Bowers & Wilkins is arguably one of hi-fi's most storied brands, as well as one of the most iconic. The English loudspeaker manufacturer, rich with tradition, has never been about resting on their laurels. In fact, they're trend setters. A few years back, before it was en vogue to do so, Bowers & Wilkins branched out and brought to market a few lifestyle-oriented products, mainly an all-in-one iOS speaker dock, the Zeppelin, as well as headphones. The Zeppelin was an instant hit among the iOS crowd and proved that streaming devices needn't be complicated or ugly. Well, the Zeppelin is back, this time featuring Apple's lauded AirPlay technology, as well as a few other improvements.
The Zeppelin Air's fit and finish, much like all Bowers & Wilkins products, is simply beautiful. Within its class of iOS dock/speakers, it is among the more sculptural.�
Unlike other Bowers & Wilkins' wireless loudspeaker setups, the Zeppelin Air manages to be more versatile, thanks in part to its front-mounted iPod/iPhone dock. It also allows for non-iOS devices to be connected via its 3.5mm jack (cable not included), which is good for Android users like myself.
Setting up the Zeppelin Air on one's wireless network is as easy as one-two-three, which is more than I can say for the competition.�
In terms of sound, the Zeppelin Air's sonic signature is one of control and composure. It is incredibly balanced top to bottom. Unlike other iSpeaker/docks, it doesn't try to bowl you over with aspects of its performance and, where it comes up short, its omissions aren't criminal. At low volumes, it is pleasing, and at higher volumes, it remains musical.�
Registering your Zeppelin Air online with Bowers & Wilkins will earn you a three-month free membership to their Society of Sound, Bowers & Wilkins' high-res audio download service. Very cool.�
Some have mentioned (or complained) about the Zeppelin Air's copious bass. If you're unwilling to experiment with placement and/or your iDevice's EQ setting, this issue may persist. Just because a loudspeaker is aimed at the lifestyle crowd doesn't mean that the laws of sonic physics no longer apply. Place the Zeppelin Air's rear ports too close to a hard surface or wall and you'll no doubt experience booming bass, though you can curb it by changing the placement or by engaging your iDevice's EQ.�
While the Zeppelin Air's inclusion of an iDock on its front does make it more versatile than the A5 or A7, I kind of wish it were removable, as it doesn't serve much purpose when not in use.�
The small, river rock-style remote is stylish, but the battery cover located along the back is a bit finicky and prone to falling out.�
Competition and Comparisons
When the Zeppelin originally launched some years ago, it was ahead of its time, though today the Zeppelin Air has more than its share of competition. One competitor that comes to mind is Libratone and its line of AirPlay-enabled loudspeakers. The less expensive Libratone Live retails for $699.95, though it lacks an iDock, as well as the sound quality of the Zeppelin Air. In truth, the Zeppelin Air can do battle with the costlier Libratone Lounge at $1,299.95. Another competitor to the Zeppelin Air is Aperion Audio's ARIS wireless loudspeaker. Retailing for $499, the ARIS is the yin to the Zeppelin Air's yang, as the ARIS is marketed exclusively to Windows users. I mean this with all sincerity: while the ARIS is good, it is nowhere near as easy to set up as the Zeppelin Air. Also, while the sound may be comparable, I do prefer the look of the Zeppelin Air to that of the ARIS, though all opinions on aesthetics are subjective. For more on these loudspeakers and more, please visit Home Theater Review's Bookshelf Speaker page.�
While $599.95 may seem steep for a lifestyle-oriented loudspeaker that isn't a soundbar, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I can find instances where the Zeppelin Air's cost is justifiable. Years ago (10 plus), my mother spent over a grand on Bose's table radio and it sounded like, well, crap. I've reviewed many all-in-one solutions this year. All have been comparable in price to that of the Zeppelin Air and yet none have looked the high-end part as the Air has nor, in my opinion, have they outright bested the Air in terms of their sound quality. Many have matched or come close, though for all-round good distributed audio that is easy to live with and set up, I believe the Zeppelin Air takes the crown. It isn't perfect, no speaker is, but for what it is and for how most will enjoy it, the Zeppelin Air is fantastic.