We took a look at Bowers & Wilkins' slick P5 headphones a few weeks back, and have been using them ever since. We were excited to have a chance to also look at the Zeppelin Air, B&W's flagship iProduct - an AirPlay-compatible speaker sharing the shape of the rigid airships of it's namesake.
As we mentioned before, Bowers & Wilkins, or B&W as they're generally referred to, have been around since 1966 making high-end audio equipment. Back then, it was John Bowers and his buddy Roy Wilkins, handcrafting speakers in the back of an electronics shop. They're a British company, based in Worthing, England (West Sussex) - and really, if you aren't already familiar with B&W, you probably aren't an audio enthusiast.
In the Box
The box is large, but packed tightly. The Zeppelin measures over 2 feet across (25.2 inches or 640 mm) and the box is just a tad longer than that. The box contains the manual, a power cable, a remote control, and an Ethernet cable.
Setting it Up
You do have an iPhone, right? Setting the Zeppelin up is extremely easy if you have an Ethernet port available, or an iDevice. There are no buttons on the Zeppelin other than power and volume up/down, so connecting to your home WiFi network cannot be done via the device. Not to worry - assuming you've got an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, there is an app in the App Store (Bowers & Wilkins AirPlay Setup) which makes it a snap. Connect to WiFi on the same network you'd like the Zeppelin to connect to, and the app will easily walk you through finding the Zeppelin(s) and connecting them to your WiFi. Easy.
Ethernet is even easier - just plug and play.
Now, if for some reason you're trying to connect to WiFi and do NOT have iOS device (maybe you just want this thing for your iPod Classic or Nano?) you're in for a world of setup - you'd have to check the Zeppelin Air manual to do so. The B&W assumption is most people by now who are purchasing a $600 speaker will have an iOS device.
The Zeppelin is just as excellent aesthetically as it is sonically. Gloss black, with a stainless steel trim and tightly stretched black cloth grill covers, it's simple, clean, and strong. A rubber bottom sits easily on the table or shelf you set it on, keeping it from sliding when adjusting volume or removing/placing the iDevice.
A curving piece of stainless steel juts out of the front of the Zeppelin, capped with a universal docking port for your iPod Classic or iOS device. I had no issues placing a variety of devices on there - iPod Classic, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch. All fit well, snug, and secure. I had a rather thick case on my iPhone, and noticed I had to remove it to get a snug fit on the dock - this shouldn't be an issue if you have a thin case or are using a device without a case (or AirPlay) with the Zeppelin. The universal dock is also where the Bowers & Wilkins is cleanly displayed.
The remote allows for basic functionality - power, volume up/down, forward/reverse skip, and an input button which allows for changing between Dock, AirPlay, USB, or Aux In. The Zeppelin attempts to auto-detect which of these is active as well.
AirPlay, et al
A lot of tech goes into the Zeppelin - it's more than just a speaker. AirPlay is the biggest selling feature of the Zeppelin Air - it's even referenced in the name. It worked perfectly, as well. I plugged in the Zeppelin first via Ethernet (tested with WiFi as well with equally clean and simple results) and was instantly shown the Zeppelin as an AirPlay destination both from my iPhone and my iTunes on the Mac.
If you're familiar with AirPlay, it's the same here. You choose AirPlay as a destination from your iDevice or iTunes on your Mac (needs to be on the same network as the Zeppelin is plugged into) and the audio instantly pipes out of the speaker. No surprises here - it worked perfectly. If you're not familiar with AirPlay - it's great. Literally hit the button and you can stream music from any iOS device or iTunes install on the same network as your AirPlay device.
Of course there are other ways to play music on the Zeppelin - all sorts of them. There is an auxiliary input (standard 3.5 mm - cable not included), USB streaming straight from your computer (again, cable not included - it's the same cable as a printer cable), or of course from the dock right on the device.
There's even an RCA composite output (again, cable not included) if you'd like to pipe the video from your iOS device (it would need to be on the Zeppelin's dock) out to a TV while using the Zeppelin for your sound.
Everything you'd expect from Bowers & Wilkins. The Zeppelin Air easily fills any room in your house with clean, clear, full-bodied sound. We were able to hear the music from our street when it was only halfway up the volume slider - the Zeppelin is plenty of sound for a loud dinner party or get together, although you'll not get the thump of a grad party house. The low end was surprisingly full on the Zeppelin though - I'm used to the "punchy" high-end subs you hear in Bose and other "accuracy first" speaker setups, but Bowers & Wilkins has delivered a much fuller bottom end while maintaining clarity of sound reproduction in the Zeppelin Air. The range was great.
We were impressed with the perfect combination of clarity, fullness, and accuracy present in the Zeppelin Air - and all from a single device. Everything we piped through it sounded brilliant, from hip-hop to classical to rock. Bravo, Bowers & Wilkins.
Of course, at $600 for an iOS/AirPlay speaker, you'd hope to get nothing less. You can pick up the Zeppelin Air from Apple for $599.95 (and free shipping) - 3 cents less than from Best Buy, at $599.98. Or, you can read on below for a chance to get a free one shipped straight to your door.
We're giving the Zeppelin a 5 leaves rating - our highest. Solid engineering and design are obvious in the Zeppelin Air; it's a perfect addition to your home or office.
As we usually do for our reviews, we've also got a giveaway. We've been graced by B&W to be able to give away our review Zeppelin Air to a lucky reader. Leave a comment below, then grab some more entries to the giveaway through the various options in the widget below. We'll pick a winner on Friday!
Bowers & Wilkins