I enjoy testing out new speaker systems that are designed for working with mobile devices since I use my phones and tablets for my music service, even in my home. I have not yet tested out any Apple AirPlay compatible speakers before so I was excited to give the Libratone Zipp a test with my iPhone 5 and new iPad. After testing it out for several days I have to say that it is a very compelling speaker and one of the best portable speakers I have ever heard. In addition to AirPlay support, the speaker also supports a direct WiFi connection technology they call PlayDirect.
You can check out a few photos of the Libratone Zipp and iOS app in my.
In the box and specs
The Libratone Zipp comes in a rather large box with the guides, A/C charger, and two spare removable wool covers in the top compartment. The pack I was sent to check out, Classic, came with the pepper black, raspberry red, and petrol blue. There is another pack you can purchase, Funky pack, with pepper black, pineapple yellow, and passion pink. You can also purchase other colors; salty gray, plum purple, and icy blue for $49.95 each. The speaker bundles with three covers are available for $449 and after doing some research this is actually a fair price for AirPlay speakers. Libratone includes a fantastic detailed user manual that walks you through all the steps needed to make the different connections, including screenshots of what you should see on your iOS device.
Specifications of the Libratone Zipp include:
- One 4 inch bass and two 1 inch ribbon based tweeters
- Frequency rand of 60-20,000 Hz
- Max output of 96 dB SPL
- 60 W amplifier
- Rechargeable battery with support for up to 4 hours of continuous playback
- Dimensions of 10.2 inches high and 4.8 inches diameter with weight of 4 pounds
AirPlay vs PlayDirect
All the wireless speakers I have tested in the past have worked via a Bluetooth connection, but AirPlay speakers use WiFi. I was a bit confused at first between AirPlay and PlayDirect modes on the Libratone Zipp and was informed that there is a workaround to get both streaming music from a WiFi network and connectivity to the speaker via WiFi. It took a bit of manual configuration, the Libratone iOS app (iTunes link) was a huge help, but after the setup is complete it is simply a matter of playing your music and selecting the Zipp as the speaker.
AirPlay is designed for connectivity within the same WiFi network so you can easily stream to the Libratone Zipp from your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, or PC. I thought Bluetooth was good for music, but find the quality, range, and seamless performance of WiFi to be better.
PlayDirect is a Libratone technology, similar to how Android devices have WiFi Direct, where direct WiFi connections are made between devices with no central network in the loop. Libratone includes a quick guide for PlayDirect with the idea that you will want to take your speaker to parties, events, outside, or somewhere to use it for audio output that is outside a WiFi network.
The Libratone Zipp is designed to output the audio in a 360 degree pattern so you can place it anywhere and enjoy your music. The iOS app actually lets you go in and setup the location of where you place the speaker to even further optimize how audio is output from the speaker. It appears to be a very well constructed speaker with a hefty leather strap and pin up near the top in one side. Below this strap you will find the battery indicator, PlayDirect indicator/activation button, AirPlay indicator/activation button, USB port, and auxiliary audio input. While the compelling connection is made via WiFi you can also connect directly to the speaker using the USB port or aux jack. On top of the speaker you will find the Libratone logo that serves as the power button with the part surrounding it used for volume control.
The wool covers have a full length zipper to allow you to easily swap them around. Be careful when removing the area around the ports and buttons as there is a piece that fits up and under in this area and they recommend taking it nice and slow. I tried listening to the speaker with the wool cover off and on and never heard any degradation or change in performance so recommend using it with the cover for protection. Plus, the wool covers look good and add a nice personal touch to the speaker.
Performance and experiences
I have tested some fairly large Bluetooth speakers over the past several months, including the Logitech UE Boombox, Big Jambox, and Bose SoundLink and have to say the Libratone Zipp sounded the best. Sound was clear, rich and full, and the WiFi connection played the music flawlessly. My wife listens to music more than I do and she was blown away when I came upstairs with the Zipp in hand and my phone down in the basement to hear the music playing flawlessly. She said I should buy one so she can enjoy music all over the house and I will consider one for Christmas.
I was a bit surprised that battery life, reported as four hours, isn't longer given the size of the speaker and wish Libratone would have put in a larger battery as there is no real need to minimize on the size. My testing showed their reported time is about right and I suppose for a party that is OK. However, if you want to take the speaker outside for a day of working in the yard or to an event then a battery life of 8 hours would be much better. You can always plug it in to the A/C charger and use it when it is charging up.
Keep in mind that the Libratone Zipp is for iOS owners, unless you wish to use a PC to play your music. You can connect your Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, or other MP3 device via the aux jack to enjoy music on the Zipp, but wireless connectivity is not supported by other platforms.
I have seen AirPlay speakers priced in the $400 to $800 range and the Libratone Zipp gives you AirPlay with the added connectivity option of PlayDirect so you don't need a router in the middle to use it with your iOS device. Pairing is easy, music sounds wonderful, and the speaker looks great in its wool blanket.