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GadgeTell Review: Libratone Zipp – A Sharp Dressed Wi-Fi Speaker

Sections: Audio, Features, Gadgets / Other, Home Audio, Peep Shows, Portable Audio, Reviews, Wireless

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Aside from being one of the boldest standalone speakers I’ve yet to lay my tech-nerd eyes on, Libratone Zipp supplies some truly desirable sound. Combining equal parts: chic Scandinavian minimalism, unique wireless streaming technology and Libratone’s patent-pending sound experience, this frizzy, cylindrical device is both aesthetically and audibly pleasing.

A lot of thought was put into Zipp’s design; there’s no mistaking that. The speaker is packaged with three different colored, interchangeable felt sleeves that are easily ‘zipped’ on or off, depending on your mood. Zipp will fit anyone’s style at home. Place it next to your flower vases or your DVD collection, alongside a desk lamp or a cutting board. It is elegant but fun, stylish and classy.

The interior, a black plastic cage houses a deceivingly powerful 2.1 speaker system — that’s dual 1-inch ribbon tweeters for the mids and highs, packaged above a booming 4-inch bass driver. Speaker placement is significant to Libratone’s FullRoom sound, pushing audio like acoustic instruments, resulting in a pleasing 360-degree effect. In other words, put Zipp anywhere in the room and you’ll be in a ‘sweet spot’ from any angle or distance.

It yielded a warm live performance-like experience with my jazz albums and an invasive, ballsy guitar assault with my rock music collection — just how I want it. Due to its versatile sound range, Zipp is capable of spotlighting all musical components at once; from digitally-generated bass-heavy dance music, to gentle and cozy acoustic tunes.

Concerning Zipp’s wireless connectivity, Libratone provides two methods of easily pairing your device, depending on the listener’s needs. Firstly, let me make it clear that this is not, I repeat — is not a Bluetooth-functioned speaker. Instead, Zipp cleverly opts for streaming through Wi-Fi (for indoor use) or via Libratone’s own PlayDirect capabilities for portable situations.

Primarily geared towards Apple products, Libratone’s complete line of speakers are easily compatible with Apple’s AirPlay. Zipp’s preferred method of streaming music, it allows users to simply connect all of their iPods, iPads or Macs that are already linked to the same network — perfect for trading DJ duties at your next house party.

And adding the device to your iPhone or iPod via your home AirPlay system is a breeze; just connect your iDevice to Zipp’s USB port with your Apple cable, press the ‘PlayDirect’ button above the jack and the white LED will wink at you to let you know it’s ready to go. Activate it on you handheld and that’s it.

Don’t want to use your cable to initialize AirPlay connection? That’s cool. Libratone’s got a dedicated app for that. Pop it open, select your Wi-Fi network and wait a few moments for the light to blink before you pick a tune. Easy enough, right?

One additional point definitely worth mentioning about the Libratone iOS app is it’s sound equalization settings. FullRoom Optimization, as they call it, asks you to customize all aspects of the room, including wall distances, ceiling height and Zipp’s height from the floor. Besides that, choose voicing options depending on what you’re grooving to: ‘Easy Listening,’ ‘Movie Time,’ ‘Live Concert,’ you get the idea.

For PC and Android users, unfortunately Libratone has no app for you and setting up wireless connection at home requires a couple steps more work for you (you can understand why I mentioned Libratone created Zipp with Mac people in mind.) Libratone devices are DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatible, meaning it’ll likewise play through your at-home network, just not as seemlessly.

This inequality amongst the Apple and Android community is a real negative attribute of Libratone’s entire product line. It isn’t a vice of just theirs and it happens to be a major concern across the whole smartphone accessory playing field. It’s a polarizing fact. (For Windows Phone people, Zipp also has a 3.5mm direct-connection input jack.)

This is my main criticism of Libratone’s Zipp. It creates a ‘this is an Apple party, Android people go elsewhere’ kind of vibe — you know — that painfully cool, hipster thing everyone’s laughing about these days. And with it’s $399.95 price tag, this is an exclusive party that I wouldn’t blame most people for missing.

(UPDATE 2/12/13: Via a company representative:“Libratone’s wireless speakers have always been designed to work seamlessly with Apple’s iPhone and iPad but now also support DLNA technology – a widely supported industry standard. This extends compatibility to Android and Windows devices, enabling them to stream music to Libratone’s speakers through any in-home Wi-Fi network. Part of the new update is also a Libratone Android app, which will be available for download in February 2013.”)

On the subject of Zipp in social settings, however, my girlfriend and I hosted a small dinner party over the weekend — maybe a half dozen friends in her one bedroom apartment. Throughout the night, Zipp was a hit; a conversation piece, as everyone spoke so favorably in how it provided a perfect level of background music. Passing it around the room, our guests got a real kick out of it’s appearance and it’s ‘larger-than-its-size’ abilities — one friend even joked about stealing it.

Zipp excels in these types of environments. Sure it’ll suffice anywhere you bring it but it likes being the center of attention. Libratone’s audio products are not for your average listener, but for those who want more from their modern audio systems. This means quality, latest-technology gadgets with out-of-the-box usability, all in a handsome semblance. The company encourages it’s users to ‘set their music free’ and with Zipp to come along wherever you are, I’d be curious to see anyone else traveling with such good audio style.

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