Despite Bluetooth being around for some time, Apple has managed to make sure its own standard of wireless audio and video transfer, AirPlay, has been adopted by as many gadget makers as possible. Many Hi-Fi systems and standalone speakers now offer AirPlay rather than Bluetooth, thus limiting their use to Apple’s iOS products.
Wrapped tightly in Italian cashmere and with a price tag of £600, the Libratone Live isn’t your average AirPlay speaker, and this is emphasised by the hefty £600 price tag. Libratone have attempted to strike the keys of fashion and style as well as audio quality with the Live, and we have to say it’s a beautiful speaker.
Standing at 47cm tall with its trilateral shape, the speaker oozes a premium look. That’s mostly because 80 per cent of it is wrapped in soft and fluffy Italian cashmere, which covers the three sides of the speaker, broken only by the rear edge and a circular pairing button in the top right corner of the front face.
Being a fashionable speaker for the home, you have the choice of several colour variations to suit your decor: Blueberry Black, Vanilla Beige, Blood Orange, Lime Green, and Slate Grey, which is the colour of our sample model. We have to say that Blood Orange is our favourite colour of the lot.
The top and bottom ends feature a glossy white tough plastic to contrast the cashmere centre, and on the rear edge is a thick chrome handle running from the top to around half-way down. This seems slightly odd at first, but feels incredibly well made and makes moving the speaker very easy, which leads us on to our next point: this speaker weighs a ton! When we first picked it up by the handle we were surprised by the weight, but this gives the pleasant feeling of a well-made gadget.
Follow the line of the handle and you’ll find a power socket simple on/off switch and a 3.5mm audio in port hidden neatly, right at the bottom. With AirPlay being the advertised method of connection, this is a speaker with few buttons and controls – one power switch, one pairing button, and one audio in port for non-AirPlay gadgets.
Apple has designed AirPlay to be quick and easy to set up, and Libratone have stuck to this pretty well. The key aspect for pairing any device is the pairing button, which is featured in the top right corner on the front face. The button, which features the Libratone bird logo, will glow red, orange, or white to indicate the speakers current status.
Turn the speaker on and press the pairing button four times in succession to initiate pairing and after 30 seconds the button should pulse read. This means that the Libratone Live will now appear on your iOS device, PC, or Mac as a Wi-Fi network. Connect to the open network, open up your browser and head to the configuration page (192.168.1.1) to enter your Wi-Fi network details. Once you’ve done this you can reconnect your device to your regular Wi-Fi network and AirPlay is setup and ready to use.
We found that it took us two or three attempts to get the speaker into initiate the pairing mode – it seems to be in the speed of the four presses on the button – but once done it was a breeze, both on an iPhone 4S and with iTunes on a MacBook Pro.
Sound Quality and Using Libratone Live
Once configured with your network you’ll find the option for outputting your music via AirPlay within the Music/iPod app in iOS, and also the option to use an external speaker within iTunes on Windows and Mac. Simply hit this option and you’ll be sending music cable-free to the speaker, with volume and playback all controlled by the host device.
Even at 2/3 of the full volume we found that the Live had absolutely no problems in booming out the tunes, filling a medium-sized room with ease. On full volume the speaker really impresses with oodles of bass and no discernible distortion, making it a great option for a party situation.
Bass lovers won’t be disappointed with the performance, and we found that particularly bassy tracks such as Kanye West’s ‘Monster’ were matched with a deep and punchy bass. However, audiophiles will be able to pick out a loss of definition and low frequencies sneaking in when listening to bass-heavy tracks.
Where we found the Live really excelled was with more delicate, vocal tracks. Pop on something detailed and focused on vocals, such as The Weeknd’s ‘The Knowing’, and detail is very sharp, natural, and pleasing. Mid-range tones are accurate and easily distinguishable from the mix, and the top-end is very well balanced.
Libratone offers a free download for iOS devices to let you alter the sound and set up the speaker for specific surroundings – you can tell it what type of surface the speaker is stood on, how far away from a wall it is, and you can choose between seven pre-set EQ modes. We found natural to work best, although we were pretty pleased with the default sound mix before we started using the app.
The Libratone Live is an excellent-sounding speaker that is sure to impress all but the audiophile out there in terms of sound quality. Its stylish and unique design will also make it a hit with the stylish gadget lovers, and we can see it fitting in nicely with many modern homes. The only thing it won’t be a hit with is your wallet, and at £600 we feel that there are better AirPlay speakers out there.
For many, £600 is a lot to spend on a speaker of any sort, and considering that the excellent Zeppelin Air from Bowers and Wilkins is a good £100 less, it may not be the best option for splashing your cash. Nevertheless, if money isn’t a restraint and looks are your number one priority, the Libratone Live is one of the most stylish AirPlay speakers around, with a decent sound performance to boot.