Music is something that we often take for granted. Whether we’re listening to in on our way to work, or drowning out the sounds of the Metro, or just enjoying some choice tunes at a party, music is what transcends all languages and barriers. Of course one way to enjoy music is to cram your headphones in your ears and get swept up in a world of your own, but why not share that experience with the help of a speaker system? And it’s on that cue that I introduce the Libratone Zipp, a nifty cylindrical speaker that’s begging to be taken around town.
Libratone isn’t a brand that I immediately recognize, but the somewhat small company is determined to change the landscape for wireless sound. By balancing an aesthetic look with superb sound quality. Libratone certainly is turning heads with its lineup of speakers. The Zipp in particular, is one such example. The box inside says “You’re just about to meet your new best friend”, and I brush off the rather pompous declaration. But cradled underneath in the foam packaging is the Zipp, sporting its dark grey cover and just waiting to be picked up. The box contains a power adapter, instructional manuals, and two additional covers, so you have grey, red, and blue to choose from. The covers themselves are easy to unzip and replace, and Libratone also offer other colors that are sold separately.
The Zipp stands at about 26cm, with a circumference of about 12cm. Hidden behind the Italian wool zippable cover are 2 x 1” ribbon-based tweeters, and 1 x 4” bass driver. This rather unique mix results in complete 360-degree sound, so no matter which direction the speaker is facing, you get exactly the same sound. Even rotating the speaker in my hands while music was playing produced zero difference, thanks to Libratone’s FullRoom Optimization.
Libratone have decided to keep buttons and things to a minimum, and all you’ll see on the white plastic top is the company’s logo to turn the device on, and volume control ring. To the side is a leather strap that you can use to carry the Zipp around, but slide the strap away and you come across the Zipp’s main connectivity features. There’s a small indicator for battery life and AirPlay status, a button to setup PlayDirect (more on that later), a USB port for downloading setup information from your iDevice, and a 3.5mm audio jack to hook up older devices.
Setting up the Zipp is actually very easy to do, and there are several ways to get this done. You can connect your iDevice to the USB port to download wireless settings directly to the speaker. Or you can connect to the Zipp’s own Wi-fi network and configure the speaker that way. Lastly, you can wirelessly connect your PC or Mac and log into the Zipp to manually configure it that way. Once you’ve setup the Zipp to join your Wi-fi network, you can then choose it as an AirPlay device, and within seconds you’ll be streaming your audio.
In addition to being a regular AirPlay device, the Zipp also features PlayDirect, which is Libratone’s own little invention. It basically turns your speaker into a wireless hotspot, which you can connect to and instantly stream music to. Just tap the button on the side, connect to the Wi-fi hotspot that appears, and away you go. Bear in mind that the Zipp’s battery will drain faster when PlayDirect is being used.
While the Zipp does work well straight out of the box, its full potential is only realized once you download the accompanying iOS device. With the app connected you can rename the speaker, adjust the LED brightness, tweak the volume based on the type of music being played, as well as make minute adjustments if the speaker is placed near a wall or on a shelf. All of these tweaks are very good, and ensure that you get the best listening experience from your Zipp. My only complaint with the app is that I wasn’t able to setup my wireless settings on the Zipp properly because my main Wi-fi is actually a hidden network. The Zipp only showed me visible networks, none of which were mine, so I had to temporarily make my Wi-fi visible in order to connect the Zipp. It would have been nice if the app would let you specify the name of hidden networks, just for a few extra brownie points. But I have to say that overall the Libratone App is great, and is a must-download for your iOS device. However the biggest pitfall is that if you don’t own an iOS device, then you’re going to be left in the dark (or tethered via a 3.5mm cable). Libratone have promised that an Android app will see the light of day soon, but for now the Zipp seems out of reach for non-iOS music lovers.
I played a variety of tracks on the Zipp to see how well it could tackle my audio library. I first started off with some classical pieces, which sounded beautiful. Soft piano pieces resonated around my room, while stronger brass and orchestral numbers were also faithfully produced. Next I played a few pop tracks, with a mixture of heavy vocals and bass, and again the Zipp promptly delivered. I even threw a dubstep-remix of Coldplay’s “Paradise”, and that too was no trouble at all. But I have to note that the Zipp does a bit of volume and signal management in order to keep distortion to a minimum. For example, when the volume was cranked all the way up for “Paradise”, the vocals went a tiny bit flat, but at lower volumes they sounded fine. So if you’re looking to rock your party with a heavy bass track or two, the Zipp might not be the best contender at very loud volumes. But overall, no matter what I threw at it, the Zipp stood firm and sounded brilliant.
So does the Zipp stand up (pun intended) as a portable speaker? The answer is a yes, it does do a great job of providing you with a great and consistent sound no matter what you’re playing with it. It’s easy to setup and configure, and it’s 4-hour battery life is more than enough juice for a mini-party on the go. While it’s a bit awkward at first to listen to the Zipp because music is directed around you instead of at you, it’s still a great listening experience packaged in a stylish and colorful design.