Review: Libratone Zipp & Zipp Mini Wireless Speakers

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Design & Connectivity

The Libratone Zipp Mini and Zipp Bluetooth speakers side-by-side
Libratone's latest speakers that cater to those with an ear for sound and eye for style. Stanley Goodner/About

Portable Bluetooth speakers have been around long enough, where it’s reasonable to feel that the market has hit a maturation point. However, audio manufacturers are still finding ways to enhance and delight users with incredible and useful features. Libratone’s new speakers pack powerful wireless and multi-pairing capabilities for the home.

The Libratone Zipp and its slightly smaller sibling, the Zipp Mini, are the company’s latest speakers that cater to those with an ear for sound and eye for style. It’s not often one gets to alter an audio device’s appearance as easy as swapping into another sweater. Both of these speakers feature interchangeable covers in a palette of colors, which is great for matching moods or complementing various living spaces. The covers come in either wool or mesh fabric, unzip to remove, and can be washed (recommended by hand or delicates setting on machine) if ever necessary.

Size-wise, the Zipp Mini shoulders up to other cylindrical-shaped speakers, such as the Ultimate Ears Boom 2 or Scosche BoomBottle+, albeit slightly shorter and thicker. The Zipp, with its added height and girth, is more closely matched by the Ultimate Ears MegaBoom. Despite not being devised with outdoor ruggedness in mind, the Zipp and Zipp Mini reflect care in construction and showcase contemporary Scandinavian design. A rubberized base provides a bit of shock absorption for those errant drops, and the matte white material discourages/diminishes permanent abrasions. The textured plastic body underneath is built solid with a (real) leather handle anchored fast.

Some portable speakers power on instantly with a flick of a switch. The Zipp and Zipp Mini require an extended press-hold and an almost 30-second wait – an eternity for the impatient. These PC-like boot-up and shutdown sequences may not please everyone. Once ready, the Libratone speakers greet users with a pleasant trill of notes, softly audible to those nearby. You’re not likely to wake sleeping babies or attract inquiring eyes, a common theme with speakers that choose to exhibit obnoxiously amped-up system noises. If anything, the Zipp and Zipp Mini mimic the sounds of a small, cheerful bird.

Libratone eschews tired, blocky buttons in favor of an elegantly-intuitive touch interface. Controls are gently back-lit, offering single-touch operation for play/pause/skip as well as wireless set-up. A circular sweep across the surface adjusts volume, with levels indicated by dots around the center nightingale. Resting a palm over the interface puts a momentary hush on music playing from the speaker. This is convenient for when one wants to hear something without having to hit pause, thereby affecting all speakers in the same group. The touch interface lets users set speaker groupings as well as cycle through up to five radio stations favorited within the Libratone app.

As with many modern speakers, the Libratone Zipp and Zipp Mini feature a standard 5 V/1 A USB port to charge mobile devices. This port also happens to go both ways, allowing users to play music from a plugged-in flash drive or cable-connected iPhone/iPad. Combined with the 3.5 mm input, these speakers offer plenty of flexibility. Sadly, although expected, the Zipp and Zipp Mini charge only through the included wall adapter and not by USB. And while the included charger may seem compact, it’s wide enough to block neighboring power sockets.

02
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Design & Connectivity (continued)

The Zipp Mini Bluetooth speaker with cover removed
The Zipp and Zipp Mini speakers feature interchangeable covers in a palette of colors. Stanley Goodner/About

Both speakers pack a built-in microphone for hands-free phone conversations. Most portable audio devices these days do, yet many fail to perform better than a standard smartphone. The Zipp and Zipp Mini prove to be useful in a pinch with microphones that can pick up voices from a few feet (1 m) away. The clarity is good, and neither party sounds distant or unintelligible to the other. While the overall speakerphone quality many not be at a level for business-related conferences, it’s perfect for fielding everyday calls.

The fact that the new Zipp and Zipp Mini feature Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, Wi-Fi via DLNA (Android, Windows, and Blackberry) and AirPlay (iOS), and Spotify Connect demonstrates that Libratone is serious about people enjoying music, no matter the subject or source. Whether you’re a casual listener streaming online radio stations, or a stalwart audiophile owning nothing less than lossless, both of these speakers have you covered for connections. Users wanting the option to create stereo and/or multi-room audio experiences can do so with these (and future) SoundSpaces Link-enabled speakers.

The Wi-Fi connection range varies, depending on one’s router hardware, its network signal strength, and any walls/obstacles in the way. Bluetooth provides a more mobile option, limited only by the standard 33 ft (10 m) range. Since the Libratone speakers feature Bluetooth with aptX, compatible devices can enjoy "CD-like audio quality" anywhere without wires. From our real-world indoor tests, both the Zipp and Zipp Mini impressed by maintaining a functional Bluetooth connection up to the listed specs. Stability wavers a bit at max distance, which is easily fixed by moving a few steps closer.

With volume cranked all the way up on the speaker and to 70 percent on a connected device – a degree that pleasantly entertains as background music for a kitchen and neighboring sun room – the 60-watt Zipp Mini offers over 11 hours of Bluetooth wireless audio. With the same levels, the Zipp falls just shy of the eight-hour mark, which seems appropriate given the larger drivers and 100 watts of total power. Both speakers pack identical 2,400 mAh batteries that take about two hours to fully charge.

A single press of the power button momentarily flashes remaining battery life on the touch interface. Due to the number of dots available, Libratone’s speakers are able to offer greater accuracy versus ones relying on four LEDs to estimate percentage. The Libratone app does one better by showing a precise number with remaining uptime. When there’s only about an hour or so left, the Zipp and Zipp Mini trill intermittently through the music as a charge reminder. To save on battery life, both speakers auto-shutoff after 30 minutes of inactivity.

03
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Audio Performance

The Libratone Zipp Mini Bluetooth speaker in black
Libratone's Zipp Mini is portable and easy to hold. Stanley Goodner/About

We spent time listening to the Zipp Mini speaker first, followed by the Zipp. Overall impressions of the latter – oomph offered for the bump in size and price – can be found at the end of this section. Both the Zipp (to a lesser degree) and Zipp Mini emit a pale white hiss when on and connected, audible once your ear comes within few inches of the unit. But you have to be leaning in and actively listening to notice. Thankfully, this noise is flat, unaffected by volume levels, and virtually disappears while music is playing.

While intuitive, the touch interface provides only 11 steps of volume (both speakers), requiring a paired device to fine-tune desired output. At moderate listening levels, the Zipp Mini can comfortably fill a small- to medium-sized room. The Zipp works even better for larger spaces. At max volume, both can get particularly loud without compromising sound too much. This volume versus audio quality makes a substantial difference when comparing Libratone’s speakers to others.

If you crank the Zipp or Zipp Mini’s volume up to max (both the speaker and connected device), you might be surprised to find that the music is still listenable despite having developed distortion. Elements end up brightened, almost to the point of brittle harshness but not quite. This maximum volume also exacerbates sibilance (particularly hard consonants), leads to a dip in overall clarity, puts a blush of haloed blur over the highs, and adds a forced strain throughout the mids. The lows end up sounding fuller and marginally less agile, if anything. Many portable speakers claim a high decibel output but do so at an expense. These ones from Libratone are able to play music loudly without wrecking fidelity.

The Zipp and Zipp Mini feature a cylindrical design that offers 360 degrees of smooth dispersion, where every spot in the room is the "sweet spot." You can walk a slow circle around either without any detectable changes to the audio output. However, a drawback with omnidirectional audio is that the music can seem flat versus stereo imaging. Without left and right channels, there’s no real sense of boundary and depth to the soundstage. The fix? Pair two of Libratone’s speakers in stereo with the mobile app.

Those who enjoy open, spacious music may find that the Zipp Mini presents a slightly cramped atmosphere. It’s not quite to the point of a boxed-in sound, where layers and edges overlap or muddle in excess. But it definitely begs for more room, like a local venue that feels a little too intimate for a show that’s under capacity. However, the Zipp Mini’s range is respectable for its size, delivering consistent and energetic highs, mids, and lows. The Zipp’s delivery is more voluminous by comparison, while also maintaining similar attributes of range and energy.

The Zipp Mini’s overall output quality remains clear across a wide selection of music at all but the highest volume levels. Softer elements, like hushed harmony vocals, plucks of strings, or breathy exhales of lyrics, are present and not completely lost in the background. It’s only at the extreme ends of the highs and lows where these subtle bits are completely forfeit, likely due to the physical limitations of the speaker hardware.

04
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Audio Performance (continued)

The Libratone Zipp Bluetooth speaker in red
The Zipp, with its added height and girth, is more closely matched by the Ultimate Ears MegaBoom. Stanley Goodner/About

The Zipp and Zipp Mini add some polish to the highs down to upper-mids. The result of this slightly processed sound leads to a touch of brightness overall, but not so much as to rough up the edges of instruments. Depending on what you’re listening to, you might notice delightful sparkle to some elements, a thin metallic sheen (but not sizzle, thankfully) over cymbals and hi-hats, and subtle sibilance to otherwise naturally-sweet, present vocals. That aside, the highs are enjoyable to listen to for hours on end without fatigue. Notes from string instruments are delicately quick on the pluck with a charming, vibrant tone.

By comparison, the mids may seem less prominent than the highs or lows. However, they’re far from lacking or recessed-sounding. Notes play consistently, maintaining a much-appreciated balance across a range of tracks and genres. A touch of warmth aids in developing instrumental character and even better energy. Saxophones and trumpets exhibit a lively, captivating richness that draws the listener in. This added warmth also benefits guitar and male vocals in particular, with the result driving a sense of body and movement throughout the mids. Listen to The White Buffalo and you can hear how the Zipp Mini accurately captures Jake Smith’s vocal transition from husky roar to tender crooning, just as he does live in person.

There is a surprising amount of low-end impact and depth, considering the Zipp Mini’s portable size. Despite the notable emphasis to the lows, bass-heavy tracks can play without overshadowing the highs and mids. Although staunch audiophiles may cringe at the tip in balance, it works in the Mini’s favor by allowing beats to flow across open spaces without seeming faded or non-existent. Users can also enjoy higher volumes without the lows expanding into an artificial-sounding, overwhelmingly-bloated, muddy mess. Many portable speakers struggle with too much/little low-end output, yet the Zipp Mini manages to deftly balance quality, strength, and control.

The Zipp Mini’s low-end attack is composed, delivering envelopes of sound that come across as tight and punchy with a quick decay. The lean muscularity hits hard without obscuring the musicality of instruments or adding undesirable excess. Although the Zipp Mini can’t reach down for those ultra-deep vibes – there’s only so much the hardware can do at this size – the overall result is appreciable and pleasing nonetheless. Stand close enough and you can still delight in the sub-bass rumble, albeit on a portable small scale.

When comparing the Zipp Mini and Zipp at a low/moderate decibel output, the sound signatures are practically indistinguishable. But the real difference lies in the latter’s ability to reach higher volume levels, seemingly with less effort. There’s no mistaking how the Zipp delivers a bolder, fuller-sounding performance with a more open atmosphere. Not only can the Zipp flood larger spaces with music, but the highs and lows are decidedly more capable and robust.

05
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Libratone SoundSpaces

Rear connections on the Libratone Zipp Bluetooth speaker
A built-in USB port offers device charging or music playback from USB drives. Stanley Goodner/About

By themselves, the Zipp and Zipp Mini may not seem too different than most other good-looking, excellent-sounding speakers. But it’s the mobile app and connectivity that makes a substantial difference. The Libratone app, available for iOS and Android, offers users the ability to link between two to six speakers in a group (maximum eight groups and 16 speakers per network). If any one speaker in a group is set to play, they all do. Volume can be adjusted for entire groups and/or individual speakers, and it takes only a few taps in the app to assign left and right stereo channels.

The Libratone app (we tested on Android) comes across as minimalist, yet covers all the important bases beyond pairing speakers and favoriting radio stations. Users can adjust audio from a selection of room settings (e.g. playing a Zipp outdoor, on a shelf, on a table, etc) and equalizer profiles – some seem a little too subtle, although it’s preferred over a heavy-handed approach to modifying sound. Speakers can also be renamed, wireless signal strength checked, and battery life shown with the amount of uptime remaining.

However, experiences linking Zipp and Zipp Mini speakers to wireless networks may vary. Not all versions of Android are working smoothly as intended, or even at all. If the mobile app isn’t having issues recognizing speakers, it could be crashing or failing to launch. Thankfully, Libratone’s support is responsive, offering alternate solutions when available. Generally, once the Zipp or Zipp Mini are set to a wireless network, they can be accessed via the mobile app.

Being able to place multiple speakers about the home in order to enjoy music, no matter where you are, is fantastic. Stereo pairing? Most excellent! And since the Zipp and Zipp Mini operate off internal batteries, wall outlets are of little consequence for speaker placement. But if you want to stream unique music to different rooms wirelessly, things get complicated. It’s beyond the scope of the Libratone app and a single device to mix and match tracks across different speakers/groups simultaneously.

06
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The Verdict

Interface controls on the Libratone Zipp and Zipp Mini Bluetooth speakers
Libratone eschews tired, blocky buttons in favor of an elegantly-intuitive touch interface. Stanley Goodner/About

Libratone’s Zipp and Zipp Mini speakers are a pleasure to have around the home, given the fantastic contemporary design, intuitive touch interface, and solid audio performance across a wide range of music. Each can play loudly without suffering too much unlistenable distortion. What these wireless speakers may lack in outdoor ruggedness is made up with versatility and sophistication. Rechargeable batteries and interchangeable covers allow the Zipp and Zipp Mini to adapt to changing living spaces with little regard to power outlets and/or clashing colors.

Both speakers win out for ease of use, practical features, and indoor-anywhere attitude. But despite all the strong points, the Zipp Mini’s sound is somewhat cloistered – the Zipp, less so. Those with an ear for it can pick up on Libratone’s added processing, particularly within the highs, and how vocals exhibit a nominal amount of sibilance, even at moderate/low volume levels. While we found the low-end emphasis to be bold and fun, those looking for a more neutral sound may not. Lastly, the mobile app (for Android in particular) is bound to frustrate some as the software bugs are worked out over time.

Nitpicking aside, the Zipp and Zipp Mini present excellent speaker options under the $300 mark, especially for those interested in purchasing multiples. With the ability to pair two (or more) together in stereo or groups, it doesn’t seem to do Libratone’s SoundSpaces feature much justice by buying only one. While Sonos may still reign for high-end multi-room audio, the Zipp and Zipp Mini offer a somewhat similar experience at a more affordable price.

So which one to get? If slightly longer battery life and backpack portability are the most important factors, then consider the Zipp Mini. Otherwise, the larger-sized Zipp presents a far greater value with its ability to project audio that’s fuller, louder, and more open-sounding. The Libratone Zipp and Zipp Mini are available now for $299 and $249, respectively.

Product pages: Libratone Zipp, Libratone Zipp Mini