Portable Audio

Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Amplified Speaker Dock System

ARTICLE INDEX


Introduction

The iPod dock/speaker market continues to grow every year and more high end speaker manufacturers are joining the game. Products range from cheap and flimsy $20 plastic models to higher end models such as the Fatman iTube Red-i that lists for $649. Bowers and Wilkins, renowned British loudspeaker company, has created their own high end iPod speaker dock system called the Zeppelin, which lists at $599, and is the subject of this review. Designed primarily to work with all variations of iPod's, the Zeppelin also has an analog/digital input for connection with other sources such as CD players or laptops. The Zeppelin can even be used as a center channel speaker to enhance the sound of televisions. Named for its unique and stylish wide shape, the Zeppelin not only looks exquisite but has sonic fidelity to match.

Specifications

  • Design: iPod Dock iwth Amplifier and Speakers
  • Drivers: Two 1" Tweeters, Two 3.5" Midrange, One 5" Woofer
  • Amplifier: 2x25 Watts (tweeter and midrange), 1x50 Watts (Woofer)
  • Inputs: 30 pin iPod, 3.5mm mini-jack, USB 2.0
  • Outputs: S-Video, Composite Video
  • Dimensions: 6.8" H x 25.2" W x 8.2" D
  • Weight: 16.5 Pounds
  • MSRP: $599 USA

Design

The Zeppelin is 25.2" wide by 6.8" tall by 8.2" deep and weighs a hefty 16.5lbs. It has impeccable build and feels very sturdy due to its polymer and steel construction. There are sleek contours, minimal amount of buttons (volume up/down and power), a black cloth grille, and the backing is a highly polished stainless steel. Each of the Zeppelin's sides feature a 1" aluminum dome tweeter and a 3.5 " glass fiber cone driver. The tweeter design on the Zeppelin features B&W's exponentially diminishing tweeter tubes that are used to absorb rear radiations. It's a modification of the same design that's used in B&W's famed Nautilus speaker line. In the center of the Zeppelin, B&W's patented Kevlar reinforced driver technology is used in a single 5" driver to handle the low end frequencies. The Zeppelin chassis features a ported design and there are dual ports on the back of the unit. Power for the drivers is supplied by dual digital 25w amps for the mids and highs, and a single digital 50w amp for the 5" bass driver. The Zeppelin's unique shape, which in my household earned it the nickname "bean speaker", is shaped that way for more than just aesthetics. The tapered enclosure, is designed so that the front baffle size is reduced in proportion to the size of the right and left mid drivers and tweeters. With less baffle surface area, sound-wave diffraction effects coming from the drivers are reduced.

The Zeppelin will tilt slightly upward as it rests on a table but B&W has included an rubber stand for more upright positioning if it's desired. The Zeppelin can also be wall mounted by using an accessory available from B&W. Whichever room I had the Zeppelin in, it always had a top notch contemporary look to it.

Right in the front of the Zeppelin extends out a chrome plated arm that curves to match the front contour and holds the iPod firmly in place. This is one of the best iPod interface docks I have ever seen. Not only does the arm feature a spring loaded mechanism that adjusts the 30pin connector to accommodate the variations in the different iPod sizes but it's also discrete enough so that the iPod can be manipulated in the same fashion as if it was resting in the hand. This is really how people want to control their iPod s because it's so familiar to them. As for iPod compatibility, the Zeppelin will provide sound to all the makes of the iPod (including the iPod Touch and iPhone) and will provide charging for all but the earliest of iPod models. There are a lot of various iPod docks and many of them need adapters to accommodate various iPod s so B&W gets some much deserved Kudos for this particular feature.


SetUp

When an iPod is plugged into the Zeppelin's dock the iPod will have a couple of extra features available. For starters, there will be a new item called speakers located in the settings menu that's used for adjusting the bass response. This can be used to fine tune the amount of bass if the Zeppelin is placed near a wall or corner where bass frequencies are more pronounced. There's also the ability to turn off the iPod's back light.

The Zeppelin also features an S-Video and Composite video jack on the back of the unit for outputting video from the iPod. This feature worked well, but iPod video is still designed for viewing on a small screen so resolution is still far from being desirable.

Keeping with the iPod's visual style, the egg-shaped remote included with the Zeppelin is simple and discrete. It fits in the palm and has a polished black front and polished chrome backing. It's limited to simple operations such as play/pause, forward/reverse, skip track, volume up/down, power, and mute but this is just fine for frequent iPod listening.

The Zeppelin is also able to accommodate other sound sources such as computers and CD players. The eighth inch AUX jack on the back of the unit can support both analog and digital connections and the Zeppelin features internal digital to analog converters. For example, I was able to use a patch cable to connect the RCA cables from a Nintendo Wii. As mentioned before, the Zeppelin can also be used as a way to enhance the sound of a television by connecting the television's output and then positioning it either under or over the display. It works very well to enhance the sounds of TV programs or dialogue heavy movies.


In Use

Plain and simple, the Zeppelin sounds great. It produces an even balance of lows, mids, and highs and the sound is both rich and refined. On percussive albums such as drum virtuoso Dave Weckl's Perpetual Motion album, snare drums have a nice snap and tom toms sound deep and melodic. On guitar heavy albums such as Los Lonely Boys Sacred album, the Zeppelin makes the mids sound warm and slightly pronounced which makes guitar work sound both colorful and smooth.

Some of the attractiveness of the Zeppelin's sound comes from its treble response. The high frequency response sounds crisp without having any harsh bite or piercing edges to the sound. It's not bright, and if anything sounds a little laid back. One thing is for sure is that it's chock full of detail.

I found the bass response of the Zeppelin to be quick and musical. When the volume is cranked, bass can start to be felt, but it's far from a boomy sound. Everything sounds clean and articulated and allows for the fine nuances of the low end to be heard. Expect Jazz bass work to sound terrific with the Zeppelin. Experimentation with placement near walls can also lead to enhanced bass response.

I found that the volume can get plenty loud. I used it in various rooms and suffice to say that even large open living rooms can be filled with colorful sound. As volume increased, sound remained clean and the Zeppelin had good projection and a full range.

While I did find that the off axis response of the treble was very good, mids were more dry as I listened to the Zeppelin from different side angles.


Conclusions

The Zeppelin raises the bar for sound quality of iPod speaker docks. Its' powerful enough to fill a large room with rich detailed sound and refined enough to make musical listening pleasurable at any volume level. If you are looking for the portability of an all in one active speaker system for your vast iPod library, combined with high quality sound, you'd be hard pressed to do better than Bowers and Wilkins' Zeppelin iPod amplified speaker dock system.

Bowers & Wilkins