Review: Libratone Live Page 2

Performance

What hits you right away with the Libratone Live is that it has a pretty big sound for such a little device. You’d never mistake it for a real stereo system, but it doesn’t have the boring mono sound of most portable devices. Not in the midrange, anyway. Guitars, saxophones, and voices sound satisfyingly ambient and embodies. High-frequency stuff like cymbals sounds more mono and directional, though. Bass is tight, tuneful, and probably fuller than you’d expect for a device this size.

On jazz tunes, like the hard-groovin’ “Will You Still Be Mine?” from The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, the Libratone Live sounded totally in its element. There was plenty of bass to give the music a pulse, and a big sound that kept me listening night after night without pining for the perfection of my high-end stereo system.

However, I’ve found that voice reproduction is the Achilles’ heel of most portable products; all those chunks of plastic they tend to put in front of the drivers cause all sorts of reinforcements and cancellations in the midrange that really mess up the sound of the human voice. So I focused much of my Libratone listening on rock and pop vocals.

What I found is that the voices were clear, without obvious colorations like bloating, dullness, etc. Singers from Todd Rundgren to Laura Nyro to Geddy Lee to Robert Plant sounded fairly natural overall. Casual listeners will totally dig it. Audiophiles may notice some roughness in the mids, though. By this I don’t mean distortion, I mean uneven frequency response, likely caused by that cavity the midrange drivers are blowing back into and by cancellations caused by the adjacent midrange drivers themselves. It sounded something like it would if the singer’s head were positioned right next to a wall, with reflections cancelling certain frequencies and amplifying others. Still, the effect was fairly innocuous, and I would much rather listen to the Libratone Live than to a conventional speaker that has “cupped hands” coloration due to a too-high crossover point or a too-big midrange/woofer driver, or to a portable system that distorts easily.

Speaking of distortion, that’s a problem you probably won’t encounter much with the Libratone Live. It’s designed so you can run it full-blast if you want. When I cranked up Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days” from Houses of the Holy all the way, the Libratone Live really rocked my cigar lounge/bike workshop, with no noticeable distortion and a satisfying amount of bass.

Bottom Line

The obvious competition for the Libratone Live is the $599 B&W Zeppelin Air, which shares the Libratone Live’s provocative industrial design, AirPlay capability, and five-driver complement, and adds an iPod/iPhone dock. I’ve spent a lot of time with the original Zeppelin and the Libratone Live, but it’s been about four years since I had a Zeppelin in my home so I hesitate to say I prefer one or the other. For most buyers, both units will sound really good and the decision will boil down to looks and whether or not they want the Zeppelin’s iPod dock.

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