Published on January 4th, 2012 | by Ruth0
Sexy Sound With Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air
We love reviewing audio gear. It’s interesting to compare nuances in tone color, functionality, durability. It’s also something that’s going to be sitting taking up real estate in your living space, so the aesthetics are important. Some sound equipment is cute. Some systems are elegant. Once every long while, you meet one that can only be described as sexy. The Zeppelin Air by Bowers & Wilkins is sexy. The elongated egg shape is unusual, reminiscent almost of a Brancusi sculpture. It’s a system people admire when they walk into a room.
Having established that the Zeppelin is a beautiful system (and did we mention that the black and chrome adds to the classiness?), we started thinking about how it sounds. Specifically, we compared against the previously-reviewed Zeppelin Mini. Like many sound systems, it takes a few hours of play for the sound to blossom. The initial fairly constrained quality quickly gave way to rich, open, life-like sound. Since it’s a dock rather than a bookshelf system, placement is a bit of an issue- the sound is quite dependent on how the device is positioned. We experimented with a few orientations, before deciding that it was best not quite facing directly towards a listener.
We tried out the gambit of musical styles, from Arvo Pärt to Miles Davis to Cee Lo Green to Radiohead to Eminem to all of the holiday music we could find (yes, we have eclectic musical tastes). The quality especially showed up with jazz, where each plink and tap could be heard, distinctly and precisely. The Zeppelin also has a fantastic amount of power. It can fill a 1500 sq. foot space with sound.
The system functions both as a traditional dock- stick your iPhone or iPod on and play- but this version adds the ability to wirelessly stream your music through AirPlay, via iTunes or your iOS device (or from Airfoil, which we continue to appreciate). For those Android devices or non-Apple media players, you might not appreciate the AirPlay features, and could consider the excellent original, our favorite overall dock. But for those with dreams of having your music play across multiple rooms, it’s amusing to switch music from an adjoining room. The dock is much more portable than a bookshelf system would be, but is still not something you want to cart around every day. We were worried that it would be awkward to move, since it doesn’t have a handle, but the oval shape makes it pretty easy to pick up and carry.
While streaming we did experience some technical issues. Occasionally, the audio would cut out, and the device would appear to restart (disappear from the active AirPlay list). We hear that it’s a minor bug in Apple’s software, and that a fix is on the way. It happens so rarely and briefly that we’re not too concerned about it. We did note that firmware updates are available, but weren’t able to get them installed- it requires a non-included cable, and a fairly torturous process unfortunately. The only other real issue we had was that setting up the wireless can take a bit of time if you’re not used to working with networks. The Zeppelin comes with clear instructions, and can be set up wirelessly or using the provided ethernet cable to connect it to a computer. If you’re getting it as a gift for someone less technically savvy, consider setting it up for them, just in case. Once past the initial set-up, it’s a breeze to use. It’s also solidly built, and offers a refined design with no mass of glaring LEDs.
The remote that comes with the Zeppelin seems like a bit of an after-thought. It’s hard not to feel a little dumb when you realize that you’ve been pointing a remote at yourself trying to turn down the volume. It is, however, small and handy.
The Zeppelin is available for $600 on Amazon. Yes, at $600, this system is expensive. It looks expensive and it sounds expensive. We think that it’s worth the money. It will look great in your house or apartment, and handle any type of music with aplomb. If you’re looking to spend a bit less, Bowers and Wilkins also offers an excellent MM-1 speaker system. And those who want more personal sound should definitely check out the best in-ear headphones we’ve tried so far, the B&W C5s.