We really liked the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air when it came out three years ago. In a sea of shaky AirPlay implementation, it was one of the best-sounding wireless speakers we tested. Time has passed, though, and speakers have become smaller, more affordable, and more flexible. Bluetooth is as viable a wireless standard as AirPlay, and companies like Sonos and Bose offer their own spins on multi-room audio.
Bowers & Wilkins has put out new AirPlay speakers since then, like the Editors’ Choice Z2 and A7, but it’s remained confident in its Zeppelin Air as its flagship model. With the exception of swapping out the 30-pin connector for a Lightning connector, the Zeppelin Air has gone unchanged since it was released (and you can even still order the 30-pin Zeppelin Air). It’s still $599.95 (direct), still AirPlay-only, and still distinctly oblong. B&W’s most prominent wireless speaker risks getting dated with only its connector changing, for several reasons, but its audio performance still shines after all this time.
From the outside, the Zeppelin Air is identical to its 30-pin version, with the obvious exception of its Lightning docking connector. Considering that the original Zeppelin was a stunning piece of electronics and few speakers have come close in style since then (like the cashmere-ensconced Libratone Live), that’s a good thing. It’s still a 25.2-inch-wide, 13.5-pound black football with a silver band bisecting it and holding the dock and Power and Volume Up/Down buttons. In fact, B&W lists it as the exact same product, with only a footnote to indicate the difference.
The curved cloth grilles hold two 3-inch midrange drivers, two 1-inch tweeters, and a 5-inch subwoofer. The back contains Ethernet and USB ports, a 3.5mm audio input, and a composite video output you’ll likely never use. In fact, you only need to plug it into a wall outlet to set up the speaker and start listening to music.
The Lightning connector Zeppelin also has the same nigh-useless remote the 30-pin speaker does. It’s a simple black plastic egg with only Power, Source, Volume Up/Down, Play/Pause, Fast-Forward, and Rewind buttons. Considering how much iOS devices have slimmed down, it’s easier to use the docking connector as a way to keep your iPhone or iPad in place and charged, and simply take it off the dock and use it to directly control your music instead of dealing with the minimalist remote.
Setup and AirPlay
Setup has become much easier since the Zeppelin first came out. Now all you have to do is download the B&W Control iOS app, tap through a few screens to set the speaker to connect to your Wi-Fi network, and you’re done. When the light turns to a solid purple, it’s connected to your network. Changing settings is equally easy, and even a full factory reset and starting from scratch can be done in a minute with a paper clip.
You still have to deal with frustrating control lag when playing music over AirPlay, though. While Apple’s wireless music standard has become much more reliable than it was in 2011, it can take a few seconds to play or pause a track or adjust volume—a problem Bluetooth doesn’t have. We overlooked this years ago when AirPlay was still new and Bluetooth couldn’t compare in sound quality. But with so many other options today, including high-end Bluetooth speakers and Wi-Fi-based multi-room systems, the lag is harder to forgive now.
For a detailed look at how the Zeppelin Air sounds, our review of the 30-pin version still stands. The Zeppelin Air sounds clean, powerful, and suffers from a very slight signal processing that compresses extreme levels at high volumes and prevents distortion, at the price of extremely accurate deep bass. That minor caveat aside, it’s still a $600 wireless speaker, and it still sounds like one. Few products have come close to its sound quality in the last three years. It continues to sound excellent across the board, only suffering slightly at processing the deepest sub-bass, and otherwise presenting everything from lows to highs with force and detail.
The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air remains one of the best-sounding speakers we’ve tested in the lab. From a pure sound quality perspective, it’s a must-have wireless speaker. However, you can find more responsive and less expensive wireless speakers that only slightly sacrifice sound quality for those benefits, such as the Marshall Stanmore Bluetooth speaker. You can also sacrifice style and price for a more responsive and powerful B&W speaker, like the excellent A7, or go with our current AirPlay-equipped Editors’ Choice, the Z2. If you don’t mind waiting a few seconds between making adjustments when playing music and hearing those adjustments happen, though, and if you really want a gorgeous, unique sound system on your shelf, it’s an excellent purchase. If you have less patience and budget, a more compromise-minded alternative is a better bet.
|Connections||3.5mm, Coaxial Digital|
|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc