Slick New Wireless Speakers Reimagine Your Home Audio Setup
There’s this little Danish company called Libratone that’s been around for six years. Until now, they’ve made great-looking, somewhat limited wireless speakers. At first the speakers only worked with AirPlay, then those wireless connectivity options expanded to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Their speakers sounded great and came in all manner of shapes and sizes—covered in washable, hot-swappable fuzzy fabric so you could tailor the look to your taste.
Now, Libratone is reimagining what a home-audio setup should be in the modern world. Portable wireless speakers aren’t just a handy vacation accoutrement; Libratone thinks they’re also the cornerstone of our future home systems. The company is clearing its entire slate of products and replacing them with their next-generation Zipp and Zipp Mini speakers, which support everything from Bluetooth to Wi-Fi to DLNA to AirPlay to Spotify Connect. They’re nice-looking wireless speakers with great sound blasting out of them in every direction, and they get up to 10 hours of battery life.
The Zipp and Zipp Mini aren’t just grab-and-go portable speakers—although the Zipp Mini’s small size, strong sound, carrying strap, and washable cover lend themselves to that scenario. With its new speakers, Libratone is intent on creating a wireless multi-room sound system for modern living, built for open floor plans and rooms with several purposes. It wants to make a system that’s just as modular as a loft without being overly complex.
According to Libratone, a sound system built for today’s world shouldn’t be rooted in place; you should be able to carry robust, room-filling sound from the kitchen to the porch to the bedroom without any limitations or compromises.
“It needs to have 360 degree room-filling sound, and it’s a premium sound experience,” says Mike Culver, VP of Marketing for Libratone Americas. “There’s a need to enjoy it in a much richer way than Bluetooth. If you can stream it, it can play it. It needs to be simple and fun to use. That’s what we think a speaker for the modern home needs to be.”
Really, with its new Zipp speakers, Libratone is sort of going after Sonos. Several speakers can be linked by simply dragging and dropping icons in the Libratone app, and you can choose between each speaker outputting its own stereo sound or dividing up the left and right channels. There’s no tinkering needed for flipping between Wi-Fi or Bluetooth input; the speakers automatically recognizes when a device is trying to connect over any protocol and adapts as needed. The “last action wins,” according to Libratone project-management director Uffe Kjems Hansen.
Each speaker doesn’t just blast sound out in 360 degrees, either. There are 360 degrees of microphone coverage built into each unit so you can use them as a Bluetooth speakerphone or with IP communication services such as Skype and Google Hangouts.
In terms of operating each speaker, there are whimsical little touches. When you cover the top of each speaker with your hand, the sound “hushes” until you let go. On the top of each unit, there’s a touch-sensitive circle that lets you scroll to adjust volume, tap a button to pair up another speaker, start playing a vTuner station tailored to your tastes, or check the LED indicator ring to peep remaining battery life. For deeper tweaks, you use the app, but several common speaker functions are handled with that little circle.
Like previous Libratone speakers, they also let you swap colors with a zip-up cover. These new units have covers made out of a different material than the last version, however. Instead of a woolly little jacket, they’re made out of a spongy, washable fabric similar to Nike’s Flyknit shoes. Seven different colors of the Zipp and Zipp Mini cover will be available at launch, with more colors and styles available over time.
Unlike Sonos, these speakers don’t form their own mesh network; the audio streams to each speaker from a Wi-Fi access point or from a Bluetooth-connected device. That means you might see a bit more network interference than you do with a Sonos setup, but Libratone’s Hansen says it’s a more-open approach that supports more services. And even though there’s a difference in size between the Zipp and Zipp Mini, Libratone’s Culver says the performance is identical, from sound quality to battery life.
“The Zipp Mini is the smallest speaker we could conceive that still fills the room with quality audio,” says Culver, adding that its smaller size and strap make it a good option outside the home, as well.
Pricewise, they’re in the same range as a higher-end Bluetooth speaker. When they ship in early November, the bigger Zipp will be available for $300 and the Zipp Mini will go for $250.
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