Style isn’t everything. While one can justify the purchase of a $600 speaker because it looks good (like the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air), it should also be expected to perform well as part of the deal. Style-minded speaker company Libratone has become well-known for making attractive, textile-covered AirPlay speakers designed with fashion in mind, and the svelte Libratone Loop is no different. This $499.95 Loop looks striking, but unlike the Zeppelin Air it just doesn’t sound up to snuff.
The Loop is a large, 13-inch disc with a curved white plastic back and an Italian wool-covered, flat front. The cover can be replaced, and comes in eight different colors. It’s not as nice as the cashmere cover on the Libratone Live; while it looks good, the material has a woolen scratchiness to it. The wool cover is broken up only by a small circular control that holds the indicator light and Libratone and Volume Up/Down buttons. The speaker weighs 6.1 pounds, and can be sat up on a table with the included snap-in stand or hung on a wall with the included wall mount. The back holds a power connector, 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB port, and AirPlay and PlayDirect buttons. A large circular hole in the top functions as a grip for carrying the speaker around, as well as the slot for the wall mount.
The AirPlay setup process is easy, thanks to Libratone’s iOS/Android app that automates most of it. To put the Loop into setup mode, press both the AirPlay and PlayDirect buttons until the light starts to flash. Connect to the hotspot the Libratone sets up on your iOS or Android device, run the app, and enter your network information. The Loop will reboot and then connect to your network. You can also configure the speaker with a PC or Mac through a Web-based setup page, or through a USB connection with your iOS device. If you don’t want to use your home network, the PlayDirect mode turns the Loop into its own hotspot so you can use AirPlay or DLNA audio through a direct Wi-Fi connection. The speaker works with both AirPlay and DLNA, so you can stream music over your network regardless of your device. Be aware that DLNA is much less consistent on Android devices than AirPlay is on iOS devices; you have to stream music through a separate DLNA player app from Android itself, and networked speaker playback isn’t integrated directly into many music services in Android like nearly all audio-capable apps are in iOS.
A $500 speaker can be expected to offer a certain level of performance. The nicest thing I can say about the Libratone Loop is that it subverts expectations, an act which I can at least philosophically appreciate. Like any good 13-inch-wide speaker, the Loop gets nice and loud, but its tendency to distort deep bass isn’t acceptable for a speaker in this price range. Our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” sounded very crunchy and poppy with both the deep synth bass notes and the kick drum. The speaker was clearly trying to put out a bit too much sound than it could handle at maximum volume, a problem exacerbated by placing the $500 speaker on its included $10 plastic stand. The light, Y-shaped piece of plastic holds the speaker upright and steady, but as soon as the music started getting rumbly it started vibrating against the table and buzzing annoyingly.
Outside of sub-bass, the Loop fares better. I listened to Miles Davis’ “So What,” and while the upright bass notes didn’t have a ton of texture, they sounded warm and full without distorting. The piano sounded crisp and full as well, occasionally edging toward bright but with satisfying detail in the high-mids. MC Lars’ “This Gigantic Robot Kills” was mixed, with the mechanical sounds of the opening and Lars’ vocals offering plenty of subtlety, but the ska-evoking horns sounding way too bright. The Loop doesn’t sound particularly bad when it’s not vibrating against a table and distorting with extreme bass, but it doesn’t sound particularly good, either, and for a half-grand speaker that’s simply unacceptable.
The Libratone Loop is certainly eye-catching, but its $500 price tag demands more than just looking good. A speaker this expensive should sound great, and the Loop simply isn’t up to snuff. If you want the best performance in this price range, the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air is just $100 more than the Loop and offers incredible clarity and depth across the board, and the Sonos Play:1 offers solid performance and AirPlay-like multiroom convenience at less than half the price. Even the smaller, slightly less expensive Libratone Zipp might be a better fit thanks to its portable, battery-powered nature. If you don’t mind Bluetooth, the Marshall Stanmore is stylish in a completely different way from the Loop, costs $100 less, and sounds excellent with many genres of music.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc