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Review: Libratone Loop AirPlay speaker

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
Danish audio firm Libratone adds to its collection of high-end speakers with the Loop, a round and relatively slim unit that produces some of the best treble fidelity we've heard from a product its size.

Libratone


With unique styling that is both figuratively and literally thinking outside the box, Loop is part art, part speaker. That is not to say performance is negatively impacted in the name of design. Quite the opposite, according to Libratone. The untraditional aesthetic is meant to squeeze high quality sound out of small-volume speaker cabinets.

Whether it be good design or good components, Loop does perform.

To address the $500 elephant in the room, Libratone's wares are not inexpensive. The cheapest speaker the company sells is a $400 portable AirPlay-enabled cylinder called Zipp, so named for the zipper on its interchangeable wool covers. Those cost $50.

At the top-end is Libratone's $1300 Lounge; an advanced soundbar with baked-in DSP and digitally controlled amplifier. It, too, is swathed in fine Italian wool.

Libratone


From a company less than five years old, the price points raised a few eyebrows, ours included. But once we got our hands on the Loop and fired it up, our eyebrows turned tail -- furrowing as we tried to figure out how the speaker was producing such accurate top-end sound well beyond what its cabinet should allow.

Design



Libratone's entire range of products is covered fuzzy wool. The fabric serves as both a grille and aesthetic statement, as the texture draws eyes when surrounded by normal, everyday items made of smooth plastic and wood.

Libratone


In its natural environment, that is on a shelf, floor or hanging on a wall, Loop both stands out and blends in. The use of wool is an interesting choice, and one not often seen mounted on a consumer electronics product. Then again, the fuzziness breaks up the speaker's facade, allowing it to melt into its surroundings.

Loop can be suited up with colored covers like blue, yellow, fuchsia and other bright hues if you want a statement piece. Our review unit came in Salty Gray. The covers can be replaced and are fitted with an elastic band at the edges, as well as a magnetic clip surrounding the control pad cutout.

The front of the speaker is a flat circle, hence "Loop," which slopes into a saucer shape around back. As with nearly all standalones, inputs and system controls are located on the rear of the plastic casing. These include AirPlay and direct Wi-Fi streaming mode selectors, a 3.5mm audio jack and standard USB port.

A rubberized cavity located toward the top of Loop's rear case serves as a carry handle and insertion point for the unit's included wall-mounting mechanism, which cleverly keeps the speaker just off the wall to avoid errant vibrations.

Libratone


The front speaker control is more than reminiscent of Apple's tactile iPod button pad, which has now been relegated to just the Shuffle as the rest of the line moved on to touch screens. Unlike the iPod version, however, Libratone's setup only controls power and volume. The main button bearing the company logo acts as a power, standby and mute/unmute switch, while the surrounding ring actuates volume up/volume down switches.

A small LED situated at the bottom of the clickable control panel serves as a visual indicator of the unit's Wi-Fi and system status. When Loop is off, it displays a solid red light. Pulsing red indicates a system problem, while pulsing amber denotes startup. The LED "breathes" a white light when in standby mode, much like a MacBook's status indicator. Setup mode invokes a white breathing/flashing sequence, which turns to solid white when in use.

Libratone


Removing the wooly front cover reveals a central four-inch mid-range driver flanked on either side by ribbon tweeters. Above the paper cone-carrying driver is a passive radiator, which allows the shallow cabinet to reproduce deep bass tones.

The driver and tweeters are backed up by a 120-watt amp that supplies enough power for small to medium size rooms.

Setup



Like other wireless AirPlay speakers, Loop is easy to set up right out of the box.

The easiest method by far is Libratone's PlayDirect. Not to be confused with AirPlay Direct, the functionality is included in the AirPlay chipset, but not commonly used by consumer -- or even Apple -- devices. Pressing the dedicated PlayDirect button on the back of Loop initiates the mode and advertises that the speaker is ready to connect via Wi-Fi. On an iOS device, Loop shows up as "Libratone [serial number]" in the Wi-Fi settings screen and, once connected, can stream music via AirPlay.

Libratone


While effective, especially for portable AirPlay-enabled devices, DirectPlay may not be the best option for home use as an iPhone or iPad can only connect to one Wi-Fi network at a time, meaning users have to choose from Internet access or music streaming.

A more permanent setup would be to attach Loop to a home Wi-Fi network. Libratone offers a few ways to do this. The first is to connect an iOS device to the speaker's USB port, which will bring up a pop-up window asking to "Share Wi-Fi Settings" with Loop. Selecting "Allow" will automatically transfer the information, password and credentials of the Wi-Fi network to which an iPhone is connected.

Libratone


Alternatively, the Libratone app lets users set up Loop remotely by accessing the unit via a direct Wi-Fi connection. Macs and PCs can do the same by connecting to the speaker while in setup mode and logging network settings through a Web browser interface.

Once Loop has successfully hopped on a network, it will be selectable as an AirPlay device.

In use



As noted above, Loop is a great sounding speaker. We especially like the sweet, crisp high end only ribbon tweeters can reproduce. Unlike other active speakers in its class that use dome tweeters, Loop uses two ribbon type components usually reserved for more expensive systems.

The result is a crystal clear treble range that lends itself nicely to female vocals and strings. Brought up to adequate volumes by the integrated amplifier, the tweeters steal the show, vastly outshining the pedestrian mid-range cone driver.

Libratone
Loop's ribbon tweeters deliver extreme high end fidelity.


Instead of taking over completely, however, the ribbon tweeters add to the four-inch driver's output in a kind of layered voicing. Because of the interesting component combination, Loop has a sound signature that stands apart from the crowd, though some may not find the top-heavy presentation appealing.

For those who listen to classical, vocals, jazz and certain types of rock, Loop is superb. The speaker reproduces other genres with a touch of coloration skewing toward treble shimmering, but the result is still better than most competing products. It should be noted that Loop is not a "bass monster." The sound is more sweet than it is neutral and very silky almost to the point of being loose.

Mid-range fidelity was decent enough, but not up to the same level as the highs. We would have liked to hear a more substantial body with full tones, but had to settle for a somewhat hollow midsection. Using the app's DSP-controlling sound selection tool, we were able to find a profile that plumped up the sound to an acceptable level.

Libratone


Bass was restrained and accurate, mostly because Loop's cabinet isn't vented, but that meant no floor shaking with boomy bass tracks.

As always, we turned the speaker up to its max volume to check for distortion. In our tests, we didn't hear anything disturbing from the passive radiator. This is an achievement all its own given that this particular speaker arrangement and size usually results in some form of hissing, buzzing or rattling at high volumes.

Loop's sound is extremely wide thanks to what Libratone calls FullRoom technology. From what we can gather, FullRoom uses signal processing to reflect sound off walls and objects. In the app, there is a FullRoom optimization option where users can enter Loop's proximity to nearby walls.

For example, the app will change the sound signature based on whether the speaker is sitting on the floor or shelf, as well as how close it is to the nearest back or side wall. In practice, we heard a slight change in soundstage and presentation when positioning Loop on the ground and tables. The best results, we found, were obtained when the speaker was near a hard back wall.

Libratone


The app has a few other tricks up its sleeve, including a feature called "Sound Field Expansion," which basically artificially widens the soundstage. Another useful function is "Quiet Mode," which quickly drops playback volume by 12 decibels.

Conclusion



If your taste in music leans toward bass-thumping beats with an over-saturated mid-range, Loop is likely not for you. The speaker's design lends itself more to tight, restrained listening than raw output.

AirPlay's Wi-Fi connectivity makes Loop easy to access and the protocol itself delivers better sound than most Bluetooth setups thanks to support for high quality data compression.

For our taste in music and listening preferences, Loop is without peer in its size class. There are products that may offer a more filled-out middle, while others bring heavy bass, but none come close to the top end reproduction provided by Loop's two ribbon tweeters.

Libratone


Overall, Loop is an outstanding performer for those who enjoy bright, clear sound. The only thing holding it back from being a top selection is its high price. But if you have the means, Loop is definitely worth a look.

Libratone's Loop is available now for $500 and comes in Salty Gray, Pepper Black and Raspberry Red colors. According to Libratone's website, other colors are in the pipeline.

Score: 4 out of 5



ratings_hl_40.png

Pros:



  • Ribbon tweeters offer unparalleled treble fidelity
  • Wide, clean soundstage
  • Effective use of DSP technology


Cons:



  • Weak mid-range reproduction
  • Not as powerful as other in-class speakers
  • Wooly design is not for everyone
post #2 of 26
Is this a review or a rumor? 1wink.gif
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post #3 of 26
I am not a fan of that wooly look.

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post #4 of 26
"The sound is more sweet than it is neutral and very silky almost to the point of being loose."

I have no idea how to interpret this. I think an all-treble, "loose" sounding speaker should be a lot cheaper, like the ones on school bus radios.

iPhone 5 64GB, iPhone 4S 16GB, mid-2011 iMac, Apple TV 2nd Gen, iPod Nano

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iPhone 5 64GB, iPhone 4S 16GB, mid-2011 iMac, Apple TV 2nd Gen, iPod Nano

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post #5 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by LarryA View Post

"The sound is more sweet than it is neutral and very silky almost to the point of being loose."

I have no idea how to interpret this. I think an all-treble, "loose" sounding speaker should be a lot cheaper, like the ones on school bus radios.

I'm pretty sure it means is you need to buy it dinner before you try to **** it. $500 may seem pricey but if you've never had a hummer by a tweeter you're missing out.

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #6 of 26

Potentially stupid question, but:

 

Is there any reason to use an AirPlay speaker instead of a BlueTooth one?

 

I have an Airplay speaker, the JBL "loop" one, and it fails all the time. The problem is in the device, it locks up all the time and loses the WiFi signal constantly. I would not recommend this device.

 

I suspect that other devices may not have the same problems. But if I was going to buy another remote speaker, is there any reason not to use a BT version instead? BT support is everywhere, and it would seem that it would offer all the same functionality?

 

Is there anything I get with AirPlay that I wouldn't get with BT?

post #7 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

Potentially stupid question, but:

Is there any reason to use an AirPlay speaker instead of a BlueTooth one?

I have an Airplay speaker, the JBL "loop" one, and it fails all the time. The problem is in the device, it locks up all the time and loses the WiFi signal constantly. I would not recommend this device.

I suspect that other devices may not have the same problems. But if I was going to buy another remote speaker, is there any reason not to use a BT version instead? BT support is everywhere, and it would seem that it would offer all the same functionality?

Is there anything I get with AirPlay that I wouldn't get with BT?

Wireless range and transmit capacity come to mine but I'd think wireless range would be the primary reason not to get a BT speaker.

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #8 of 26

Horrendous design. Almost as laughable-looking as where it's knocked off from: http://bit.ly/1cWydaw

post #9 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post
Wireless range and transmit capacity come to mine but I'd think wireless range would be the primary reason not to get a BT speaker.

Right… although in my *personal* case that's not a problem.

 

I wonder though, does a BT speaker set show up in the menu like an AirPlay one? On our iPhones I simply tap the airplay menu and there it is. Is it the same with a BT source?

post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

Right… although in my *personal* case that's not a problem.

I wonder though, does a BT speaker set show up in the menu like an AirPlay one? On our iPhones I simply tap the airplay menu and there it is. Is it the same with a BT source?

I would expect you'd have to pair it like any other BT item but after that I'm not sure how it would work or if it would be as smooth as using AirPlay. This is definitely out of my wheelhouse.

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #11 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


I would expect you'd have to pair it like any other BT item but after that I'm not sure how it would work or if it would be as smooth as using AirPlay. This is definitely out of my wheelhouse.

 

After pairing, Bluetooth speakers show up in the same picker you use to select AirPlay audio devices.

post #12 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


Wireless range and transmit capacity come to mine but I'd think wireless range would be the primary reason not to get a BT speaker.

 

Audio quality with AirPlay is better in most cases.

 

Unless the BT speaker mfr is paying for the AAC codec at the speaker, or you're using an Android phone that has aptX in it and the speaker mfr has used the aptX codec, it just won't sound as good as AirPlay.

 

The other reason to avoid a Bluetooth speaker is the pairing model. Some are easier than others to pair.

post #13 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by vmarks View Post

Audio quality with AirPlay is better in most cases.

Unless the BT speaker mfr is paying for the AAC codec at the speaker, or you're using an Android phone that has aptX in it and the speaker mfr has used the aptX codec, it just won't sound as good as AirPlay.

The other reason to avoid a Bluetooth speaker is the pairing model. Some are easier than others to pair.

Is that a limitation with bit rate or are their codec features, like number of supported audio channels, that come into effect?

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #14 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by vmarks View Post
 

 

Audio quality with AirPlay is better in most cases.

 

Unless the BT speaker mfr is paying for the AAC codec at the speaker, or you're using an Android phone that has aptX in it and the speaker mfr has used the aptX codec, it just won't sound as good as AirPlay.

 

The other reason to avoid a Bluetooth speaker is the pairing model. Some are easier than others to pair.

Yes, I have the Bose Soundlink and it is a pain to pair up. We have four devices that regularly need pairing. This means pressing the BT button on the Bose for a few seconds, then opening the settings on the phone, going to BT and select to connect. And then wait for the two to connect. Dum de dum de dum.... Sometimes getting to the BT settings takes a little longer and the BT pairing times out on the Bose which adds more time and annoyance. 

 

So it is a procedure just to get listening. Do some BT speakers have the ability to remember more than one device? I have never tried an AirPlay speaker but imagine them to always be accessible without faffing about. 

post #15 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by paxman View Post
 

Yes, I have the Bose Soundlink and it is a pain to pair up. We have four devices that regularly need pairing. This means pressing the BT button on the Bose for a few seconds, then opening the settings on the phone, going to BT and select to connect. And then wait for the two to connect. Dum de dum de dum.... Sometimes getting to the BT settings takes a little longer and the BT pairing times out on the Bose which adds more time and annoyance. 

 

So it is a procedure just to get listening. Do some BT speakers have the ability to remember more than one device? I have never tried an AirPlay speaker but imagine them to always be accessible without faffing about. 

 

With AirPlay, it *can* be easy. There are three variations of getting wi-fi on the same network as your phone (audio source. could be mac, appletv, etc.).

 

1. Speaker initially broadcasts its on Access Point network and you use an app or web page to configure it to your existing wireless network.

2. Speaker has a USB port and when you connect your 30pin or lightning cable to it the iOS device asks permission to share wi-fi details with the speaker. 

3. Speaker has a wi-fi direct mode that causes it to broadcast its own network and you join its network to play. (This makes sense for a portable speaker out where there's no wi-fi network. Doesn't make sense in the home, really.)

 

Of those, number 2 is the best. Plugging in a cable and confirming it's ok to share details is not faffing about and you do it precisely once.

Number 1 is faffing about, but you still only do it once.

post #16 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


Is that a limitation with bit rate or are their codec features, like number of supported audio channels, that come into effect?

If you aren't getting AAC at both endpoints, or aptX at both endpoints, then it falls back to SBC, the subband codec.

 

SBC sounds terrible (to me.)

 

aptX does 96kHz, 24bit audio which is pretty much in line with CD quality digital mastering.

You start at about 384kbit/s for aptX and go up from there. When you start adding multichannel, you get up to 1024kbit/s for 5.1 The problem is finding a phone you want to use and a speaker that both have that codec.

 

SBC by comparison is 44kHz  with 345kbit/s.

 

AAC over A2DP uses 44kHz with 264kbit/s because it provides higher audio quality for a given bit rate.

post #17 of 26
You make an excellent case for going with AirPlay speakers, vmarks.

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #18 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by vmarks View Post
 

 

With AirPlay, it *can* be easy. There are three variations of getting wi-fi on the same network as your phone (audio source. could be mac, appletv, etc.).

 

1. Speaker initially broadcasts its on Access Point network and you use an app or web page to configure it to your existing wireless network.

2. Speaker has a USB port and when you connect your 30pin or lightning cable to it the iOS device asks permission to share wi-fi details with the speaker. 

3. Speaker has a wi-fi direct mode that causes it to broadcast its own network and you join its network to play. (This makes sense for a portable speaker out where there's no wi-fi network. Doesn't make sense in the home, really.)

 

Of those, number 2 is the best. Plugging in a cable and confirming it's ok to share details is not faffing about and you do it precisely once.

Number 1 is faffing about, but you still only do it once.

I am not really bothered about the set-up as long as it sticks. So if you set up your speakers as in point two, which is like the Apple TV, right?, and from then on the speakers are readily accessible, its all good. With my Sound Link we need to do the pairing virtually every time.

post #19 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

You make an excellent case for going with AirPlay speakers, vmarks.

Yes, Audio quality is important if the speakers are reasonably good. The syncing of BT is a deal breaker if the speaker is shared by many users. If it is just used by one person it is not so important. The ideal setup is if it works like the Apple TV. The big 'pro' for BT is portability. So if you travel a lot and need sounds in the hotel, for instance, BT is the way to go.

post #20 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by paxman View Post
 

I am not really bothered about the set-up as long as it sticks. So if you set up your speakers as in point two, which is like the Apple TV, right?, and from then on the speakers are readily accessible, its all good. With my Sound Link we need to do the pairing virtually every time.

Once the AirPlay speaker is on the wi-fi network, it doesn't need to be set up again.

 

Path 2 to setting up AirPlay was even easier than setting up an AppleTV.

 

Sharing the AirPlay speaker is easy- one person switches their output back to their iPhone, another user selects the audio output - because it's wi-fi, it doesn't require re-pairing to move to the next person's phone.

 

You're right, if you need battery powered portability, you get a Bluetooth speaker. I tend to travel with an AirPort Express and use that for audio. Hotels that have a 3.5mm jack on the aux line of their in-room audio work fine. I'm an outlier, though - I also tried to make Chromecast work on a hotel wi-fi network. Spoilers: it wouldn't. 

post #21 of 26
Hideous.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #22 of 26

Airplay uses lossless transmission.

 

Bluetooth does not. Whether SBC or aptX, it will be lossy compression.

 

range is the only other big plus for Airplay. You can extend it as far as you can extend your network (aka, i was able to use a VPN to Airplay from home to work-no real reason other than to try it)

post #23 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

Hideous.

They are obviously for sheeple. 1biggrin.gif
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post #24 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maury Markowitz View Post

Potentially stupid question, but:
Is there anything I get with AirPlay that I wouldn't get with BT?

Is the advantage not multipoint access? With BT you can only play one speaker at the time. With Airplay there's no limit.
Oddly enough, this only works with iTunes: choose multiple speakers as output and you can fill your house with music. iOS does not support this.
post #25 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by hagar View Post


Is the advantage not multipoint access? With BT you can only play one speaker at the time. With Airplay there's no limit.
Oddly enough, this only works with iTunes: choose multiple speakers as output and you can fill your house with music. iOS does not support this.

The answer to this is:

 

Select your speakers in iTunes.

Use Remote app on iOS to control iTunes.

 

Result: Multipoint speakers from iOS. 

post #26 of 26
Another overpriced wireless speaker.
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