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Bowers & Wilkins Z2 review: A nice speaker that fails to wow

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MSRP: $399.99
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The Good The Bowers & Wilkins Z2 is a compact AirPlay speaker with an integrated Lightning dock that's attractively designed, sounds good for its size, and is lightweight enough to easily move from room to room (though it does have to be powered by an AC adapter).

The Bad Expensive; could sound a little better for the price; no built-in rechargeable battery for mobile use.

The Bottom Line The attractively designed $400 Bowers & Wilkins Z2 wireless speaker sounds pretty good and has a built-in Lightning dock, but it doesn't quite stand out enough in a crowded market.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 7
  • Value 5

Review Sections

Some of you may think the speaker dock is dead, but Bowers & Wilkins doesn't seem to agree. The audio stalwart has launched two new wireless AirPlay speakers in 2013, both of which feature Lightning docks for Apple's latest iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPod Nanos.

The step-up Zeppelin Air ($599.99) simply updates the "old" Zeppelin Air speaker with a Lightning dock -- the speaker itself hasn't changed -- but the Zeppelin Z2 reviewed here, while a successor to the Zeppelin Mini, is an entirely new speaker.

After getting an early listen to the Z2 back in March when it launched, I wrote up some quick first impressions, saying that, as you might expect from Bowers & Wilkins, "it's a great-looking little speaker that sounds very good for its size, putting out a lot of sound with punchy bass.

The speaker sat around in our offices for a while, and I kept meaning to post a full review, but then some high-profile product would come along, and the Z2, which isn't such a high-profile product in a world seemingly dominated by Bluetooth speakers, would slip to the back burner.

Well, a few weeks ago my loan agreement came due, so I thought I should have another listen and post something more substantial before I sent the Z2 back to Bowers & Wilkins.

Lo and behold, my views on the speaker didn't changed all that much, especially as far as the design goes. But upon further review I came away thinking the speaker didn't perform quite as well as I thought after putting it through its full paces. It still sounds good for its size, just not great. And that's not what you want to hear when you're playing $400 for a speaker system.

The Z2 comes in black or white and has an integrated Lightning dock (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
Bowers & Wilkins products usually get high marks for their design, and the solidly built Z2 certainly is a sleek, compact speaker with good lines that will fit well with most modern decors (it comes in black or white).

I like that the designers moved away from the flashy mirrored surface of the previous Zeppelin Mini and went with a more understated matte black color for the top of the unit (it has a nice, soft-to-touch finish). It's a good-looking speaker, but if you're wondering whether it's portable, it isn't -- there's no built-rechargeable battery. That said, at 9 pounds, it is light enough to easily move from room to room or even outdoors, so long as the speaker is within reach of a power outlet.

For those who aren't familiar with AirPlay, it's Apple's answer to Wi-Fi streaming, so if you don't have an Apple product -- and particularly one with a Lightning connector -- there's little reason to to be interested in the Z2.

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