Editors' Note: As of November 2009, Bowers & Wilkins has released a smaller, less costly stepdown version of this product known as the Zeppelin Mini. As of March 2011, Bowers & Wilkins has released the Zeppelin Air, an updated version of this product that adds compatibility with Apple AirPlay at no extra charge. The Zeppelin Air fully replaces the model reviewed here.
Let's face it: as a category iPod speakers are a pretty uninspired lot. Their plastic, boxy, and sometimes downright awful industrial design flies in the face of the iPod's masterful aesthetic and intuitive ergonomics. Until now, that is. Bowers & Wilkins' curvaceous Zeppelin iPod speaker is as every bit as sophisticated as Apple's iconic player. Best of all, the Zeppelin isn't all show--its detailed sound largely lives up to B&W's high-end reputation (at least when we played acoustic music). So sure, it's one of the most expensive iPod speakers you can buy, but it may well be worth it, especially if you fall in love with the Zeppelin's looks.
Unpacking the Zeppelin, we couldn't help but be impressed with its build quality: the speaker's entire backside is constructed out of mirror-polished stainless steel, the front black cloth covering is tastefully demure. A LED indicator lights up from behind the grille to keep you informed of the Zeppelin's operational status: it glows red in standby mode, yellow as the unit powers up from standby; green when the Aux input is selected; white as the Zeppelin's volume approaches its maximum setting. The speaker's power and volume controls are embedded in the stainless trim piece just above the iPod. Suffice it to say, the overall package is just plain gorgeous--another fruitful pairing up of B&W and London's Native Design Ltd.
Measuring 25.2 inches wide, the Zeppelin is certainly bigger than most iPod speakers, and weighing a hefty 16 pounds, it's a good deal more substantially built as well. A thick rubbery pad is provided to cradle the Zeppelin--it's the only component of the system that looks and feels like something of an afterthought.
The Zeppelin's tapered ends house stereo 3.5-inch glass-fiber midrange and 1-inch metal dome tweeters to maximize stereo separation. Bass is provided by a single 5-inch woofer located in the center of the Zeppelin, and its sound is enhanced by twin rear-firing ports. A total of three digital amplifiers are included, delivering a total of 100 watts: two 25-watt amps drive the tweeter and midrange units, and with the remaining 50 watts allotted to the woofer. The amps generate a bit of heat, so the unit runs slightly warm to the touch.
Tucked into the Zeppelin's curvy rear end you'll find a 3.5mm auxiliary stereo input jack; a USB 2.0 port for firmware upgrades; and composite and S-Video outputs for connection to your TV (for displaying photos and videos from iPod models that are so equipped).
Previously, newer iPod Nano (third generation) and iPod Classic models couldn't take full advantage of the Zeppelin's features. As of the 1.0.3 (fall 2007) Apple firmware update, however, both models should be able to display the volume changes made through the Zeppelin and show the "speakers" menu when plugged in. The latter menu item offers tone control (five-position bass adjustment), backlight toggle (you can have it stay permanently lit when mounted on the Zeppelin), and large album art toggle (for easier viewing at a distance).