Libratone Loop Review

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IMG_0002 copyLibratone first came to my attention early last year after I was demonstrated their new range of wireless speakers at the Bristol Sound & Vision show.  Shortly after we reviewed the Zipp, which still stands as one of the most impressive portable speakers I’ve heard. A year later and their latest addition comes in the form of the Loop.  Larger than I had expected, the Loop is a substantial speaker that can take audio from a range of sources;  read on to find out what I thought.

 

Design & Build

One of the main stand-out features of the Zipp speaker was it’s excellent build quality and unique design.  It’s safe to say that this trend continues gracefully with the Loop.  It’s not trying to be an audacious piece of modern art, though it feels like a speaker that would sit comfortably in a variety of home settings, from the minimalist modern apartment, to a cosy cottage living room.IMG_0032 copy

The speaker stands just over a foot tall, and is held up either by a clothes hangar-esque stand, which takes seconds to install, or alternatively can be wall-mounted using the supplied mount. This mount slots in to a hole on the rear of the Loop that also doubles as a grippy carrying handle, if you happen to be carrying the Loop around.  It’s quite weighty at 2.7KG, but then with no built in battery, it’s not designed to be truly portable.

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IMG_0005 copyOn the front of the speaker, the design isn’t ruined by a host of unsightly controls, with everything being restrained to the familiar circular arrangement that you’ll find across the Libratone range.

These buttons allow you to turn on the Loop and adjust the volume, and a multi-colour status LED will let you know in what ‘state’ the Loop is in – whether it’s connected, awaiting a connection or in standby mode.

On the rear, there’s a couple of buttons – one to switch to Wi-Fi direct mode called “PlayDirect”, and the other for normal Wi-Fi connectivity to AirPlay and DLNA streaming devices.  Press both of these buttons together and you’ll put the Loop in to setup mode – all very straightforward.

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Next to these buttons you’ve got the other options for audio input, should you not fancy using wireless, or perhaps if a friend comes round with a device brimming with music to share.  There’s a 3.5mm audio socket to connect to pretty much any device you could think of, and a USB socket which enables playback from any iDevices. Power is provided by a figure-of-eight cable straight in to the rear of the speaker – there’s no transformer block with this speaker which makes for a much neater design.

Also of note is a locking mechanism on the rear which allows you to remove the front speaker plate.  The unit I was looking at was clad in the grey woollen cover, though Libratone have a whole range of different coloured covers, including some really bright primary coloured alternatives.

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IMG_0008 copyFeatures

The Loop is primarily designed as a wireless speaker.  Connect it to your home router and you’ll have a speaker to which you can stream from a whole host of devices, be it PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.  There’s a huge array of gadgets that include DLNA streaming, and if you happen to be a house of iPhones and iPads, Apple’s Airplay protocol makes streaming to the Loop even easier.

Many speakers we’ve looked at use Bluetooth to stream audio wirelessly to it.  The Loop is devoid of this wireless medium which has both it’s advantages and disadvantages.  The disadvantage is that the initial setup is a little more fiddly, and if you’re out and about with the Loop you’ll have to connect directly to it via WiFi Direct (known as PlayDirect), meaning you won’t otherwise be able to connect to another Wi-Fi network simultaneously.

You’ll also find if using a tablet or smartphone, that with most devices you can only really stream media stored on the device, rather than being able to use music streaming apps to feed music to the Loop.  My HTC One did get around this nicely by allowing me to use the Loop as the ‘Media Output’ of choice, which then allowed me to use Spotify and Deezer without issue.  The advantage however is that the Wi-Fi streaming opens up playback from a whole host of devices that don’t have built in Bluetooth such as some laptops and tablets.

Wi-Fi having the higher bandwidth means that audio of a higher bit-rate can be streamed to the Loop, which it really benefits from, although sometimes DLNA streaming can have a bit of lag when pausing or changing tracks.  There’s support for FLAC files as well as MP3, Apple’s audio codecs and

Of course, if you’re one of those tinfoil hat-wearing types, the Loop gives you alternatives, and I’m happy to report that when I tried playback via the 3.5mm jack from my HTC One, the sound quality was easily as good as streaming.

The Loop uses the same Libratone App as tested in the Zipp review, but kudos to Libratone for improving the app the stability of the app on Android – it’s a great help in setting up the speaker wirelessly.

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Sound Quality

IMG_0043You wouldn’t usually expect the world from a single speaker of this size, but actually the Loop is capable of some very impressive acoustics. It’s capable of very loud volume, has oodles of bass tone and trebles are kept in check nicely too.  The sound remains warm without sounding harsh, even at higher volumes, though it’s a shame that unless you’re using iTunes to stream, there’s not a straight-forward equaliser to tinker the sound to your own exact taste.

Under the woollen cover you’ll find two ribbon tweeters (the same units that were packed in to the Zipp), and a 4″ bass woofer that’s responsible for delivering that bass punch.  There’s also a ‘passive radiator’ at the top which helps mid-tones resonate nicely too.

Of course you won’t quite get the same stereo separation you’d find in an amp with stereo speakers, but the sound still feels like it’s being delivered in stereo wherever you happen to be standing in relation to it.  For the best sound however, I found that positioning the Loop in the corner of the room let the sound spread out evenly.

I listened to a wide selection of music, from the heavy beats of the Beastie Boys, to the beautiful voices of The Civil Wars, with some Led Zepplin and Neil Young thrown in for good measure.  Every track I played was handled with ease by the Loop, which brought out the subtleties of every track I played, and the relatively small number of tracks I own in FLAC format sounded absolutely sublime.

 

IMG_0035 copyConclusion

If you’re looking for a single-speaker unit to bring exceptional quality music to your lounge, without having something that dominates the room, then the Loop could well be the device worth looking for.  It’s variety of inputs makes it usable with any audio-playing tech you would happen to want to use alongside it, though the lack of Bluetooth streaming is a bit of a let-down compared to some considerably cheaper rivals.

The Loop can of course play nicely with other Libratone speakers to give a multi-room setup similar to the systems available from Sonos, though the app could still do with better integration with other apps on Android, and on Apple where AirPlay streaming isn’t natively supported.

The design of the Loop is almost spot on and I very much enjoyed my time with it.  It feels premium without feeling ostentatious, and the flexibility in the woollen covers means you’ll be able to match it to it’s surroundings, that is as long as you have interior design with a penchant for bright primary colours.  If not, the ‘salty’ grey and ‘pepper’ black will suit the more subdued colour schemes.

The biggest stumbling block for most?  The price.  At £400 it’s not exactly cheap, and speakers that offer equivalent features can be had for a good £100-150 less, though they won’t look as good, or be as nicely finished.

 

Positives

+ Looks great & well built.

+ Good Wi-Fi connectivity.

+ Very loud and excellent audio quality.

+ Versatile options including wall mounting.

 

Negatives

– No battery, despite portable design.

– Lack of Bluetooth a shame.

– Quite pricey.

8.5

Price: Around £399
More InfoLibratone
Audio Specs: 1x 4″ bass driver, 2 x 1″ ribbon tweeters, passive sound radiator – all magnetically shielded. 120W total power, Frequency range: 40-20.000 Hz.
Audio ports: 3.5mm analogue, USB socket (iDevices only), Wireless via Wi-Fi Direct, HTC Connect, Airplay or DLNA streaming.
Accessories: Mains cable, Stand, Wall Mount.
Dimensions: Ø: 33.3 cm / 13.1″
Depth: 8.3 cm / 3.3″
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Weight:
2.7 kg.

 

 

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