The Zeppelin Wireless by Bowers & Wilkins is a speaker featuring Bluetooth 4.1, Airplay, Ethernet and Aux (Mini Jack 3.5 mm) connections. The Spotify Premium compatibility is also present to stream directly from the Spotify app. It comes in two colors: black and white.
The Zeppelin, at its third iteration, is named after the early 20th century german rigid airships company. This is one of the generic trademark cases , where the name of a company is eventually used to define a class of objects (Biro with ball-point pens among the most famous examples). The iconic shape, infact, has a strong resemblance to the one of a zeppelin. An adequate distance between the drives is one of the requirements for a proper acoustic performance. The woofer is placed in the center, the two mid range drives just next and the two tweeters at the far ends. Designers put the five drives inside the horizontal cabinet, added the electronics and enclose the content in a curved silhouette that recalls the warm sound you expect from B&W. The speaker features an upward angle to diffuse the sound better if placed on surfaces with the same height as a desk or a sideboard (and that’s where it’s placed in the official photos).
The construction is impeccable, with 6,5 kg it’s hefty and sturdy, plastics are not chirping and assembly is precise. The front is minimal but it has a strong presence, it is covered in black acoustic fiber with a fine dark gray weave.
At the bottom center a little command element with the Bowers & Wilkins logo barely reminds us what this indecifrabile object is. I asked many friends to guess what the Zeppelin is and only a few of them answered correctly. With its 66 cm of width and 19 cm of height it’s visible but not flashy.
The back turns from fabric to matte black plastic and includes three buttons (play/pause, volume up, volume down).
The base includes from left to right the power button, Ethernet port, power plug (the power brick is internal), Aux plug, usb port for assistance only and a reset button. The location of the buttons is a bit difficult to reach but it’s an acceptable sacrifice for the purity of the front given the fact that you will nearly always control your playlist from your device.
The details are impressive: the buttons have a special reflective color that timidly contrasts the matte black background and the base has a soft circle to avoid scratching lacquered pieces of furniture or other delicate surfaces. Overall, the design is outstanding, smooth and curve shapes follow the internal components without tinsels or need for self assertiveness. The Bowers and Wilkins logo is just the name itself but i bet they would have put the graphic logo only if they had one. As a speaker often placed close to a wall not many of us will see the back daily but it’s a pity as it is as remarkable as the front. The seamless transition from the fabric to the high quality soft-touch plastic, the three metal buttons and the glossy Zeppelin logo are compelling elements. Its beauty is a quiet one, you can forget about its precence but if you pay attention again you will be rewarded with an enduring aesthetic pleasure. The calm is only apparent though because the sound is loud and warm.
A) SETUP AND CONFIGURATION
Once you turn on the speaker from the button on the back of the base all you have to do is download the windows/mac program or the iOS app to configure the access to your wifi. If you have an Android phone, you have to connect it to the wifi network generated by the Zeppelin itself and configure the settings via browser. An “offline” mode is available too but you will only be able to use the aux and the Bluetooth connection.
The Bluetooth pairing process is simple, hold the flush bluetooth button on the right side and select it in the Bluetooth devices list on your smartphone (no password required). An “aux” button is present at the left of the logo to switch the source if you are using the good old-fashioned way. The upgrade of the firmware can be made from the app. I had a difficult time when trying to upgrade as an error message continued to display. I had to contact the assistance, they sent me a file via email and I had to reset the speaker and upload the firmware from my Mac connecting it to the network generated by the speaker itself. Apart from this inconvenience the experience has been smooth.
B) AIRPLAY AND BLUETOOTH. USAGE AND DIFFERENCES. These two are the main modes you will normally use. That’s what a wireless speaker is made for.
Apple’s AirPlay is a proprietary protocol that allows the streaming of media trough the wifi network. As explained in the above pictures, all you have to do is tap on the icon, select the Zeppelin and wait a few seconds for the music to start playing. It is off course compatible with the rising Apple Music service. The advantages, compared to Bluetooth, are: it doesn’t use a compress algorithm in order to deliver the best possible quality, you can directly control your devices’ volume (i.e. when you turn up the volume you are modifying the Zeppelin’s volume not the iPhone’s one), the range is limited only by the wifi network extension and multiple speakers can play at the same time. The con is that it has some seconds of lag because it buffers. The Bluetooth connection is compatible with pretty much all devices around, the response time is immediate when changing track. The domestic range is 5-10 meters depending on obstacles. It doesn’t use a lossless algorithm, unless you have a device compatible with the Bluetooth aptX specifications.
The difference to the average user may be noticeable only when you have a profound knowledge of the track and your source file is lossless (for example a .flac or an Apple lossless). I find the Bluetooth more convenient for every day usage because I frequently switch track and the delay is annoying. For a more focused listening session I prefer Airplay.
This little boy has character! The unit is equipped with a 15 cm long throw subwoofer, two 9 cm FST midrange (click here for a technical explanation of the FST technology) and two 2,5 cm double dome tweeters. They sound unbelievably good with an authoritative and clean precence . The balance is bass-oriented, sacrificing the midrange a bit, but i am really satisfied and the sound is not distorted even at high volume. From a volume of 40% up it gives its best, there’s a sort of qualitative transformation as well, it is so loud for a little speaker, for sure it can transform your living room into a dance floor. The crispness and precision is achieved trough a 50% more rigid cabinet, a brand new Digital Signal Processor (DSP) and an up-sampling audiophile-level 192kHz/24bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The improvements over the previous version are noticeable even to non-audiophiles.
With a 699€ (699$, 499£) price tag the Zeppelin is not cheap. The addition of state of the art wireless connections, the high-end quality drives and electronics, the impressive soundstage, the precise sound trough all the volume range together with a refinement of the iconic design makes it the best and most compelling Zeppelin yet. Your songs will have a new life and your ambient will be enriched by an object that is truly beautiful. I can easily give the seal of approval.