Libratone Lounge review

Pros

  • Extremely powerful speaker
  • Wide stereo separation for a single unit
  • Pleasant visual design
  • Easy to set up

Cons

  • Massive and expensive
  • DSP hampers bass at high volumes

Perhaps you're looking for a single speaker system for your entire house, something that can really fill a very large room, but also operate well at subtle volumes. Perhaps you're prepared to spend £1,099 on such a purchase, provided it looks handsome, plays music wirelessly via AirPlay, and can also physically connect with a computer or TV via analogue and digital connections.

Perfect; then the only question remaining is: Do you have room for the Libratone Lounge? If you have a flat screen TV, it's likely as long, if not longer. Now look at the image above, adjust your preconceptions, and read on if you have a place to put this beast, because it sounds great.

Design

Did I mention this speaker system is large? I live in a fairly small apartment myself, and I'm not sure I know too many people who could find a spot for the Lounge in their humble abodes (at least where it would remain useful and not look ridiculous). At 1015 x 120 x 220mm (WxDxH) and weighing 12.2kg, this is the kind of speaker you plan a room around, not the kind you will plop down in the middle of an established space. Unless that space is a wide open loft (note that the Lounge is also wall-mountable, however). The Lounge is even larger than most home cinema soundbar speaker systems.

Like most Libratone speakers, the Lounge's front panel has a wool grille that covers the drivers and wraps around the side panels. It's removable, and if you wish to swap out colours for the cover, that's possible on the company's website. Ours came in an austere, regal grey, and you can pick your colour on the Libratone site.

Beneath the wool, one 8in 50 Watt woofer, two 4in 25 Watt midrange drivers, and two 1in 25 Watt tweeters provide the audio. Technically, the woofer is not really a subwoofer, since it doesn't go quite as far down into the sub-bass range as a typical sub would, but this is a 2.1 system, nonetheless. Its frequency range begins around 38Hz – subwoofers typically also cover 10Hz-30Hz, so there's plenty of sub-bass being more or less ignored here.

The lone button in plain sight, with the logo on it, has several functions. It's used to switch between audio sources, to mute, or to put the system in standby mode. The logo, a bird, lights up in different colours depending on what mode you're in.

The back panel is wool-free, and has a small recessed area housing the connection for the included power cable (which has a nice cloth-lined cord), as well as Aux inputs – a 3.5mm and Optical connection. This is also where the annoyingly placed power switch resides. It's awkward because your direct path to the switch is blocked by the power cable itself.

Unlike some other speaker options from Libratone, this behemoth is not rechargeable – its battery life would be something comical. So if you're looking for portability, try an option like the Libratone Zipp that can actually be carried around with ease.

There's no remote control either, which seems silly in this price range, but it's easy enough to just control everything from your streaming device or computer.

Setting up AirPlay streaming on the Lounge is a simple process, but there's also PlayDirect, which doesn't even require the use of your Wi-Fi router, as well as DLNA streaming options for compatible computers and Android devices. The PlayDirect setup is the easiest option – on iOS devices, refresh your Wi-Fi networks list in the Settings menu, and Libratone will appear as an option. Now select it as an AirPlay speaker on the playback page, and you're set. Regular AirPlay setup, using your home Wi-Fi network, is similarly easy, with only a few added steps involving the free Libratone app. And DLNA setup is a bit less intuitive, but none of the options here are brain-benders.

Performance

The size of the Libratone Lounge sets it apart from typical streaming AirPlay systems, obviously, but this isn't just because it looks big. It sounds huge, and the stereo separation between left and right channels is something many people who own smaller docks no longer really experience. Stand 10 feet away from a smaller dock, and you are listening, more or less, in mono (though reflections off the walls around you keep this from truly being the case). Stand 10 feet away from the Lounge, and you're standing just outside of the sweet spot. You hear separation at a nice distance with the Lounge, and man, is it a loud, powerful system.

It would be shocking if the Lounge distorted, even on deep bass tracks, given its price. So the good news here is that it does not. Even on tracks with seriously challenging sub-bass frequencies, like the Knife's "Silent Shout," the Lounge can go up to its maximum volume without distorting on the deep bass drum loop. However, as the volume rises, it's clear that some digital signal processing (DSP) is being used to tone down the deep bass.

At lower levels, you actually get a more resonant bass response. At top levels, the deep low-end thump sounds much less intense – the tap of the kick drum's attack is not followed by the thunderous rumble that should be there. This is because, most likely, it would blow the woofer, thus Libratone uses DSP to minimise the chances of this. It is a direct alteration of the sound of the mix, and also the speaker's sound signature itself. Audiophiles will not be fond of this, most likely, though at moderate volumes there's far less DSP to deal with.

This phenomenon is quite noticeable on the Jay-Z and Kanye West track "No Church in the Wild." At mid-level volume, which is still quite loud, the sub-bass synth hits that sit underneath the kick drum loop have a nice bit of resonance and rumble to them. Raise the volume, and they thin out, and the focus is again on the treble edge of the attack on the drum loops, while the bass elements shift to the background. Vocals are always crisp and clear, but if you're looking for a huge subwoofer experience, the Lounge doesn't offer it.

As mentioned earlier, the sub's frequency range begins around 38Hz, leaving much of the sub-bass range uncovered. At moderate volumes, when the woofers make the bass range above 38Hz sound rich and fantastic, you won't care. But it's worth noting that deep bass fiends will probably find the Lounge lacking.

Enough about sub-bass and DSP. For most genres, and at normal listening levels, the Lounge sounds amazing. On Bill Callahan's "Drover," his unique baritone vocals are delivered with rich low-mids and a perfect treble edge. The drumming in the background typically has more thunder to it on a system with a subwoofer; here the drum hits sound less intense but still strong, and they create a perfect backdrop for his vocals.

Classical tracks, like John Adams' "The Chairman Dances," sound natural and well balanced at all volumes, but again, even with instrumental music, at top levels, you will notice the bass response being dialled back a bit, which definitely has a toning-down effect on the lower register strings and the large drum hits at the end. These hits can, on some systems, sound massive, but here they sound a bit more restrained. This is actually a positive thing – the Lounge doesn't deliver booming, unbalanced bass, it delivers a complete, balanced response, with bright highs and subtle bass within its powerful output.

Verdict

If you're prepared to spend big money, but aren't sold on the Lounge, the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9 may be of interest to you – granted, it’s even more expensive (by £600), but it packs more low-end, and is a general marvel of design and performance.

True soundbar systems like the Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2 deliver powerful audio that's more tuned for home cinema dialogue and surround effects, and less so for music, but they're worth looking into if that's your focus.

At lower price ranges, the Libratone Zipp (£330) and Libratone Live (£450) offer less powerful examples of the Lounge's sound signature. And the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air (£500) is a victory of both design and audio performance. However, if you're looking for something big, and you care far less about big bass than you do balance, the Libratone Lounge is a versatile wireless option worthy of its sizable investment.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Libratone Lounge

Wireless Remote Control

No

Separate subwoofer

No

Power Rating (Left and Right, Each)

4 x 25 Watts RMS

AirPlay

Yes

Bluetooth

No

Type

iPod, Computer, Wireless, iPad, iPhone, Android

Power Rating (Subwoofer)

1 x 50 Watts RMS

Physical Dock

No