Libratone is a Danish audio company making its move into the U.S. market. Scandinavian companies have reputation for innovative design and Libratone has an entire line of unusual and fuzzy speakers. We checked out the entry-level and portable Zipp, which features a felt speaker cover that can be swapped out for a different color with the pull of a zipper. The Zipp Collection sells for $449.95 for a speaker with three different covers (you pick the colors) and you can find the speaker with a single cover for around $400 online.
Libratone makes some higher-priced speakers designed to stay put in your living room, including the triangular Live ($549.95), the round Loop ($499.95) and the giant Lounge soundbar for ($1299.95). If you go for contemporary or mid-century design, these units will look great in your house. If you're living in a house full of Victorian antiques, they make such a strong visual statement that they might look like devices from outer space.
The Zipp sounds great, works best via WiFi with Apple's AirPlay system but can also be set up to work with a DLNA connection to work with Android devices or Windows phones. If you're away from a network, you can either stream music via your data plan if you connect your device to the speaker via an audio cable or play music that's already stored on your device via the Playdirect setup.
WiFi setup isn't hard if you have your USB cable handy. You plug an iDevice into the USB port and a request to share your WiFi settings pops up on the screen. Agree to share and the Zipp reboots and is now available via your AirPlay settings. You can set up with your computer by connecting to the speaker via your WiFi settings and accessing settings via your browser.
There's also a Libratone iOS app that tweaks the Zipp's audio output based on where you've placed the speaker. Tell the app if it's on a shelf or table or on the floor, give it an idea how far the Zipp is from the wall on each side and the device makes some adjustments that really do improve the sound.
The Zipp is supposed to be the playful device in the line. You can change colors to match your moods and the fuzzy cover is made from "Italian" wool that's nicer than most sweaters you'd find on the shelf at Macy's. It has a kicky leather strap. Still, the reality is that lack of a Bluetooth option limits its portability. If you take it out of WiFi range, you're limited to whatever music you've got stored on your device unless you connect via an audio cable.
Any Libratone speaker is going to be a conversation piece. If you go to a lot of parties, the Zipp will definitely make you the center of attention. And it really does sound great and has a solid AirPlay connection. If you're fascinated with the look, it's a good value at $400. If you're looking for a speaker that won't leave your house and can stretch your budget, the Loop looks even more iconic and only costs $50 more than the Zipp. Libratone has substance to match the style.