Home Audio Designed for Home Decor: Libratone Lounge

CES 2012

Libratone is a fairly new company making headlines with a duo of award-winning Airplay speakers, blending hi-fi sound with sleek, modern design. We had some one-on-one time with Soren Pedersen, CEO of Libratone, at this year's CES, giving us a behind the speaker grill demo of their flagship speaker, the Libratone Lounge.

You may have alrady read about our experience with the Libratone Live, a preppy looking speaker with impressive wireless sound, in our Test Lab review. So we were excited about the opportunity to meet the Live's larger sibling, the Libratone Lounge. Spanning over 3', the Lounge is about twice the length of the portable Live. Demoed positioned under a flat-screen TV, it was clear this audio component was meant to be a stylish stand-in for the usual sound bar speaker.

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Unlike most every sound bar we've seen, the Lounge exhibits sartorial elegance. Draped in Italian cashmere sourced from Florence, the speaker differentiates itself from usual stark, tech aesthetic one usually equates with consumer audio components.

Our demonstration began with a few select tracks player from an iPhone wirelessly using Airplay, Apple's wireless audio technology. Soren showed how to configure the speaker dynamics via a Libratone app, defining spacial parameters from the center wall, and side walls, with the additional option to tweak vocal audio parameters (especially useful for movie watching). Metrics are delivered from app to the speaker, with calculations made to maximize the acoustics of the space.

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Sound from the Lounge was large, expansive, and impressive. Unfortunately, we couldn't get our own iPhone 4S to pair to the speaker to demo songs we know/enjoy, attributed to synching issues still being sorted out between the Libratone speaker and the latest iPhone 4S.

A movie clip demonstrating the Lounge's home theater capabilities was next, a scene from Casino Royale (one of our own Top 10 Demo Scenes to use to test out home theater setups). The sound proved excellent, with great detail, separation, and a surround effect believable enough to please the average consumer.

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When asked about what was behind the luxurious blanket of cashmere covering the front, Soren surprised us and popped off the cloth facade to reveal the inner components: 1" ribbon tweeters, 4" midrange on each side, an 8" woofer facing out-front, and an open back design that allows for sound to exit and bounce off the rear wall.

"The ribbon tweeters have a special metal film, so its really crispy and fast...[these are] normally only found in really expensive speakers [that range] $5000 and upwards. But we've selected them for this speaker because of the design — they play forwards and backwards, so they're using the walls of the house and at the same time giving you direct sound," Soren explained.

This technology is probably the fundamental feature behind the ability of the Lounge to produce permeating sound, producing audio which travels throughout an entire space, rather than just sitting in one central spot.

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"The bass unit [has] a long coil and big magnet on back, and the bridge coupling DSP amplifier for that drive unit can make it go very far up and down without distortion. Giving you deep bass."

A jazzy track exhibited excellent bass...deep and booming, accompanied with clear and precise treble. The speaker's clarity can likely be attributed to the 5 amplifiers within, one for each speaker. That's 125 watts total, 25 watts for each tweeter and midrange, and 50 watts for the woofer. The back of the unit reveals an optical input for connectivity to any recent HDTV or Blu-ray player for high-def sound.

Although photos of the speaker with the front grill removed wasn't permitted, we can tell you even with the cashmere top taken off, the Lounge's configuration maintained an elegant and clean appearance in tune with the design as a whole.

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The Libratone speakers are currently available in 5 colors (green, red, beige, grey, and black), the wide range of colors designed specifically to complement a range of home decor, "transparent for sound." The cloth covers are also interchangeable, so if your home decor changes, the Libratone speaker can adapt as well. The possibility of other colors and materials are a consideration in future models.

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Like their nightingale logo, Libratone preached their aim is to lift music to new states beyond the conventional low-level sounds of docks commonplace today. That aspiration comes at a price though, with the Lounge running $1,299 (and the smaller Live running $699) at select Apple Stores and Design within Reach locations.

"I know the price is not for everybody, but it is something that [we believe] can last 10 years and have a timeless quality."

All images by Chris Perez and Libratone