Get a Handle On Airplay: Libratone Live

Unplggd Test Lab

Product: Libratone Live
Price: $699 ($799 for cashmere units)
Rating: Recommend*

Coming by way of Scandinavia, a region long known for playful designs tempered by modernist sensibilities, the Libratone Live follows the Danish design tradition with a wireless twist. A plush monolith, the Live is certainly the most unique looking Airplay option out there, and that's something to be said in a category where some of the more unusual designs already reside. Whether the Libratone Live is the best Airplay audio option for you depends on several factors we detail below...

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We warmed up to Libratone Live almost immediately upon unpacking, discovering a surprising heft to the unit before setting it up with our existing Airplay network (MacBook Pro iTunes connected to the Apple TV running audio out to a Yamaha Soundbar alongside a B&W Zeppelin Air in the living room). Where other Airplay devices have revealed themselves to be a bit of a hassle to connect to our iTunes/iOS devices (an excellent, easy to follow instruction manual helped), the Libratone Live was a plug-and-play experience the late Steve Jobs would have approved of. Plug it in, turn on the Live via switch on the back, and press the bird icon button up front to connect. The whole process takes a couple minutes, with most of the wait attributed to linking the unit to your Airplay network.

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Once activated, the simplicity of the Libratone Live reveals both the pros and cons inherent to a pared down experience. We love the minimalist approach to the design, a form factor bare of extraneous parts and buttons, and for this alone we think the Live will appeal to the Dwell magazine demographic.

In a certain sense, the Live is really just a miniatured triangular floor speaker adorned with a chrome handle with the added feature of portability via wireless connectivity and a whole lot of curb appeal. Inside a 3-way speaker system comprised by a pair of 3" midrange drivers partnered with a 5" woofer driven by a 50 watt amp aimed forward, while the midrange and tweeters are aimed backwards to bounce off surrounding walls. Considering the wedge shape, it's interesting to note the Live actually performs best when moved away from corners, working in similar fashion to soundbar solutions long available for movie surround sound systems. And like those systems, they're designed to work close to a center wall, taking advantage of acoustic reflection when placed nearby.

Unlike those audio speakers meant for special effect surround sound, the Live's sound has a burnished, smoother, spacious presence, whether pushing out classical music, rock or ambient. Inside the average apartment or living room, the Live produces ample even-keeled sound without the propensity to distort when pushed; partnered with our existing Airplay setup, the Libratone lifted the ambient fullness once absent and the vocal range exhibited both clarity and fullness we didn't realize was missing until the Live filled in. No, it's not going to shake the house (though it did so plenty when we loaded up Bun B's Il Trill), but considering its purpose and size, the Live did not disappoint at any time.

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But such simplicity comes at a cost. The Libratone's lone button up front offers no additional control beyond setup and notification the speaker is connected and ready. There's no docking except via 3.5mm stereo input, which we didn't harbor any negativity towards, since this is an Airplay device, not a dock. Additionally, all volume controls are handled via iTunes or with a Libratone iPhone/iPad app, leaving us with the impression the Live operates much more like a traditional audio "dumb" speaker than the current generation of docking speakers with an assortment of controls.

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And the Libratone's agreeable audio performance is only produced at the sacrifice of weight; while constructed with obvious care, fit and finish, the Live is heavy. Not so heavy as to require help while moving, but enough so its handle design seems an ill fit. If this unit was to keep, we'd likely find it a permanent home and not utilize it as a mobile speaker (although, we do note once setup with your existing Airplay network, getting it started in a new room was even easier/faster than initial setup).

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Besides the triangular skyscraper design, the hallmark of the Libratone line is the textural exterior which wouldn't look out of place amongst the pages of a J.Crew catalog. Like a bespoke suit, the wool finish is well tailored, extremely handsome. Guests were often drawn to reach out to touch the Libratone Live, a blessing and bane yet again. Two concerns we had while this speaker stayed as our guest: our feline household meant cat hair and dust would often find itself stick to the wooly coat, and like a beloved sweater, we found ourselves worrying we'd rip or tear the speaker when moving. This is the first audio product we'd find ourselves having to gently de-pill.

So would we recommend the Libratone Live as a primary Airplay speaker? We liked everything about the Libratone Live, from its fashionable woolen stature so adept at blending in or standing out, to the simplicity of setup. And most importantly the audio performance would likely please anyone looking for a small space solution with big sound results. But the price makes this an uncomfortable proposition for most budgets, especially considering the intentional limitations designed into the system. Simply put: if you got the money, honey, go for it...the Libratone Live isn't for everyone, but for those who can afford it, the Live will likely be a welcome addition to your Airplay setup.

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Pros: Stellar finish and a design that can equally blend into the corner or make itself the talk of the party; satisfying 360º sound emanates naturally without bringing too much attention to the source; handle design allows it to be moved around the house; setup was easiest Airplay device we've tested thus far.
Cons: Expensive; some users may miss an iOS device dock; wool finish is a dust/pet hair magnet; heavier than the portable form factor advertises.

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend
Recommend*
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.

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