The Libratone Loop is designed differently than most other one-piece speakers — it’s obvious once you look at its somewhat round/oval shape held up by a tripod arrangement of legs. The first thing noticed was the grill cover, which is made of wool and has a distinct appearance. Libratone makes varied colors available (either when purchased or as optional purchases), so the Loop can more easily blend into the room where it’s being used. And instead of the cover just slipping on/off, there’s a locking mechanism to make for a taunt fit. It’s design makes moving it from room to room an easy feat. Additionally, a mount is included to place the Loop on the wall (sans legs). This has the advantage of turning it into a wall speaker that adds a touch of class to the decor (and whose grill cover won’t clash since the appropriate one will have been chosen). And the sound output is not diminished but actually enhanced by the vibrations it can enact for the bass.
Music is transmitted into the Loop either through a USB connection on the back (for a thumb drive/external drive) or via a 3.5mm mini-jack. The alternate to these wired connections is to send the audio wirelessly from a smartphone/tablet or computer. There’s a logo on the front within a white circle; pressing on either side raises/lowers the volume, while a hard press in conjunction with buttons on the back does a reset. Small LEDs indicate status: White/Operating or Waiting for a signal; Yellow/Rebooting; Red/Off or Bad news. There’s no remote, but since the Loop is mainly designed for use with a mobile device or computer/laptop, that’s no big deal since the audio source will take care of playback and volume.
Wirelessly connecting to the Loop can be done in a number of ways. These include AirPlay, which took me about 10 minutes of fiddling around before I got music streaming through my WiFi network using iTunes and my Mac Pro. Then I had no problems syncing my iPhone to the Loop afterwards. There is also DirectPlay and DLNA available; of the two, I was able to get DLNA functioning with an Android phone borrowed for the occasion, but kept having trouble staying connected with PlayDirect (which functions without the need of a home network). So I stayed with AirPlay since I was happy with how stable it performed.
I played a lot of different music, all high-resolution (no lowerz MP3) and couldn’t fault the Loop’s response. The titles ran the gamut from symphonic (Bruckner’s Symphony Number 7), rock (Led Zeppelin, Katy Perry) along with assorted hip-hop (can’t get more raspy/”bassy” than Sage the Gemini’s Gas Pedal). Even streaming iTunes radio came through with all the dynamic range I’d have hoped for. I also dug how forward-sounding the vocals of “Tears of a Clown” projected from the orchestration. About the only negative was that any modifications/tweaking of the sound has to be done at the audio source, since the Loop is bereft of any controls for same.
Libratone says that the Loop is designed specifically to avoid the restrictions of a “closed” cabinet, and so enable the audio to expand outward, similar to that of an acoustic instrument whose sound travels in multiple directions, not just forward. They also recommend placement against a hard surface (like a wall) so as to increase the intensity of the bass effect. And yes the company knows what they’re talking about, as I found their statements about the Loop having an immersive sound field with very clear high tones and an incredible bass response to be right on. That’s probably a direct result of the back-mounted 4″ woofer and passive radiator (not to forget the two 1″ ribbon-based tweeters).
A friend who came over to help me with the Android portion of my testing said, after listening, that this was the most impressive portable speaker of all of those that he’s heard at my place over the last few years. He was particularly impressed by the bass — which he found amazing in just how clean, yet bone-rattling in intensity it was. The Loop is easy enough to move around, even though its AC cord prohibits placement where there’s not an outlet, and placed near a wall or on a wood table, the low-frequency sound waves that are conducted really enhance the overall sound.
One thing though; there wasn’t any stereo effect that I could notice, especially when it was tried out wall mounted. But I’ll take its clear, high-definition, room-filling sound (120 watts) over that of a sound bar any day.
Bottom line: The Libratone Loop combines great sound with great looks. Having both more than justifies the $499.95 retail price.
DSP optomization and digital amplification
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.