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Speakers

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless dishes out premium sound at a premium price

The next-generation Zeppelin speaker features both Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth wireless connectivity in a redesigned package that delivers better sound -- but costs $700.

The Hindenburg tragically burned and crashed in 1937, accelerating the demise of zeppelin airships. Some 75 years later, Bowers & Wilkins' Zeppelin Air wireless speaker took off in the marketplace and now returns in an upgraded and completely redesigned version, the Zeppelin Wireless. Like the Air, it supports wireless audio streaming over Apple AirPlay, but leaves off the iPhone dock while adding Bluetooth connectivity.

It's available now for $700, £500 or AU$999.

The speaker shares the same distinct cigar shape of its predecessor, but this new model has a thicker, reinforced cabinet and specially designed "glass fibre ribs" that reduce vibration in the cabinet and improve the sound quality.

The rear of the speaker. Sarah Tew/CNET

There's a larger 6.5-inch subwoofer, decoupled double-dome tweeters, new midrange drivers, and an upgraded digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The overall result is a speaker that plays louder, sounds clearer and has tighter, deeper bass. And unlike some smaller wireless speakers out there, the new Zeppelin Wireless does a good job filling a fairly large room with sound.

It's important to note that the Zeppelin Wireless requires AC power and isn't portable (it has no rechargeable battery). That said, while it's fairly beefy at 14.3 pounds (6.5 kg), it can be carried around your house without too much difficulty.

AirPlay or Bluetooth

For the best sound you'll want to use Apple's AirPlay, which uses your home's Wi-Fi network to stream music from a device such as a smartphone, tablet or PC to the Zeppelin without the compression inherent in Bluetooth. With its updated Control App for iOS, Android, Mac and PC, B&W has made setting up an AirPlay connection easier, but it's still not as easy as connecting directly to the speaker using Bluetooth, which is how the English company says many people will end up connecting.

Side view of the Zeppelin Wireless. Sarah Tew/CNET

B&W says all inputs are upsampled to high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz, "the sort of technology once reserved only for state-of-the art DACs."

I spent a little time with the new Zeppelin and have been generally impressed with its performance for a "single-box solution." The elongated design of the speaker helps create a wider sound stage but it's still hard to measure up to a decent pair of separate bookshelf speakers -- I wonder how it will stack up to, say, a couple of powered Audioengine speakers linked to the new $35 Chromecast Audio Wi-Fi streaming accessory. You can pick up a setup like that for less than $500.

Of course, the reason people buy these types of tabletop wireless speakers is that they don't want to have to mess around with wires or accessories. They're looking for a sleek single speaker to blend into their decor and not take up much space.

We just received a review sample and will post our full review in the coming weeks. But for now I can say that while $700 is a lot to pay for a single wireless speaker, the new Zeppelin Wireless definitely sounds better than the Zeppelin Air and the addition of Bluetooth makes it more flexible.

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