The Zeppelin speaker line was born out love for 20th century German airships. That and music.
It marked B&W’s first foray into the one-box speaker, answering for its penny-pinching price tag with a premium sound and design. Eight years on and two models later we have the next all-new-and-improved Zeppelin Wireless.
Forget your Cambridge Audio Gos and Ultimate Ears Megabooms for a minute. This is a seriously desirable hi-fi.
Together in electric streams
Yes, the B&W Zeppelin range marks its eighth birthday not with a bowling party but a new model. Its fourth. The original spawned a Mini (it was small) and Air (it was an Airplay speaker). The Wireless lives very much up to its name too.
Sensing the end the iPod dock era (R.I.P), the Zeppelin Wireless is about cutting wires and ditching physical connections. The streaming-savvy soul can use AirPlay, aptX Bluetooth or Spotify Connect so for the first time, meaning the Zeppelin is just as desirable for non-Apple users. Existing Zeppelin owners who have varied their tablet/smartphone/music player arsenal may find this reason alone to upgrade.
If you want to hook the Zeppelin upto a turntable, there's a 3.5mm input on its rump, as well as Ethernet, power and service-only type-B USB slots.
All change under the hood
There’s been some serious tinkering done under this Zeppelin's hood too. From new, more advanced drivers borrowed from B&W's hi-fi stereo speaker ranges to a twice-as-powerful digital signal processing, rarely is a wireless speaker so tech-packed.
It’s worth removing the speaker's front panel just to peek at the beastly 6in woofer underneath. Naturally, it's bigger than ever before.
B&W couldn’t well change the design and keep the moniker, so it’s pretty much the only thing the Wireless has in common with previous Zeppelins. This updated model with its reinforced build also carries a bit more holiday weight. In reality, that's a couple of extra centimetres here and there.
Still a looker
When the first Zeppelin landed it was unique. Now the one-box speaker market has more shapes in it than a stencil set and features speakers resembling beach balls, discuses and Pringles pots, the legendary airship-shape isn’t quite so unusual. As ever, it remains quite the looker.
It’s an almost perfect elliptical shape, spoiled only by a small brand badge at the bottom. We say ‘spoiled’; really, it’s a neatly discreet control touch panel. Touch the right hand side of it for two seconds to initiate Bluetooth pairing, tap the other side to switch to the 3.5mm input. Easy.
The rest of the control is at the mercy of your smartphone. Appleites can download the set-up iOS app; Android fans will have to use PC or Mac.
Still, why should you spend more than S$1,000 on a Zeppelin Wireless when there are hundreds of cheaper alterantives? Every Tom, Dick and Harry has a speaker one under its belt. Even Primark.
They might be fine for your average Joe who’s just in it for sick choones down the park or for a party. Audiophiles in pursuit of the perfect sound in a one-box package, however, should listen up.
The Zeppelin has grown up a lot since the Air was released in 2011, and is as close to proper ‘hi-fi’ sound as we’ve seen at this size and money. It’s a far cry from the small, tinny sound you sometimes get from these lunchbox-sized wireless speakers.
The Zeppelin's shapely design doesn’t just keep its moniker going. Its wide girth also helps to create a big, expansive sound that won’t struggle filling a large living room. What’s more? It doesn’t break a sweat when the volume’s pushed up to 11.
Play Seasick Steve’s Walkin Man and it feels like he’s strumming right in front of you. There’s texture aplenty, and it gets right under the throat-tickling gruffness of the bluesman’s storytelling. Thankfully the Zeppelin Air’s tight, defined bass returns so that the song's thumping drum accompaniment sounds wonderful.
With OCD tendencies and a precise ear for rhythms, the B&W stays cool in the messiest of tracks. Not even Radiohead’s 15 Step can trip it up.
Even a low-res, highly-compressed Spotify stream sounds informative so if you’re a Premium subscriber with Connect capability, having at its 20million-odd songs is a real pleasure. Streaming from the service or over Bluetooth gets you the clearest, most open and subtle sound, though AirPlay is a decent third choice.
What about the Sonos Play:5?
Alas, there are hi-fi features to go with that hi-fi-like sound too; the Zeppelin joins the high-res party by playing and upsampling files to the full-blown 24bit/192kHz. Ergo, it should play pretty much any music file, whether it’s FLAC or WAV.
That gets one over on the new similarly-priced Sonos Play:5, and if sound is your priority know that the B&W is subtler and more precise in its tracks. Where the Sonos responds is in its multiroom sell, something the Zeppelin leaves on the shelf again. Perhaps it’s just as well; we doubt many people would be willing to sell yet another body part to get themselves a second Wireless.
Want something a little more discreet? We’re left pointing you to the brand’s more normal-looking speakers: the A5 Airplay speaker or, if you’re really going all-out, the larger flagship B&W A7.
B&W Zeppelin Wireless verdict
The Zeppelin is the brand’s biggest success story in the field though, and the new Wireless is the best chapter in it.
Keeping the range’s legacy alive, it combines fantastic sound with better functionality and even more seamless design. Want stereo speakers but don’t have room, or the budget for stands? Want to go better than the Audio Pro Addon T10 but can’t afford the Naim Mu-so’s £1,000 (S$2,163) outlay? Here’s a cracking alternative.
‘Wireless speakers’ and ‘quality’ don’t always go hand-in-hand. If we got a pound for every plastic-tastic speaker that had graced our test rooms, we could buy a Zeppelin each. And we would. It’s a quality product through-and-through and in terms of sound and design not a penny is left unaccounted for.
We wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t beaten on performance until another Zeppelin appears. If one indeed does, of course. Here’s to hoping.