Hands-On Review:Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
An iPod integrated audio system that will amaze your ears
By Jim Gault
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
The Zeppelin has arrived. iPod owners should rejoice. It is the first dock and speaker system that is truly worthy of the iPod. It is sleek, ingeniously simple to operate, and ultramodern. Like the iPod, the Zeppelin employs cutting-edge technology and is a wonder of intense engineering and design. It doesn’t just make your iPod listening headphones-free. It transforms this powerful portable into a home audio system of superlative quality.
There have been a slew of iPod docking stations, but “audiophile” is a term you would not associate with their plastic housings and modest audio performance. The Zeppelin is in a totally different class. Created by Bowers & Wilkins, it gives the iPod world-class studio-quality sound at room-filling volume. It also charges most iPods, provides video streaming to TV, computer connectivity, and allows input of other sources such as CD or MP3 players.
Who is this Bowers & Wilkins?
Many iPod owners may never have heard of Bowers & Wilkins. But those familiar with B&W’s reputation and products will have ready appreciation for the Zeppelin. B&W is a British company that for 40 years has designed and built very high-end speaker systems for pro studio and theater applications. The company has been credited with many design innovations that raise speaker performance, and their reference monitors are used in top studios like Abbey Road and Skywalker Sound. In designing the Zeppelin, B&W called upon its vast knowledge and expertise to give the iPod a quality of voice that is exceptional.
A Zeppelin in my living room
The Zeppelin has been a welcome guest in my home for several weeks now. I don’t want to give it back. It, combined with my iPod, makes a great home stereo system—space saving, cool looking, and it sounds fantastic. I’ve found I’ve been listening more. Because the sound is so clear and detailed, it’s easier to hear and listening is less work. The Zeppelin has made me realize that ear fatigue is real and that my old stereo has shortcomings.
Musicians tend to listen more closely to music than non-musicians, especially to their particular instruments. Because I play bass, I especially want to hear bass lines clearly, to learn parts or just appreciate them. My living room stereo, bedroom CD boombox, small iPod dock, and car system don’t handle bass well. It’s either not there or muddy. The Zeppelin delivers every note from the bass (and every other instrument) with perfect clarity. Its sound is crisp without being brittle, bassy without being boomy, and the mids articulate without being edgy. Though it is a compact single unit—just over two feet in length—when you are in front of it, you hear amazing stereo separation, as if the speakers were much further apart creating a very natural sound stage. This effect is the result of speaker design and special DSP processing.
The inside scoop
When I first picked the Zeppelin up, I found it surprisingly hefty. It is no plastic box. It is solidly built and has a lot going on inside: two pairs of mid/bass drivers and tweeters, a single subwoofer, three amplifiers (50W for the bass, and two 25W amps, one for each side’s mid driver and tweeter), and DSP circuitry. All of this is contained in a composite shell wrapped in a protective outer steel cabinet with a base and iPod dock. The speaker enclosures are lined with a special dampening material to make them acoustically neutral and shaped (even the pointed ends) to maximize speaker efficiency.
The speakers themselves have unique design features. The midrange drivers that do most of the work have glass fiber cones that are slotted in a manner that prevents standing waves. The aluminum-dome tweeters incorporate design features from B&W’s latest version of the 800 Series reference monitor and a technology called Nautilus Tube Loading that acts like an acoustic sponge, soaking up superfluous sound from behind the tweeter.
As easy as an iPod
Like the iPod it is simple and intuitive to operate. Two controls handle on/off, volume, and source selection, and you can use the remote that comes with the Zeppelin, or you can use the iPod’s own controls. Once you hit play, everything is pretty much automatic. As you turn up the volume, for example, DSP circuitry makes the appropriate EQ adjustment and different colors of LEDs indicate power status (on, off, or warmup), source, volume status, unavailable commands, and system faults.
The Zeppelin’s I/O gives it enhanced versatility. Beside the iPod dock connection, it has a mini jack input that functions both for analog sources and as an optical digital TOSlink connection. There’s also a USB 2.0 connector can link to a computer for software upgrades that will enhance functionality as new versions of the iPod come out. S-video and composite outputs allow streaming video out to a TV. The iPod dock 30-pin connection can be can be used for streaming Internet audio content (YouTube, AOL Radio, etc.) to the Zeppelin.
A note of caution: not all iPods are fully supported by the Zeppelin. Third generation models do not charge on the Zeppelin, and there are other functionality issues with older models. The oldest iPods, which do not have 30-pin connector, can be connected to the Zeppelin by using the iPod’s headphone output and Zeppelin’s aux input. See the PDF manual for more on these iPod compatibility issues. Latest upgrades make the Zeppelin not only fully current-generation iPod compatible but also compatible with the iPhone, nano, and iPod touch.
It’s the sound that matters
Ultimately, incredible sound quality makes the Zeppelin a winner. Serious listeners and musicians will especially appreciate the way it lets them hear the music fully with all of its nuance and detail. And everyone will appreciate a home stereo system that takes up so little space and does away with multiple system components. With the Zeppelin, you enjoy the space-saving and easy access of the iPod, plus world-class, reference-quality sound.
Features & Specs
- Drive units: 5" subwoofer, 2 x 3-1/2" mid/bass speaker, and 2 x 1" dome tweeters
- Amplifiers: 50W subwoofer, 25W midrange/tweeter left, 25W midrange/tweeters right
- Inputs: 30-pin iPod connector, 3.5mm mini jack analog/optical digital (TOSlink), and USB 2.0 slave
- Outputs: S-video (mini DIN), composite video (RCA phone)
- Gives iPods superior sound quality
- A full stereo speaker system in one unit
- Ultrawide sound
- Built-in digital signal processing
- Digital amplifier
- Compact design lets you have real hi-fi stereo sound wherever you need it
- Unique universal support bracket securely holds all compatible iPods
- Durable, yet elegant cabinet
- Switch-mode power supply
- Height: 6-4/5"
- Depth: 8-1/5"
- Length: 25-1/5"
- Weight: 16 lbs.