“If ‘sonic ge­net­ics’ wasn’t some­thing we just made up, there’d be no doubt th­ese are fam­ily”

FOR Full-bod­ied sound; in­no­va­tive multi-room op­tions AGAINST Lack­ing punch; slightly closed-in sound­stage

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

Li­bra­tone Zipp Mini £180

What’s like a Li­bra­tone Zipp, but smaller? The Li­bra­tone Zipp Mini, of course! Okay, so that pos­si­bly isn’t our most in­spired punch­line ever, but in case you weren’t tipped off by the rather lit­eral ti­tle, that is es­sen­tially what the Zipp Mini is.

It’s a cou­ple of cen­time­tres shorter and slighter than its sib­ling, which means the driv­ers it can house are marginally less sub­stan­tial and less abun­dant: a 75mm woofer, 25mm soft-dome tweeter and two 90mm low-fre­quency ra­di­a­tors. That’s 25mm off the woofer, 12mm from each ra­di­a­tor and one fewer tweeter. There are two, not three, chan­nels through which the in­te­grated Class D am­pli­fier pushes a to­tal of 60W of power.

Sweep­ing our test room

There’s no com­pro­mise on in­puts, though: wi-fi, Air­play, DLNA, Blue­tooth aptx, 3.5mm jack, USB, Spo­tify Con­nect and Ap­ple Mu­sic are all present. You get the same eight-to-ten hours’ bat­tery life and USB out for charg­ing, and, of course, you can zip and un­zip the dif­fer­ent coloured over­coats.

Then there’s the multi-room as­pect, of which Li­bra­tone is most proud: an in­no­va­tive, ver­sa­tile con­cept of­fer­ing up to six speak­ers free­dom of move­ment via a sim­ple drag-and-drop on the app.

The first thing we no­tice is how well the Zipp Mini spreads the sound. That’s cour­tesy of a 360-de­gree re­flec­tor, which acts as smartly with the Zipp Mini as it does in its larger sib­ling.

We play the ti­tle track to Shye Ben Tzur and Jonny Green­wood’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Ra­jasthan Ex­press, Ju­nun, and for a speaker of its stature, the polyrhythm, bass gui­tar and me­an­der­ing horn in­tro sweep im­pres­sively around our test room.

Good in­sight for the money

When the group vo­cal en­ters, we recog­nise the same full-bod­ied warmth in the midrange of the Zipp Mini as with the larger Zipp. As voices be­come more an­i­mated, the Mini is more-than ca­pa­ble of match­ing their vigour. That is as true of buoy­ant tracks such as Ju­nun as it is of the more som­bre Ahuvi. Over­all, it’s a de­cent level of in­sight from a £180 wire­less speaker.

The Zipp Mini’s sound­stage is not the most im­mense you’ll find in a wire­less speaker of this size, but it or­gan­ises ev­ery­thing well, with plenty of de­tail hid­ing be­hind that bold and ex­pres­sive midrange. It doesn’t strug­gle with the com­plex and nu­mer­ous polyrhythms com­bin­ing Green­wood’s elec­tron­ics and Ra­jasthan Ex­press’s more tra­di­tional In­dian in­stru­men­ta­tion, ei­ther in terms of sep­a­ra­tion or tim­ing, and is quite con­tent with those rhythms chang­ing with only a mo­ment’s no­tice.

How­ever, there are a cou­ple of caveats. We feel the Zipp Mini is lack­ing just a lit­tle of the kick and drive to match the the ex­pres­sive, rhyth­mic and smooth per­for­mance. There’s also a marginal lack of space, and while canny or­gan­i­sa­tion stops thicker tex­tures be­com­ing over­crowded, it misses out on de­tail fur­ther back in the mix that some com­peti­tors are able to un­earth.

We are fam­ily

If sonic ge­net­ics were not some­thing we’d just made up, you could be left in no doubt by those of the Zipp and Zipp Mini that they are fam­ily. Our open­ing gag may not have been par­tic­u­larly in­spired, but it is the most ex­plana­tory line of this en­tire re­view. The Zipp Mini’s sound – smooth, full-bod­ied, rhyth­mic and ex­pres­sive – is just like that of its larger sib­ling, and one with­out doubt we can fully get be­hind. It works equally well as a stand-alone wire­less speaker or, thanks to Li­bra­tone’s Soundspaces fea­ture, as a facet of a larger multi-room sys­tem.

Li­bra­tone Zipp £220

Even for us, we thought, it would be a tad un­couth an­thro­po­mor­phis­ing a wire­less speaker you can un­zip. Be­sides, what im­pressed us so much about the orig­i­nal Li­bra­tone Zipp, to which we awarded five stars three years ago, was not its colour­ful anorak but its per­for­mance. That’s how it be­came the com­pany’s best-sell­ing prod­uct to date and the one upon which it built its now rather heady rep­u­ta­tion.

Sound in all di­rec­tions

The new Zipp works upon the same prin­ci­ple: an upright, cylin­dri­cal de­sign, de­vised to out­put 360-de­gree sound. That’s ser­viced by an in­te­grated dig­i­tal

Class D am­pli­fier, feed­ing a claimed 100W into a 10cm woofer. The low end per­for­mance is tuned by a pair of sim­i­larly sized pas­sive ra­di­a­tors. Two 25mm tweet­ers take care of the highs and are aided by a 360-de­gree re­flec­tor to en­sure wide dis­per­sion.

In­put is more or less as you’d like – wi-fi, Air­play, DLNA, Blue­tooth, 3.5mm jack or USB – and the Zipp is will­ing to take on board hi-res au­dio up to 24-bit/96khz. If you don’t have your own dig­i­tal mu­sic li­brary, Li­bra­tone has added Spo­tify Con­nect and is Ap­ple Mu­si­cready. You can store up to five of your favourite in­ter­net ra­dio sta­tions – all con­trolled via the Li­bra­tone app.

Keep it on the hush

As you may have no­ticed, the Zipp is no longer furry. The new mesh fab­ric makes the speaker look more so­phis­ti­cated, and Li­bra­tone claims it helps the sound emerge more cleanly. The rest is still plas­tic but, from 1.8kg down to 1.5kg, it is even lighter and more por­ta­ble than last time. And the touch-screen dial is nice to use, with a handy ‘hush’ fea­ture.

Play­ing An­drew Bird’s Arm­chair Apocrypha al­bum, we no­tice that the Zipp isn’t the loud­est wire­less speaker, but few spread the sound so well – the re­sult of the 360-de­gree re­flec­tor work­ing a treat. You’d still need more than one to stoke a party, but you re­ally could po­si­tion them al­most any­where.

The mid-heavy gui­tars and or­gan of open­ing num­ber Fiery Crash are cream­ily smooth, while the pizzi­cato strings of Imi­to­sis are solid and steer well clear of sharp­ness. Vo­cals too are nudged slightly for­ward, Bird’s voice is strong and pur­pose­ful with­out sac­ri­fic­ing its laid-back charm.

There’s a good amount of de­tail here. The be­gin­ning of Plas­tic­i­ties, with its plucked vi­o­lins, or­gan, elec­tric gui­tar and glock­en­spiel, is co­her­ent and still feels as if there is space to breathe.

Chang­ing tack with At The Drive-in’s Re­la­tion­ship Of Com­mand al­bum, the Zipp keeps up with the more en­er­getic rhythms, but it does re­veal some weak­nesses. It’s not that it lacks feel­ing – it is sat­is­fy­ingly ex­pres­sive – but there’s a slight loss of im­pe­tus and punch.

That isn’t helped by a lack of spa­cious­ness in the pre­sen­ta­tion. Tex­tures tend to be­come a lit­tle congested, al­though the Zipp’s rhyth­mi­cal sense and abil­ity to bring melody to the front man­age to keep its head above wa­ter.

The tal­ent to suc­ceed

The Zipp is a wor­thy se­quel which proves this con­cept has the legs to keep up with a mar­ket that has flour­ished as much as Li­bra­tone’s rep­u­ta­tion over the past few years.

Given the ubiq­uity of wire­less speak­ers at this price point, it doesn’t stand out as much as its pre­de­ces­sor. How­ever, its tal­ents give this Zipp ev­ery chance of be­ing as suc­cess­ful.

Multi-room ver­dict

The rudi­men­tary force be­hind Li­bra­tone’s multi-room con­cept is ver­sa­til­ity. Once you’ve con­nected your speak­ers with the app, you are in­vited to cre­ate rooms – that is all that is fixed. You are able to move speak­ers, by drag­ging them from one room to an­other. It’s a neat twist on con­ven­tional multi-room, which, con­sid­er­ing the Zipps are por­ta­ble wire­less speak­ers, makes sense.

Set-up is straight­for­ward, but not the quick­est; you match each speaker to the net­work in­di­vid­u­ally, though you only need do it once. It runs smoothly, with the Zipp and Zipp Mini work­ing in tan­dem, mono or stereo, or play­ing dif­fer­ent songs in dif­fer­ent rooms with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing any drop­ping out.

Not only do the Zipp and Zipp Mini look sim­i­lar, there’s no mis­tak­ing their mu­si­cal ge­net­ics The premise of the Zipp fam­ily is clear: upright, cylin­dri­cal de­sign that out­puts 360-de­gree sound

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