Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air - Rivals & Verdict

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly



  • Recommended by TR
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air


Our Score:


So is the Air worth paying £500 for? Yes and no. If you have an original Zeppelin then you'd need to be the biggest of Apple fans to upgrade. The Air may have improved sound quality, but the Zeppelin is still an incredible piece of kit. Furthermore the principle benefit of AirPlay is music from iTunes on your computer since when you're playing from an iPhone or iPod you might have well have it docked and charging at the same time.

On the other hand if you don't already have a Zeppelin and you have the money it is a foregone conclusion, right? Not really. As mentioned at the start of this review the Arcam rCube looms large in the background. It is significantly smaller than the Air (200 x 200 x 200mm), lighter (5Kg) and fully portable thanks to a battery that can last up to eight hours. It lacks AirPlay, but packs lossless Kleer technology which is plug and play and it will playback any audio from your PC, not just iTunes content. In addition it features an S-video port which can output up to 720p HD video from a docked device to a TV.

So you should buy the rCube? Again not necessarily. Kleer technology requires dongles and at £69 for the iPod adaptor and £79 for the PC adaptor it adds significant cost. Meanwhile when it comes to audio the two are miles apart. The Air is louder, has more bass and is more domineering, but the rCube achieves what the Air does not: it fills a room with sound and if you have your back turned the 45 degree angles of the speakers inside make it feel like music is coming from all around you. In short the Air is more fun in a side-by-side comparison or for shorter listening periods, but the rCube is more enjoyable if you'll be playing music all day.

Ultimately what it all boils down to is individual circumstance. The Air is a brilliant product, it improves on the sound quality of the already incredible Zeppelin and packs AirPlay for good measure. At what it does there is nothing better, but it does have a more flexible main rival.


Bowers & Wilkins has pulled off an engineering masterstroke with the Zeppelin Air. It still looks a million dollars, has even better sound reproduction than its predecessor and comes packing AirPlay. For these benefits it costs £100 more than the original Zeppelin, but if you can afford it and you don't mind being tethered to a power socket then it is money well spent.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Sound Quality 9
  • Value 8


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.


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.


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.


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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