- Solid build and customisable design
- Warm, weighty sound with lots of bass
- Streams from a wide range of sources
- Easy to use
- Bass can be overpowering
- Soundstage could be more open
- No DLNA playback through phone app
- 4-inch neodymium woofer, 2 x 1-inch soft dome neodymium tweeters, 2 x 4-inch bass radiators
- 360-degree FullRoom technology
- 100W class D amplifier with DSP sound optimisation
- Dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 aptX
- AirPlay, DLNA, Spotify Connect, internet radio
- SoundSpace Link multiroom via smartphone app
- Built-in battery with 12 hours of playback
- Manufacturer: Libratone
- Review Price: £249/$373
WHAT IS THE LIBRATONE ZIPP NORDIC BLACK?
The latest version of Libratone’s chic wireless speaker struts down the catwalk in a new Nordic Black jacket and a host of features not found on the original Zipp, which we reviewed back in 2012.
This Danish-designed speaker is equipped with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay, Spotify Connect and SoundSpace Link multiroom playback, which lets you stream music to multiple speakers. This version also offers improved audio playback and an upgraded smartphone app.
DESIGN AND CONNECTIONS
Zipp is a 261mm tall cylinder wrapped in a ‘CoolWeave’ mesh sleeve that zips up below the midriff. Ours is clad in the new Nordic Black version that looks great, but you’re by no means married to it – the idea is that you can swap the sleeves to suit your taste. There are nine other colours to choose from, with hipster names such as Atlantic Deep, Nude, Sangria and Graphite Grey. The mesh sleeve replaces the furry cover of the original Zipp, which may disappoint some. However, it’s said to have both sonic and aesthetic benefits.
The speaker itself is solid and chunky, with a rubber pad on the bottom lending vibration-busting stability. At 1.5kg it’s easy to carry around, and there’s a leather strap on the back in case you want to hang it up.
Build quality is generally good, but the plastic top and base take the shine off slightly. Those craving a little more luxury could check out the £329/$493 Copenhagen version, which sports an aluminium top and base and a wool cover.
The discreet touch-sensitive control panel on top works brilliantly. The Libratone bird emblem in the middle allows you to enter setup mode by holding it down, or pause playback by tapping it.
Surrounding the bird are track-skip keys, a favourites button that toggles through five internet radio presets or Spotify playlists, and a SoundSpace Link button that connects Zipp to other speakers. Slide your finger in a circle to adjust the volume, or hold your hand over the panel to momentarily hush playback. The lights pulse and flash when you interact with the controls, which is all very impressive.
On the back are a power button, DC input, a 3.5mm mini-jack input and a USB port that lets you play music or charge your devices.
Inside Zipp is a 4-inch neodymium woofer, two 1-inch soft dome neodymium tweeters and two 4-inch bass radiators. The sound waves are dispersed in every direction from the cylindrical enclosure using a 360-degree reflector – a system that Libratone has dubbed FullRoom technology.
It’s driven by a digital class D amplifier with DSP sound optimisation and a speaker protection system. Libratone claims a power output of 100W.
Zipp has all wireless bases covered. The dual-band Wi-Fi connection (2.4GHz and 5GHz) allows you to stream music via AirPlay, DLNA and Spotify Connect, with support for hi-res files up to 96kHz/24-bit, while Bluetooth 4.0 aptX offers a more straightforward alternative. Built-in noise-isolating microphones let you take calls while connected to your phone.
SoundSpace Link is the name of Libratone’s multiroom system, which allows you to create up to eight groups of speakers on your home network, with up to six speakers per group. It’s orchestrated by Libratone’s smartphone app, which differs greatly from the 2012 version.
So if you want the same music playing throughout the house, or want to stream different sources to different groups, SoundSpace Link makes it possible. You can even pair two Zipps as left and right channels and play music in true stereo.
Zipp’s built-in battery makes it ideal for taking out in the garden or camping. It provides between 10 and 12 hours of continuous playback, which is a decent length of time.
Libratone’s app is a simple yet classy affair, laying bold icons and slick animations over white and black backgrounds. Its spacious layout makes everything easy to find.
It takes care of Wi-Fi setup, guiding you through a series of screens and asking for your router password along the way. Once connected, the SoundSpaces menu displays each connected speaker in a bubble. You can drag and drop these onto other speakers to create groups or add new speakers by pressing the ‘+’ icon.
With only one Zipp to play with, I was unable to explore multiroom performance further, but on this evidence it looks easy to control. And since Zipp is a portable speaker, it’ isn’t tied to a particular location, giving you plenty of flexibility when setting up a whole-house music system.
Tap the speaker and a virtual version of the top control pad appears, allowing you to adjust the volume, configure favourites, or adjust the settings for that speaker. Among the settings is a range of voicing modes including Easy Listening, Jazz Club and Speech, but Neutral is by far the most satisfying. Helpfully you can check the battery level and Wi-Fi strength too.
You can launch Spotify from the Libratone app, but to use Spotify Connect you’ll need a Premium account. Internet radio is native to the app – but, sadly, DLNA playback isn’t. To play music from NAS drives and PCs, you’ll need to download a third-party app such as Bubble uPnP or cast it from a Windows PC. Switching between apps for different functions is a bit of a chore – it would be nice to have everything in one place.
Fire up ‘What You Need’ by Jason Rebello and what stands out is the warmth and chunkiness of its sound. The springy bassline and live drums offer plenty of body, while Omar’s soulful vocals sound richer than ever.
This comes as no surprise with all those woofers and radiators shoved inside, but what’s impressive is how well Zipp harnesses and shapes this considerable bass output.
Kick drums pulse tightly without booming, and the double bass solo on Rebello’s ‘Man on the Train’ feels deep and solid, with a thick twang at the leading edge. It’s very satisfying.
So that’s bass sorted. But the good work continues higher up the spectrum with a robust mid-range that gives saxophone riffs presence and three-dimensionality. There’s plenty of detail and nuance in there too, retaining the emotion and soul that lesser wireless speakers can strip away.
Zipp’s FullRoom tech works well too. It spreads sound throughout the room beautifully and maintains an even tonal balance as you walk around it. That’s a blessing for a portable speaker, as you get the same sound quality wherever you place it.
Volume isn’t a problem for the Zipp – it delivers a big and fullsome sound before the dial even hits three quarters. Be warned. however, that some of the other voicing modes – such as Easy Listening and Jazz Club – reduce the volume and dynamics considerably, so if it’s loudness you require then leave it in Neutral.
There’s plenty of detail in the sound, too, such as the precise ping at the edge of acoustic guitar chords and subtle percussion underpinning rhythms. It attacks fast beats with gusto, getting your toe tapping subconsciously.
Negatives are minor. The soundstage could be wider and more open – something that might be improved when using two speakers in stereo. There’s a slightly closed-in feel to the sound.
Zipp’s chunky bass is well controlled but perhaps the balance is tipped too much in its favour. It can be overbearing at times, particularly when playing bass-heavy tunes, making me yearn for a manual EQ to trim it a little. When you push the volume up high the sound thickens up, and it loses some of that impressive clarity and organisation.
Other Bluetooth speakers such as the DALI Katch offer superior detail retrieval and greater finesse, although you’ll need a bigger budget to buy one.
SHOULD I BUY THE LIBRATONE ZIPP NORDIC BLACK?
Zipp’s new Nordic Black jacket may have given us a great excuse to revisit this brilliant Bluetooth speaker, but its impressive performance is the real reason why it deserves a place on your shortlist.
It projects a warm, chunky sound in every direction, with deep bass, crisp treble and a solid mid-range. All that bass can be a little full-on at times, but there’s no arguing with the overall quality of its sonic delivery.
What’s more, it streams from a wide range of wireless sources and works effortlessly with the well-designed phone app, which is only let down by its inability to stream DLNA natively.
All in all, Zipp is a terrific Bluetooth speaker that fully justifies its price – and the addition of this fetching Nordic Black finish greatly enhances its appeal.
Libratone’s popular Bluetooth speaker is enhanced by a swanky new colour scheme and nifty features, but its impressive sound quality is the real star of the show.