HomeKit Weekly is a series focused on smart home accessories, automation tips and tricks, and everything to do with Apple’s smart home framework.
HomeKit speakers have an interesting place in the Home app. They’re primarily there so you can name a speaker and assign it to a room in your home. Then you can stream audio to it over AirPlay 2 and control audio playback with Siri. There’s not much more to HomeKit speakers than that yet.
Libratone Zipp is a portable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speaker that retroactively gained AirPlay 2 support this month through a free software update. The portable speaker now has a place in the Home app with other HomeKit accessories like HomePod and newer Sonos speakers, and it plays nice with these speakers with AirPlay 2.
The combination of Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, and a built-in battery makes it a versatile option for HomePod-like audio without always being anchored to a power outlet.
Libratone makes two versions of its portable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speaker today: Libratone Zipp ($249, reg. $299) and Libratone Zipp Mini ($249). Both gained AirPlay 2 support last week through an update in the Libratone iOS app. The speaker maker has announced a new Zipp 2 version with 2 hours longer battery life and built-in Amazon Alexa, but it’s not out yet.
Zipp and Zipp Mini work the same in how they handle AirPlay 2. Pair the Libratone speaker to the Libratone iOS app, then follow the update prompts within the app to add AirPlay 2 support. This is how that looks from the iPhone.
Once you have the latest firmware running on the speaker, it becomes an AirPlay 2 target when sending audio from an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, HomePod, or iTunes.
AirPlay 2 targets stand out in the speaker list because they have circles next to their names. Tapping the circle fills it in which makes it an active audio source, and AirPlay 2 supports multiple audio sources at the same time.
You can also add Libratone Zipp to the Home app by adding a new accessory, choosing the option with a setup code, and selecting Libratone Zipp when it’s powered on and nearby. This lets you assign it a room, control it with Siri, and include it in playback when you ask Siri to play something everywhere.
As a portable speaker, Libratone Zipp doesn’t necessarily have a specific room where it belongs, but you can select where you intend to use it the most or charge it. Ultimately the room in the Home app is really just another way of referring to the speaker when talking to Siri.
You can use Siri to control audio playback on Libratone Zipp just like other AirPlay 2 speakers. If the speaker is named ‘Libratone Zipp’ and assigned to the bedroom for example, just say “Siri, play my Favorites Mix on Libratone Zipp” or Siri, play my Favorites Mix in the bedroom” and audio will send from your iPhone to the AirPlay 2 speaker over Wi-Fi. This even works with Siri on the iPad, Apple TV, and HomePod.
Libratone’s unique quality compared to other AirPlay 2 speakers on the market is that it has a built-in 10 hour battery so it’s portable. That means you can take Libratone Zipp around your house and continue AirPlay 2 audio playback as long as it remains on the Wi-Fi network (which can greatly exceed Bluetooth range). AirPlay 2 makes no distinction between A/C power and battery power as long as the source device and speaker remain on the same Wi-Fi network.
Libratone Zipp doesn’t have Siri built-in since Apple doesn’t share its voice assistant with other companies, but it is very much like a portable HomePod in many other regards.
AirPlay 2 audio has to come from a host device on the same Wi-Fi network (even though Zipp can stream audio to itself over the Internet), but its portability and built-in Bluetooth make it quite attractive if you’re looking for a sub $300 speaker that can cross off both AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth support.
In testing over the last week, I’ve been especially surprised at how well it switches between roles as a Bluetooth speaker and a HomeKit speaker.
I’ve used Libratone Zipp almost exclusively as an AirPlay 2 speaker around the house since the streaming method is more flexible on Apple devices. This is the first time I’ve been able to use AirPlay 2 with a portable speaker that I can easily move between rooms without interrupting playback.
The Bluetooth side has been useful especially with the Apple Watch. AirPlay 2 doesn’t work without a Wi-Fi network and the Apple Watch doesn’t support AirPlay yet anyway.
Over the weekend, I went for a 6-mile run along the beach with my one-year-old in the jogging stroller. I prefer to leave my iPhone at home on runs since my Apple Watch has LTE, and streaming Apple Music to the Libratone Zipp from the Apple Watch over Bluetooth worked perfectly.
Even more impressive is how Libratone handles being both a Bluetooth and HomeKit speaker. Both the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections are always ready to go — no mode switching required — and you can easily switch between either connection by just initiating audio playback and streaming however you want.
I hadn’t considered Libratone Zipp before AirPlay 2 support was added last week, making it a HomeKit speaker, but mixed with Bluetooth and a built-in battery, it’s now an easy recommendation if you’re looking for versatility in a single sub $300 option. The Nordic Black version is my favorite look:
Catch up on earlier HomeKit Weekly entries below:
- Getting started with Apple’s Home app on iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch
- Automating outdoor lights on and off based on sunset/sunrise and time
- Using hardware buttons to make smart lights familiar for guests and family
- Replacing your keys with Siri, Control Center, and automation
- Controlling smart shades with Siri, automation, and the Home app
- Comparing security camera options, features, and apps
- If it doesn’t work with Siri, it’s just not a smart home
- Essential and advanced smart home accessory recommendations