So is the Air worth paying Â£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 Â£69 for the iPod adaptor and Â£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 Â£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.