When home theatres first sprung onto the scene and everyone wanted to get one for their homes, they weren’t the most visually appealing things. Usually black and bulky, this speaker arrangement was reserved for the most diehard consumer who wanted a cinema-level audio from the comfort of their home. But over the years we got better, and the speakers grew sleeker and smaller, lighter and more aesthetically appealing. In fact, some modern speakers are a far cry from the ugly boxes we were used to, blending elegant form and design with impressive audio delivery. And in keeping with this desire for stylish speakers, I’m checking out the Libratone Lounge speaker this weekend.
I previously had some fun toying with the compact and portable Libratone Zipp, but the Lounge is certainly the Bigfoot of the Libratone lineup. Only once you unbox it do you realize just how massive this thing is. Measuring a cool one metre wide and weighing in at a hefty 12kg, once you’ve got this thing set up, it’s not going anywhere. You can see the comparison in size in the photo below, which shows the Lounge sitting on top of my current home theatre centre speaker. Notice also that it’s just about the width of my TV, so mounting it on the wall just under my TV would certainly make sense if I wanted to explore that option.
The Lounge exudes the design philosophy that Libratone seems to enjoy, which is to build speakers that look good and sound great. Speakers are no longer just ugly boxes that produce sound – they’ve evolved into pieces of art and even blend in with your furniture. The Lounge is minimalism at best, with just a lone button on the front to control the power and a power cord and auxiliary input hidden at the back. As a bonus, Libratone also includes a special wall bracket (and screws) inside the box, so you can mount the Lounge on the wall if you like; something that most other speaker manufacturers sell separately.
As seen on the Zipp, the Lounge sports an Italian wool cover in the front, which can be snapped off and changed to a color more suited to your tastes.
Wireless is the name of the game with Libratone products, and the Lounge is no exception. You can set up the Lounge to join your existing wi-fi network and play to it using AirPlay, or you can use the Lounge’s built-in PlayDirect feature to stream directly to the speaker in the absence of a wireless network. DLNA is also supported, and if you wish you can connect a 3.5mm or optical cable to the back of the Lounge for a more traditional setup. Though as touted by Libratone, wireless always trumps wired, so if you’re using a wired connection you need to ensure that nothing else is streaming to the speaker.
Setting up the Lounge is hassle-free, thanks to the free Libratone app that can be downloaded for iOS and more recently, for Android. Unlike the Zipp however, there’s no USB port that allows you to download wi-fi settings from an existing iOS device, which I think would have been an even handier addition.
If you want the best experience from your Lounge speaker, you’ll have to rely on the Libratone app. The app connects to your speaker and lets you configure various settings such as where the speaker is being placed, controlling the volume, as well as configuring the wi-fi settings and updating the speaker’s firmware. You can also fine-tune the audio settings to tell the Lounge what kind of music you’re listening to, as well as indicate if the speaker is being placed on the floor, shelf, or mounted on the wall. My only comment is that the Lounge doesn’t have any volume controls at all; it’s all done via the app, which I think wasn’t the best move, given that the Zipp easily integrated the volume controls into the power button.
The Lounge features Libratone’s FullRoom acoustic technology to deliver a seamless audio experience from a wide array of listening angles. While the speaker design may fool you into thinking this is purely a 2.1 sound experience, the actual listening experience is very, very different. Sitting right in front of the speaker sounds exactly the same as sitting at a sideways angle; there’s little to no distortion in the sound.
As featured in Libratone’s other speakers, their PlayDirect technology allows you to stream directly to the speaker in the absence of a wireless network. So if for example you were heading to an event or a friend’s place and decided to carry around a 12kg speaker, then you can simply plug it into a power socket and being streaming almost immediately from any iOS or DLNA compliant device. It’s a useful feature that most other speakers don’t have, which gives Libratone a distinct advantage.
Of course it’s all well and good building a massive speaker that looks great, but the true test is of course in how it actually sounds. My test tracklist included the following songs: “O Fortuna’, “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”, a dubstep remix of Coldplay’s “Paradise”, and “The Chain”. There were a host of other songs in my playlist as well, but these were the ones that I was going to pay the most attention to. All songs were played back with the Lounge’s speaker volume set at around 80-85%.
Both “O Fortuna” and “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” sounded fine at first, but it was only when I switched the Lounge’s sound mode to ‘Classical’, that I really felt the power of the two pieces. The choir sounded brilliant in “O Fortuna”, with the Lounge flawlessly handling the dips in volumes and instruments, concluding with a satisfying cymbal clash as the piece came to an end. Similarly, “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” played back beautifully and the Lounge deftly kept up with the steady buildup in volume until the final chord was struck. Other classical pieces sounded wonderful, and really made my living room feel like I had my own personal orchestra playing for me.
I purposely put on the dubstep remix of “Paradise” because the song starts off smoothly at first, but quickly dives into a convulsion of frequencies and pitches at the mid-way mark. This mix has previously sounded terrible on other speakers, so I was keen to see what it would sound like on the Lounge. I switched the speaker to ‘Rock’ mode, and could feel my eardrums straining against the high pitched wails and electronic beats of the track. For the most part, the Lounge played the track back at an acceptable volume, but since I was playing the song back at a fairly higher volume, the Lounge’s DSP was automatically kicking in to keep the drivers from being blown. As a result, the bass from the song wasn’t as deep as when I played it back on my regular home theatre setup, but if I lowered the Lounge’s volume a bit, I could feel the bass track beginning to kick in. Similarly, in “The Chain’ the bass guitar sounded magnificent at slightly lower volumes, but if you crank it up some more then the Lounge steps in to avoid damaging the speakers. It’s a smart method to ensure that you get the most out of your speaker, but the downside is that true audiophiles might not get the kick they’re looking for. Don’t get me wrong – the Lounge is a terrific and incredibly loud speaker, but it can only do so much. It’s more than capable of filling a medium-sized room with crystal-clear sound, however if you’re looking to rock the room at your next party, this speaker may not be the best deal.
So does the Lounge deserve a place in your life and living room? As an upgrade from your TV’s rather crappy speakers, the Lounge is a perfect companion that requires just one little cable to connect to most audio devices. As a streaming point for your iOS and DLNA devices, it’s a breeze to configure and get up and running. But when comes down to the actual quality of the audio, the Lounge does fall slightly behind. It’s loud, proud, and stylish enough to claim a voice of its own, but crank it up and it starts to shy away from its true potential. You’ll get an impressive volume level and quality from the Lounge, but keen ears might pick up on the Lounge holding back on the bass. Still, if you’re craving a minimalistic and stylish speaker for your home and want a solution that works out of the box, the Lounge is the one for you.