If you’re not tempted by the allure of valves, you’ll struggle to find a single iPod audio system able to match the latest iPod line-up for aesthetic allure. And yes, that definitely includes Apple’s shovel-faced Hi-Fi.
Until now. Say hello to the Zeppelin, the new one-box iPod dock from British hi-fi gurus Bowers and Wilkins. Stunning, isn’t it? Stick a new Nano or Classic on its curved, all-aluminium docking cradle and it looks gorgeous. Slot in a Touch or iPhone, and suddenly everything else in hi-fi looks ten years out of date – including kit costing way more money.
Style and substance
Of course, when something looks this good, it’s easy to get cynical about its performance. Over the years several hi-fi companies – naming no names, but you can work it out – have carved out enviable reputations and even more enviable sales figures for themselves by focusing more on styling than sound quality. But the amazing thing about the Zeppelin is it doesn’t just look the business – it sounds it, too.
The key to the Zeppelin is its shape, but not just because it looks cool: the elongated form means each drive unit is placed in its optimum position. A 13cm Kevlar-reinforced bass driver sits bang in the middle of the unit (fed by its own 50W power amp), two 9cm midrange drivers flank it (each with 25W amps), and a pair of 25mm metal-dome tweeters make up each end of cabinet (again, with 25W each).
Each drive unit is derived from B&W’s range of loudspeakers, so decent sound quality is pretty much assured, although the Zeppelin’s exceptionally solid build – it’s made from a complex composite of polymer and stainless steel, and weighs in at 7kg – helps to give each speaker a rigid platform to operate from, too.
Sound to fill your biggest room
Fire up your favourite tunes, and you’ll be surprised at just how full and potent the Zeppelin sounds. It’ll easily fill a big room with music, and its complex, multi-driver speaker arrangement gives it depth and expression that no rival can emulate.
That drive unit arrangement really works: the bass is rock-solid and ultra-deep because the low-frequency driver is positioned at the most stable, central point of the chassis, while stereo imaging and musical accuracy is also superb, because the Zeppelin’s shape reduces the amount of ‘cabinet’ surrounding each driver, which helps sound to disperse more cleanly into your room.
Driven by your iPod
Quite apart from its sonic brilliance, the Zeppelin also triumphs because it uses the best, most intuitive user interface available in hi-fi – your iPod. The aluminium cradle arm is specifically designed so you wrap your hand around it and drive your iPod with your thumb, just as you would on the move.
It’s even slightly tilted upwards, so it’s easier to get to grips with in a typical tabletop installation, although B&W also supplies a tilting mat to pitch the Zeppelin subtly forward if you prefer. That makes it easier to get to grips with if you’ve mounted your unit on a shelf.
It sounds simple, but then most brilliant ideas often are: after all, given how addictive the Touch and iPhone are to use, why would you want to use another control interface or display screen? It’s almost enough to make up for the fact that the B&W’s remote control only has basic forward, back and volume functions. But when using your hi-fi is as enjoyable as this, getting out of your seat once in a while is a barely noticeable niggle.