Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air - AirPlay & Sound Quality

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air

Summary

Our Score:

9

User Score:

Before you can fully enjoy the Zeppelin Air you will have to set it up. Here comes a snag. AirPlay should be a game winner, but it is far from being as intuitive as it needs to be. B&W's 'Quick Setup' guide has no less than 17 steps before you'll be up and running and even then it will only work with devices on the same network and only play audio from Apple devices and iTunes. Do you want to blast the sound from YouTube videos, Ogg albums or AVI/MKV videos through the Air? You're out of luck. You will also require an iDevice packing WiFi in the first place.

The good news is once AirPlay is setup all computers and iDevices sharing your wireless network are setup too. The result is iTunes and WiFi equipped Apple products will add a speaker option during playback which allows you to switch to the speakers of the Air. It is an undeniably neat system and as long as you're within range of your network you're within range of the Air. That said making music blast out of it while you're in another room only really has value for practical jokes.

What about actual performance? The Air is definitely a crowd pleaser. It packs 2x 25W tweeters, 2x 25W midrange and a 50W subwoofer. The result is a system that is louder, even more bombastic than the original Zeppelin and has the potential to shake your window frames. It produces the kind of full blooded sound that pulses with emotion and makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. That said the Air doesn't lack detail. It is equally happy playing Chopin as it is The Prodigy and it is this flexibility and additional clarity where the Air makes its most significant advancements on the original Zeppelin.

Where it could improve is stereo separation. Despite its elongated shape the Air still has the same fairly narrow projection of sound. Consequently it can, at times, feel like Brian Blessed bellowing from the corner of a room. If we could improve one element of the Zeppelin range in general it would be that they would 'fill' a room with sound rather than shout at it. This is nitpicking, but for £500 it's justified.

damo

May 13, 2011, 1:41 am

So, this one gets 9/10 for sound - but is apparently an audio improvement on the 10/10 given for the original Zeppelin!? It can't be based on the increased value - as that is in the 'value' rating, and can't be because it only uses apple airplay....because that is what it is supposed to do. So...maybe it is time to add a mark out of 11 - to signify the step change in quality in this category and give it a 10.5, and the Arcam an 11. Otherwise I can have no faith in such reviews.

Cliff

May 13, 2011, 3:37 am

Damo, the scores we attribute to a product are based on the market at the time of writing. The landscape changes all the time, which is why the iPhone 3G was rated 10/10 and the iPhone 4 received a 9/10 score.

LOBO

November 20, 2011, 8:49 pm

Damo, until I read this review I have always been weary of any printed opinion. Since my early twenties I have been reading Audio and Stereoplay (german magazines, I am Dutch) to see what their opinion was on equipment I was contemplating to buy. Most of my early earned money after graduating university was spent on HIGH END audio equipment, still owning today part of that ' hobby' : Nad Power Envelope (pre amp separate) and the AR 9 speakers (costing in 1990 DFL 10.000 altogether (about 5000 euro now). At the time Audio Magazine was a very trusted source, but for me that ended when I started using NAD (practically no tests available, as they didn't spent money on advertising....)
Before giving my opinion, it's good to know that I've come from a long way...
Now the Airplay. I just bought it after reading various tests (please note my wife is forcing me out of the ' old school' equipment since a few years (needing lot's of space and wires !) and AFTER having bought the ' old' Zeppelin in October 2010. So I now own both (plus the Harman Kardon Go & Play, in our kitchen, after first 'trying' the Bose Waveradio). Having heard my new Airplay and being the owner of the ' old' Zeppelin, everything in this review I can agree to. The Air does sound better then the predecessor. Be assured I have tested this as critical as possible, with an iPod with wav-files, the originals! My living room measures 10,5 mtrs by 5,50 meters and the sound is really AWESOME (the predecessor sounds very good as well). My old NAD / AR 9 sounds off course better, but with closed eyes NOone would guess the small Zeppelin (air) is responsible for the sound reproduction.
Again, I fully agree with this review and will revert back to this site for reviews of other equipment.

soundbyte

January 9, 2012, 10:28 pm

v. recent purchase of ZA from JL & totally impressed, design, product quality, sound repro and import'y airplay. As with any logic circuitry it operates as instructed so pl give the CORRECT instructions? Set up your ZA but then register o/L with B&W(and get some goodies) d/L the instruction manual and read the relevant parts and all will become clear to allow endless hours of uninterupted steaming musical pleasure as I am now doing. Warning: adjust the vol signal output on itunes-top left of page c.60% and multiple speaker tab ZA c.40% when streaming from pc or you'll blow your windows out when it connects! and have also found setting the equaliser (see-view) to treble-boost gives optimum overall sound repro but this is personal pref. nb.stunning unit with awesome acoustic sound range 9.5/10

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