While the market is already crowded with a glut of small wireless speaker solutions, both Airplay and an even greater selection using Bluetooth to connect the audio dots, the options for larger, full-bodied sound speakers is slim. Danish audio manufacturer Libratone has waged war against small sound with a sizable flagship speaker armed with Airplay connectivity and a wooly warm exterior to match.
"Large and in charge" is a good way of describing the Libratone Lounge, both physically and acoustically. While the majority of Airplay-enabled speakers offer meek to modest acoustic presence, the Lounge demands to be recognized by both eyes and ears. Fortunately, its considerable presence is welcome, filling in a vacant niche in the wireless audio segment where all too many speakers have trouble filling the soundstage of even a medium size room, let alone across a home or apartment.
The first impression while unpacking the 40" long audio speaker was the Libratone Lounge shares some obvious technological DNA with the likes of sound bar speakers. But where most sound bar units offer the staid personality of a business suit attired Wall Street stock broker, the Lounge offers a more relaxed Nordic presence afforded by a bright and textural "sweater" across it's elongated cabinet, especially in the rich red woolen cover our review unit came sporting (just note, pet owners, there will be fur!).
The Lounge also refrains from simulating any surround sound effects (which almost always sound achingly artificial anyhow), offering a straight forward audio projecting experience optimal for listening from about a Yao Ming length distance (or two Nate Robinsons). So although one could wall mount the Lounge beneath an HDTV, the speaker is arguably best suited as a stand-alone audio speaker for music enjoyment rather than for home entertainment duties.
And due to its size, one must first consider whether the Lounge is actually the right speaker option specific to your home's dimensions. In a small apartment like mine, the Lounge required a bit of consideration:
1) Where could I fit all of its 40 x 8.7 x 4.7 inches?
2) Which room could I best enjoy it's presence?
3) And to a lesser extent, where would it look the best within our home?
I settled on setting the Lounge up in the bedroom, projected toward the bed on a long bench shelf, and also out the bedroom door to emanate outward well beyond the modest room's dimensions. Although not ideal due to the proximity, I was able to test the unit both nearby and standing about 9-10' away, believing testing the Lounge in a non-ideal real world setting would offer me the best idea of what the system was capable of producing.
All that size does not go to waste. All 27lbs. of speaker projects a throaty, confident presence even with only a fraction of the 150 watts tapped for playback. Wireless setup for Airplay is elementary, requiring only a lone power cord and using a free Libratone setup app or adding the speaker to your network via browser. I went the app route, which offers the additional ability to dim the status button light on the front and further customize the output, alongside use of an iOS device as a remote control (no additional remote is included). Afterward, it was as simple as choosing the Libratone Red among the Airplay enabled options on my wireless network, or directly without home network wi-fi using PlayDirect, a device-to-device connectivity protocol.
Once an optimal spot is secured for its footprint, one can simply sit back and enjoy what is arguably the best Airplay specific speaker I've yet tested in-home, whether pushing tracks from my iPhone, iPad, or from my computer's iTunes player. Whether close up at low volumes while dozing away to ambient or classical tracks, or pushed to window-vibrating volumes for hip-hop to accompany a Saturday morning apartment cleaning session, the Lounge was up to the task of providing a clarified and naturally crisp DSP-enhanced sound without too much fussing with the source track.
Setup via the Libratone App is personally recommended; afterward you'll have access to additional customization and controls from your iOS device, including volume, FullRoom Optimization features, and even the brightness of the front facing power button.
In fact, for most apartment dwellers, the Lounge is likely bringing a bazooka to a knife fight when it comes to potential playback range. But that didn't stop me from turning up Lusine's The Waiting Room to take in the album's sinewy bloopy-beats or the textural sampled swagger of the appetite-driven flows of Action Bronson's Brunch.
In the process of throwing a wide range of musical genres through the Airplay system, never once did the Lounge offer anything by well articulated vocals and a supportive balanced mid range, with only the deepest and loudest of bass held back (and thankfully so, considering my surround apartment neighbors preference for quiet evenings).
Whether the Libratone Lounge is worth the hefty investment in price and significant space allocation is dependent upon the size of your home. If space is at a premium, you may be best steered to a smaller speaker solution. But if there's room to spare, the Libratone Lounge is an impressively capable whale among sardines in the category of Airplay-enabled devices.
Pros: The best Airplay-enabled audio speaker; balanced sound from highs to lows without distortion; Fullroom Optimization feature via free app helps further customize sound specific to room; PlayDirect allows wireless audio stream from Mac/PC and iOS devices sans home wireless network
Cons: Big and heavy; wool cover is beautiful but be forewarned, it's also a pet hair magnet; expensive.
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. This specific product was provided by the manufacturer for testing and review purposes.