At the rear there’s a single, centrally mounted bass port, as opposed to the twin arrangement seen in the original Zeppelin. Below the bass port you’ll find the power socket, which this time requires an external power block, thus helping reduce the overall size of the unit. Next to the power socket is a 3.5mm auxiliary input so that you can connect up a second source that isn’t an iPod – at home I have a Sonos ZonePlayer plugged into the aux input on my Zeppelin.
The last port at the rear of the Zeppelin Mini is USB. The USB port brings with it some notable new functionality, like the ability to synchronise your iPod while it’s docked – assuming of course that your computer is close enough. You can also update the firmware via the USB port (as you could with the original Zeppelin), but the most notable function is that you can stream music directly from a computer via USB.
The ability to stream music via USB gives away the fact that the Zeppelin Mini has an integrated DAC. So, whether you’re streaming music from a PC or an iPod, the digital data is converted inside the Zeppelin Mini itself. This means that if your source device has a less than ideal DAC, as with most computers or even an iPod, you can take it out of the equation. Although the original Zeppelin could stream music digitally via its combined analogue and optical input, music pulled from a docked iPod was taken as an analogue feed.
The big question is whether a digital iPod connection can make up for the reduced dimensions and hardware compared to the original Zeppelin, and the answer is, predictably, no. However, I don’t think Bowers and Wilkins ever designed the Zeppelin Mini to sound as good as the original Zeppelin, after all, it’s a smaller, less obtrusive device for consumers who don’t want something the size of the original Zeppelin in their homes. That said, the Zeppelin Mini still sounds very good indeed.
If you’re worried that the Zeppelin Mini wont be powerful enough to fill a room, don’t be. In fact, the Mini managed to fill my local church hall without any problems, when it handled music duties at my daughter’s fourth birthday party. Okay, so it does sound a little harsh at very high volumes compared to the full size Zeppelin, but that’s to be expected given its size. In the majority of situations – when it’s not in a hall with 20 screaming children on a bouncy castle – it produces a beautifully balanced sound.
Most surprising is how expansive a soundstage the Mini manages to create – obviously you’re not going to get any real sense of stereo mixing, but it does a pretty good job of enveloping the listener, as long as you’re not sitting too close. This aspect was highlighted when I played Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene and the sound floated through the room in an almost ghostly manner, taking me back to the first time that I watched Gallipoli.
You’re obviously not going to get as much bass from the Mini as you do from the original Zeppelin, so if you’re preference is R&B or Hip Hop, you might find the results a little underwhelming, though not completely disappointing by any means. More acoustic fare like Kate Walsh’s superb album, Tim’s House is beautifully rendered with the Mini managing to recreate all the intrinsic delicacy of tracks like Talk of the Town and Bury My Head.