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Bowers + Wilkins Zeppelin Finally Cracks Network Streaming

Bowers + Wilkins Zeppelin Finally Cracks Network Streaming

The original model also delivered brilliant sound, and at
$1,100 this was the top end of the small compact speaker market for iPod attach
speakers.

Not a mass seller at $1,100 dollars’ retailers demanded a
cheaper version so a plastic backed version was launched. This did not dent
sales but Bowers and Wilkins failure to move quickly to a networked Bluetooth
version did.

Now thank god, Bowers and Wilkins have seen the light and an
all new Zeppelin is set to be released in Australia.

The large black blimp-shaped speaker which is made by Bowers
& Wilkins who has been making loud speakers for nearly half a century and
first introduced the Zeppelin all-in-one speaker for the iPod in 2007 (this was
right around when the first iPhone was announced) has been redesigned for
streaming.

It got a refresh in 2011, adding Apple’s Airplay streaming
to the mix. The new Zeppelin Wireless, though, is the most significant update
yet, removing the docking arm, refining the interface, and adding support for
non-Apple devices to the Zeppelin.

Previous Zeppelin speakers were essentially docks for a
phone or MP3 player attached to wireless hi-fi speakers. Even if you weren’t
using a device hard tethered to the unit, however, you had to use Apple’s
Airplay protocol. This means everyone not on iOS or Mac OS X was out of luck.
Or if you have a mix of devices, some would work and others wouldn’t. Now in
addition to Airplay, the Zeppelin has standard Bluetooth, higher bandwidth
Bluetooth Apt X, and Spotify Connect, so you can find a way to stream from
nearly any device.

The Zeppelin’s design is a love-hate kind of thing. I happen
to like the oblong, minimalist look; something about it reminds me of a
friendlier version of the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001. (A much friendlier
version.) It’s not just for looks, though. There are five speaker units in the
Zeppelin, tweeters on the outside, then the main drivers, and a subwoofer in
the centre. The shape and layout minimize interference and reverberation,
keeping the sound clean across the whole audio spectrum.

The Zeppelin Wireless is larger than most Bluetooth and
wireless speakers, but it won’t overwhelm a room.

The Zeppelin Wireless is larger than most Bluetooth and
wireless speakers, but it won’t overwhelm a room. Source: Bowers & Wilkins

Setting up the Zeppelin takes just a few minutes: You plug
it in and open B&W’s Connect app to get the speaker on your home Wi-Fi
network. That’s it. From there you can either keep it wireless or plug it into
your router for an even more solid connection. If you can do the latter, it’s
really the way to go. It’s also worth noting that there’s no internal battery,
so this isn’t a portable speaker, and it needs to remain plugged in to work.

Sound quality is every bit as good as the $700 price tag
would have you hope. In a medium-size living room, sound coverage was even and
I didn’t get any strange parallax as I walked around. Bass is strong without
being boomy or overwhelming, mids are clean and precise, and the high notes
have that slight shimmer that keeps them from being shrill. At low volumes the
sound is pleasant and even, but as you turn the Zeppelin Wireless up, a ton of
space seems to open up between instruments and little things such as breathing
and reverb come out from behind the more prominent sounds. Leonard Cohen’s
voice sounded as gravely as ever, I felt like I could hear Lang Lang’s fingers
moving against piano keys, and I’m pretty sure Diplo did a live set in my
apartment the other night. 

One of my favourite extra features is a simple one: a simple
3.5 mm audio jack on the back. This means you can hard-wire it to your TV,
record player, or another input. The Zeppelin is billed as an all-in-one, and
for those of us living in smaller spaces, it really can do almost everything
you need. While I can get away with a single input for TV and the wireless
capabilities, there are definitely hi-fi nerds who will wish there were a few
more ports, and I don’t blame them. Also, while the rubber base does a pretty
good job isolating the speaker from whatever it’s sitting on, differences in
the amount of bass and reverb are immediately noticeable if you move it between
surfaces.

The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless makes a big
statement in both design and sound.

There’s no question that the Zeppelin Wireless, which is tipped
to sell in Australia for $850, is reasonably expensive for an all-in-one
wireless speaker, but it is an impressive speaker that you want to stick smack
bang in the middle of a room.

. If you’re the kind of person who mostly puts music on for
some background noise or while you’re vacuuming, buy the Beats Pill+ or
Logitech UE Boom 2 and save your money. You won’t notice anything’s missing.

But if you’re the sort of person who notices when cymbals
and synths don’t have enough separation between them or when a voice fades out
a fraction of a second before it should, the Zeppelin Wireless won’t
disappoint. Since it’s coming from Bowers & Wilkins, I can’t say I’m
surprised.