live works over AirPlay just as it's intended to, we have had no issues connecting to the speaker from any compatible device. Android users and users of other devices aren't missing out on the fun either, the Live supports the dlna interface too.
The range of AirPlay is defined by the router's and network's range. We have quite a vast eighty metre range and we can be playing music via an iPhone from practically one end of our studio to the other, and the iPhone is a device that is often moved around and kept within a pocket and maybe most importantly moved from room to room. The Libratone has consistently shown smooth playback with no interference or cutouts from our five months of constant usage using a raft of different devices. The technology has so many benefits over Bluetooth speakers, including its range and consistency of playback. But what really drives AirPlay to the front is the ability to switch the device outputting the audio within a few seconds. Friends and family can come over and play their music from their devices within a flash and that's exciting.
Adjusting audio volume and changing songs is snappy over AirPlay, and thank goodness as the Libratone Live has no physical buttons. It doesn’t feel or act any differently to playing audio through a 30 pin dock and this is something we place great importance in. Just because the technology is wireless doesn't excuse lagging.
Audio performance and quality is really very good. Are you getting £599/ $700 worth of audio? No, but it's not greatly undersold, you’re paying for the package of features incorporated with the audio. When it’s put like that it’s a more justifiable deal but not totally justified. Found within the Libratone Live are two tweeters, one bass and two midrange drivers. These all come together to create 150 watts of power and we can assure you that the audio can get crazy loud with no distortion and conveys a 360 degree audio experience due to the triangular shape. This assures any large room bursts with sound and that listeners can enjoy that sweet spot anywhere within it. The all-in-one approach does water down track separation, and stereo performance is also found lacking for our liking. But having said that a false blocky surround sound experience is definitely received.
The clarity of the overall audio is exceptional and the depth of bass is highly impressive. Playing mid-high acoustic tracks to deep punchy bass tracks displayed universal brilliance. Vocals, in particular, sound more energetic and larger than usual. It's a big sound that has its own reproduction style. Music of all genres are pleasurable to listen to from the speaker. And if you’re wondering if AirPlay compresses the audio? We can answer by saying that it doesn't sound like it. The Libratone Live sports one direct auxiliary input which when used sounded identical to the AirPlay audio playback.
Libratone have designed an App called Libratone Sound for iOS and Android which enables the adjustment of audio playback from the Live speaker and it keeps it up to date with future firmware launches. You can tweak the 'fullroom' performance by entering the measurements of how far away the speaker is from walls and objects on each of its three sides. This is a neat ability that we overlooked as we tended to move the speaker around a lot, it would be more use if the speaker was kept static somewhere. A bunch of equalisers are bundled into the App too; neutral, soft and comfortable, easy listening, rouse the house, jazz club, movie time and live concert. The App describes the effect each has and the variation they generate on the outputting audio is startling. For example, movie club as the name hints, intensifies the audio and the speaker in turn changes its character altogether.
The Libratone Live AirPlay Speaker is extremely convenient. The design oozes a warm and likeable characteristic, it’s ridiculously easy to setup and use, plus the audio output is sensational! If you do pick one up you're not going to be left displeased, but your wallet may feel it took a bigger pinch than needed.