If you’re looking for a simple wireless speaker that can play music from your Apple iPhone, iPod or iPad, you’re spoilt for choice. Ever since the B&W Zeppelin Air came through our offices in early 2011, most of the hi-fi speakers we’ve tested have had AirPlay capability. See all Audio reviews.
Libratone’s Live speaker is incredibly simple, with only a single multipurpose button. All the effort in its creation has gone into engineering excellent sound quality, a very simple design and appreciably solid and premium construction. See Pure Contour 200i air review.
Libratone Live: Design, setup and features
Standing tall rather than lying flat, the Libratone Live is worryingly reminiscent of 2001’s Monolith. Ours was a Blueberry Black unit, wrapped in soft dark wool that’s very nice to the touch. It’s not the kind of fabric you’d expect to find on a speaker grille, but it definitely makes the Live stand out from its competitors in the same way that the B&W P3 headphones do. See Group test: what's the best iPod and iPhone speaker dock?
The speaker chassis is a triangular prism, with smooth rounded corners. There’s a thick, chrome-finished metal handle on the back at the top that makes the Live easy to pick up.
Without an internal battery, the Libratone Live isn’t truly portable, but if you don’t mind bending down, unplugging it from its wall socket, and plugging it in again somewhere else — obviously somewhere not too far from a power point — it’s easily able to be carried around the house. Its 6.5kg weight means it’s hefty, but not to the point of being troublesome.
Its weight actually contributes to the Libratone Live’s feeling as a very high quality piece of technology. The glossy white plastic finish, dark Italian wool, chrome handle, and just-about-right weight really lend the sense that the Live has had some serious thought put into its construction, and some thought put into the technology inside it.
With Libratone’s bird logo — is it a chaffinch? Is it a starling? Is it an African swallow? — glowing in white on the Live’s single visible button, you quickly get the impression that simplicity is a very big part of the company’s design principles. There’s a power switch on the back near the power cable, but beyond that, everything you do with the Libratone Live is done through your iPhone, iPod, iPad or other compatible device.
Setting up the Libratone Live is a very simple task, whatever you’re using — there’s a series of instruction manuals taking pride of place inside the Live’s box, so it’s impossible to miss them. It’s a simple matter of turning the Live on, connecting to its temporary Wi-Fi network with whatever Wi-Fi device you’re using, heading to a particular Web address, putting in your proper Wi-Fi network’s details, then re-connecting your device to its original Wi-Fi and waiting for the Libratone unit to reboot.
It’s a simple process, and we had the Live connected to our test Wi-Fi network within a couple of minutes. This process does make the Live somewhat difficult to transport between different Wi-Fi networks, for what it’s worth. If you want to use the Live directly, it’s got a 3.5mm auxiliary input as well as a mini optical digital audio input — although if you try to connect over AirPlay, the Live will stop playing the wired connection automatically, and volume changes to the Live’s wired connections (if you’ve got a TV connected, for example), have to be done through the iOS app over Wi-Fi.
Libratone has an app free on the Apple App Store, offering basic setup and audio adjustment for any of the company’s speakers that are connected over Wi-Fi. It’s as simple as the speaker itself — you can specify how far you’ve got the speaker away from a wall, and the bass equaliser is adjusted accordingly, but that’s about it. You can also use it to update any Libratone speaker’s firmware.
Libratone Live: Sound quality and performance
The Libratone Live’s £599 price point puts it firmly in the high-end, enthusiast audio market — it shares the space with Sonos’ excellent PLAY:5 speakers, the aforementioned B&W Zeppelin Air, and various Bose products.
The sound that the Libratone Live produces is quite spacious for a single speaker system, with a wide soundstage that fills a medium-sized room until you’re listening closer than a metre away, when stereo sounds become less distinguishable.
The sound itself is quite crisp, with excellent treble detail and good, but controlled, mid-range. It’s the kind of speaker that flatters acoustic music and high female vocals &8212; throw on some Adele or Birdy, or Katy Perry’s MTV Unplugged set (yes, yes, we know) and the system really comes into its own. There’s no hint of distortion at high or maximum volume, belying the high quality components hidden behind the thick woolen coat.
Bass is less evident than we expected for the system’s weight and size. We were expecting some low-end oomph from a downward firing subwoofer, but the Libratone Live isn’t particularly aimed at floor-shaking musicality — it’s got enough low-end fill-in sound to make beat-driven music enjoyable to listen to, but it’s not the most appropriate system for listening to anything particularly Skrillexy.
The Libratone Live has more than enough power to fill a medium-sized room, although it runs out of puff especially when in a larger outdoor space. It’d suit a normal sized living room for almost all occasions, though large parties might exhaust it a little. We could see it happily being paired with an iPad as a small apartment’s primary music system, and connected to a TV as well.
Libratone Live: Conclusion
We don’t like the lack of an external volume control — maybe that little button could be a volume dial in the Live 2? — and the system’s necessary power point tether is a little disappointing, but given those minor limitations we really like the sound quality and wonderful design that the Libratone Live is selling. It’s high up on our list of high-end AirPlay speakers.