Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin


Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin

The same odd shape but with more of a focus on streaming, the Zeppelin’s comeback is a worthy one with a terrific audio performance and slick streaming capabilities.

Pros

  • Precise sound
  • Plenty of streaming options
  • Striking design
  • Nice app

Cons

  • Rather large to accommodate
  • No Chromecast
  • Stereo ambitions overstated

Availability

  • UKRRP: £699
  • USARRP: $799
  • EuropeRRP: €799

Key Features


  • BluetoothCan stream up to aptX-HD

  • Smart skillsBuilt-in Alexa voice recognition

  • Music appMusic app integrates streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz

Introduction

The last Zeppelin speaker to emerge from the Bowers & Wilkins factory was in 2017, and the landscape of the wireless speaker market has shifted plenty in that time.

Nowadays, a premium wireless speaker that launches without a control app is considered a faux pas. Digital assistants have colonised homes, while the thirst for higher-quality audio has increased.

And so the Zeppelin returns to embrace the digital age. Alexa comes built in and the speaker is entwined with music services so it can be fed a diet of your favourite tracks and playlists.

Design

  • Unique looks
  • Needs space to operate
  • Elegant, premium construction

You could trace the evolution of modern wireless speakers through the various iterations of the Zeppelin model. From the Zeppelin iPod speaker Dock to Zeppelin Air, Zeppelin Wireless and now Zeppelin, it’s advanced from a speaker with a physical dock to a wholly wireless experience.

So as the iPod docks of old were consigned to the history books, the new Zeppelin ditches physical ports altogether – there’s no 3.5mm jack and no Ethernet. Visually, the Zeppelin remains a looker, with contoured curves and premium fabric material merging to create its distinctive silhouette. The housing is an ultra-rigid, FEA-optimised enclosure sculpted to deliver a wide and spacious sound.

Bowers Wilkins Zeppelin side profile

The stand is built in, and integrated into the underside of the body is a downward-facing LED light. The brightness can be adjusted in the app or switched off completely – after a period of inactivity it turns off anyway. At 650mm wide, the Zeppelin isn’t a wireless speaker that likes to share space. For more placement options there’s a £59 wall bracket.

Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin buttons

There’s no remote, so on the rear are playback, volume, Alexa Voice Service and Multifunction (MFB) buttons. The MFB can be used to set up the speaker, start a Bluetooth connection and it flashes to denote the speaker’s status. Hold the Voice Service button to turn off the microphones, if you crave privacy.

In the back of the stand you’ll find the power outlet, alongside a USB-C service port and reset button. The Zeppelin comes in midnight grey and pearl grey finishes, with the latter looking especially lovely.

Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin connections

Features

  • Slick and well-featured Music app
  • Bluetooth, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect support
  • Alexa voice assistance

The Zeppelin is full stream ahead for features – but before I get to that, some details about what’s inside. For the high frequencies there are two 25mm double-dome tweeters, for the mid-range two 90mm FST (Fixed Suspension Transducer) drivers, and the low frequencies are handled by a 6-inch subwoofer.

Driving all this is 240W of amplification, which is comparatively less than the similarly priced Naim Mu-So Qb 2 (300W). At its heart is a DAC capable of 24-bit/192kHz – although, currently, the resolution the Zeppelin accepts is 24-bit/96kHz, which could be raised through updates.

There’s AirPlay 2 for iOS devices (which also brings multi-room support) and aptX Adaptive Bluetooth (aptX-HD) for Android. Streaming services are served by Spotify Connect, with Deezer, Last.fm, Qobuz, Soundcloud, TuneIn and Tidal available to be linked to in the Bowers & Wilkins app. Spotify Hi-Fi will be supported when it launches, and with the Zeppelin’s upgradeable digital brain, more services can be added in the future.

BW Music app home page iOS

The Bowers & Wilkins Music control app is more featured than the barebones Formation Home app from a few years back. It looks great on iPad Pro, slick in appearance and frictionless in use. The main page is organised into a row of recommendations, recently played content, followed by Bowers & Wilkins playlists and linked streaming services. There’s scope to adjust the speaker’s EQ by altering bass and treble from -6dB to 6dB.

BW Music app equaliser settings LED

Playback in the app extends to play/pause, skipping and volume adjustment, with no ability to scrub forwards or backwards. While you can control content that’s playing in other apps – say, Apple Podcasts – they won’t appear in the recently played row, necessitating a jump back to the app to play something else.

Bowers Wilkins Music app Football Weekly

Alexa is built in, and when beckoned the recognisable blue light appears beneath the Bowers & Wilkins logo, the far-field microphones picking up requests from across the room. She can play music from services you’ve linked to in the Alexa app (Amazon Music and Spotify) – but even if you link Alexa to Apple Podcasts, her reach won’t stretch to unsupported apps.

Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Alexa

Initial setup takes a little longer than expected, and booting up isn’t instantaneous, either. Like a university student who’s had a night out, the Zeppelin requires some time to wake up. Nevertheless, the combination of the Zeppelin and Music app is an improvement over the Formation app, which is slowly being integrated into the Music app, and multi-room with Formation is still on track for early 2022.

If you hanker for DLNA or UPnP, they’re not currently supported and for the time being then Bowers & Wilkins seems content with the options offered, so don’t expect Chromecast or Google Assistant any time soon.

Sound Quality

  • Big sound
  • Deep bass
  • Crisp, clear and sharp performance

The new Zeppelin markets itself as more of an all-in-one system than before, and it delivers a performance that’s in-tune with what we’ve come to expect from the series.

It strikes a rather neutral and precise tone – a sound stripped of fat and filtered to deliver a pure signal. It’s sharp and clear at the top end, with a firm and punchy low-frequency performance, and a mid-range that’s crisp and detailed.

It can easily go big and loud, its performance ably filling a medium-sized room; although the Zeppelin’s stereo image ambitions are rather overstated. The Zeppelin produces a big sound, for sure, but the bulk of the action happens in the middle, a sense of outright width wasn’t particularly evident in the music I played.

Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin close up

Vocals are reproduced cleanly, with clarity and fidelity. Obong

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