Say hello to the rather unusual looking Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin. Hidden under that sleek fabric covered Hindenburg-esque exterior are two 1″ (25mm) tweeters, two 3.5″ (90mm) midrange drivers, and a 5″ (125mm) bass driver. While the mids and tweeters get to share 25W per channel, the bass driver gets its own dedicated 50W amp to ensure rich, powerful bass. It’s this bass that is the most remarkable thing about the Zeppelin, as looking at its minimal dimensions you would never imagine that it could produce such a powerful sound.
Bowers and Wilkins have used their extensive audiophile knowledge to create a music system that embraces the modern iPod fetish and accommodates the current lust that consumers have for tiny all-in-one speaker systems to use them with. Unlike most other iPod speaker systems, the B&W Zeppelin isn’t just a collection of tiny speakers thrown into a plastic casing. Instead, it could be thought of as a piece of musical art that features a collection of specially designed drivers, assembled together to produce the most cohesive and full-bodied sound possible. And boy does it sound good.
With the tweeters positioned at either end of the Zeppelin, it has good stereo separation for its diminutive dimensions. Further in from these are the mid-range drivers, with the bass driver beating away in the middle. The bass is enhanced courtesy of two beautifully crafted chrome bass ports on the back of the Zeppelin. In fact, the entire rear side of the Zeppelin is clad in a chrome finish. To tie this in with the rest of the design, there is a thin chrome strip down the front, housing the volume rocker and power/input selection button.
Looping up from underneath is another chrome strip that sticks out from the front of the Zeppelin. This strip proudly emblazons the B&W logo just below the 30-pin iPod connector. Instead of requiring a selection of plastic inserts to adapt the Zeppelin to your specific model of iPod, the 30-pin connector is instead sprung. This means that any iPod (with the 30-pin connection) will sit tightly against the rubber-coated mounting plate behind the connector. Therefore, when you go to grab hold of the iPod to change playlist, you actually grab onto the metal strip behind it, making it easier to flick through your music without the iPod wobbling around. Happily, this works a treat and iPods of all shapes and sizes fit snugly on the Zeppelin.
Actual dimensions of the Zeppelin are 198mm x 640mm x 208mm, making it slightly smaller in size than an average HiFi system. Quite surprising, is the Zeppelin’s weight, as you’ll first discover when trying to lift it out of the box. This thing is heavy! To be exact, the Zeppelin weighs in at 7.5kgs, which feels a lot for its size. This is good news though, as it hints at the high quality materials used inside the device to create its stellar sound.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the B&W Zeppelin’s remote control. Although it’s possibly the best looking remote I’ve ever seen, I was instantly disappointed when I grabbed hold of it. Unlike the Zeppelin itself, the remote has no weight and feels quite cheap. The battery cover on ours was slightly loose fitting, and the whole thing was very plasticky. I’d have much preferred it to be partially metal, with a substantial weight to give it that feeling of quality that the Zeppelin has.
Further to the remote’s feel, its performance was also not that great. It would work fine if pointed directly at the front of the Zeppelin, but would struggle from the sides or if facing away from the Zeppelin. It also neglects to offer any way of browsing the menus or searching through your music. It only allows you to skip backwards and forwards in the current playlist, pause and play the current song, adjust the volume, turn the Zeppelin on and off, and switch inputs. In comparison, the remote for my mini JBL speaker system is much more responsive and offers full control of my iPod.
Should you (God forbid) be the owner of a non-Apple branded MP3 player, don’t fret, because B&W have catered for you too. On the rear of the Zeppelin you’ll find an auxiliary port capable of receiving both analogue and optical digital inputs. This means that anything with a headphone socket or optical output can be plugged into the Zeppelin. However, there is an obvious downside. Unlike the pretty iPod, other devices will not be able to sit proudly on the protruding chrome strip at the front of the Zeppelin. It would’ve been nice if some sort of adjustable shelf was included so that other small music players could sit in the same place, albeit with an ugly wire dangling from the back.
Also found on the rear of the device is a USB port (type B), an S-video port, and a composite port. The USB port allows users to download future updates for new iPods as they come out, which is a fantastic idea. The S-Video and Composite ports allow iPods with video playback capabilities to be connected to a TV via the Zeppelin. This allows users to watch video footage from their iPod on a TV, whilst the Zeppelin outputs the sound.
Once powered-up, a blue LED illuminates on the left half of the Zeppelin’s front, from beneath the black fabric that covers it. This changes to red when the device is turned to standby, and green when an auxiliary input is selected. Also, if you use the remote to turn the volume up loud, the LED glows white so that you know it’s nearly at full volume without having to go over and look at the iPod’s display. When the iPod reaches full volume the LED glows red.
Another useful little addition, is the “Speakers” menu that the Zeppelin adds to the iPod’s main menu when it’s docked. This menu allows users to change the bass setting, backlight setting, and large album art setting. Plus, if you grab your iPod and leave the house without turning the Zeppelin off, it will automatically shut down after five minutes to save power.
Overall I was very surprised by the B&W Zeppelin. Coming from a brand like Bowers and Wilkins gave me expectations that it would sound good. Yet nothing prepares you for exactly how powerful this little system is. Its impressively warm lows are mixed with a clear and detailed top end to provide a rich, well balanced sound. Combine this with its dashing good looks and ease of use and there’s little to fault. If you’re after an attractive looking iPod speaker system with fantastic sound quality, then look no further. There’s little else on the market that comes close to the Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin.