Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air review: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air

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The Good Great sound quality; attractive design; AirPlay wireless streaming works well.

The Bad Expensive; docking stand is redundant if you're using AirPlay.

The Bottom Line The B&W Zeppelin Air looks like a blimp but, unlike the Hindenberg, it's not a disaster. This iPod speaker dock's good looks, impressive sound quality and useful AirPlay features make it well worth checking out.

8.3 Overall

The original Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin offered decent sound quality and resembled a great big blimp. Those are key qualities for an iPod speaker in our book, and qualities that helped to make it the definitive device of its type.

But the Zeppelin landed years ago, and the Apple lovin' consumers of today expect something slightly fancier. Happily, the new Zeppelin Air packs Apple's AirPlay technology, so you can pump out tunes directly from your iDevice over a wireless connection. But is it worth £500?

Music to our ears

B&W has made a few changes under the hood since the first Zeppelin appeared, opting for smaller mid-range drive units, which it reckons will allow for better audio dispersion. Essentially, the Air will do a better job of flooding the whole room with noise. There are five units in total hidden in the Zeppelin's rounded body -- four 25W units and one 50W unit.

The dock doesn't stow away, which might get on your wick if you mostly stream your music wirelessly.

While the inner components have changed, there's almost no difference between this unit and the previous Zeppelin in terms of design. Shaped like a blimp, or possibly a novelty oversized cigar, the Air measures 640mm by 173mm by 208mm. The Air is quite large, but we still reckon it'll fit snugly into most living rooms, especially if you've got a shelf to stick it on.

This speaker weighs 6.2kg, so it's far from portable. Once you've heaved this behemoth up into your AV set-up, you won't want to move it again.

Overall, the Air looks good. The shape is pleasing, and the fabric texture that surrounds the noise-making parts is of a deep black hue. A stripe of stainless steel down the centre houses a power button and volume keys. The only oddity is that the actual dock section sticks out on a stalk, a little distance proud of the main body of the speaker. That might look weird if you're using AirPlay most of the time, because, apart from docking an iPod or iPhone, this stalk doesn't serve much purpose.

Around the back, the speaker covers have a dappled, golf-ball-style texture. B&W reckons that covering the casing in these little dimples reduces air turbulence around the speaker port. Pumping out serious bass produces plenty of air movement, so the idea is that this texture will reduce the annoying noise you get when the port is shaken around by a build-up of air. It's nigh-on impossible to gauge how much impact those dimples actually have, but we can report that the bass response from the Zeppelin Air is very impressive.

The Ethernet port will come in handy if your wireless network is on the blink.

Fantastic bass is about more than just rattling the floorboards. A great speaker will deliver that tummy-turning bass vibration without obscuring the rest of the mix, and without sounding flabby or distorted. Happily, the Air's bass is served up with a satisfying thump that shook our eyeballs in their sockets, while also sounding extremely precise.

Spiking our hair up and rocking out to Billy Idol's Rebel Yell, we could hear the kick drum prominently. Turning the volume up, we were impressed by the Air's ability to keep things balanced. We could feel the bass guitar line buzzing in our internal organs, but, even at higher volumes, we never lost track of the hi-hat cymbals in the higher parts of the mix. The Zeppelin Air sounded powerful and rock-solid, with the bass kept well under control and incredibly clear.