Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless review

Soaring sound or crashing Hindenburg?

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The new Zeppelin Wireless is looking once more to bring audiophile quality to the single component speaker market. And at this price you'd hope so.

For its $699 (£499 / AU$999) pricetag you get a host of premium-quality componentry fitted inside the newly-designed Zeppelin housing, making Bowers and Wilkins' latest iteration of the iconic shape the best yet.

DSP

It represents a genuine upgrade in both functionality - with more connections than before - and in terms of its aural quality too. The sound is excellent; bassy, but controlled and doesn't impact upon the clarity of the rest of the audio. The mid-range is incredibly powerful, but the clear separation means even Spotify tracks sound fantastic.

It's by no means perfect though.

The Apple bias is still there in that the only support app on offer is for the iOS software, or via a desktop computer. Given the extra demands of AirPlay setup that's almost forgivable, but the process of connecting to your home network on Android devices involves IP addresses and awkward router-like refreshes.

If you have multiple WiFi networks in your home - wireless signals sadly don't travel the length of my thick-walled home - then shifting the Zeppelin between them means going in and setting the connection up anew each time.

But it's not designed to be a particularly portable device - it's power cable does suggest it's meant to be kept in one place after all - though it would be handy if it could remember more than one network at a time.

Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless

We liked

The new Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless is a beautiful piece of design. It's a solid, reassuringly weighty wireless speaker delivering on all the B&W audio heritage which the British audio maestro has been building up throughout its near fifty year lifetime.

The sound is clear and natural, delivering room-filling audio with seriously punchy mid-range, and dynamic, controlled bass.

It remains clear and distortion-free throughout its volume range too. The dynamic EQ settings seem to work marvellously making sure nothing becomes overpowering or lost as it gets quieter or louder. And it sure gets loud....

The addition of Spotify connect is very welcome and with Bluetooth and AirPlay connections, wireless input is extensive and simple. You also get an easy auxilliary input too if you want to forgo such wireless pleasures and make with the cabling.

We disliked

That price is always going to be a bit of a stinger, especially when we're talking about single-component audio devices. But, considering something like the Naim Mu-so is still almost twice the price, the audiophile-level sound you can get out of the Zeppelin makes its argument for you.

Setup without the iOS app was a little awkward too. My main PC isn't on the wireless network so I had to do it via an Android device, inputting the IP address of the Zeppelin and setting up the network via a web-page. Intuitive it is not.

And you have to go through the same procedure if you want to change networks too - though as an ostensibly non-portable device that's more forgivable.

Verdict

After my first demo with the Zeppelin Wireless in Bowers and Wilkins' audio room I was pretty blown away. But then, back home enjoying my elderly speakers and amp with the joys of Google's Chromecast Audio, I wasn't sure I'd still feel the same when our review unit arrived.

But I love the new Zeppelin.

I love the closed, sleek styling. I love the impressive wireless connectivity. But most of all I love that sound. It's powerful, but defined; equally adept at pumping out pounding Happy Hardcore, breathy live vocals or delicate piano scores.

Would I pay $699 (£499 / AU$999) for the privilege? Not on my wage...but it would be a HiFi-quality wireless speaker that I'd aspire to own and one that isn't utterly unattainable.