I was lucky enough to be the first person in Australia to review that all new Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air which has already been described as the best device that attaches to an iPod, iPad or iPhone. It’s also the first device to be launched that incorporates Apple’s new AirPlay technology. So how does it go up against the Sonos S5?In Australia this product will sell for just $799 complete with the all new Apple Air technology which lets users connect the device to a Wi Fi network.
I suspect the decision for a lot of buyers will be whether they buy the new low cost Zeppelin Air or the $579 Sonos S5 which is also a popular network music device that interfaces with an iPod or iPhone.
Wired recently described the new Bowers & Wilkins device as delivering sound that is the aural equivalent of a swimming pool filled with French vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate-dipped diamonds.
The previous model of the Zeppelin sold for over $1,100 when first launched in Australia, so the big question now is whether the new model has the best set of multimedia speakers in its class. The first hint you get is the noticeable improvement to the physical speaker and sound output system.
The revamped Zeppelin Air has a new speaker configuration and the midrange drivers have been upgraded. It also has a new midrange Amp configuration, up from two 25-watt amps to four 25-watt class D amps.
A key upgrade is the introduction of a new processor for digital-to-analogue conversion and signal processing.
This has resulted in a significant improvement to the high and very low frequency sound output, with better, detail and clarity delivered all round.
The sound difference is considerable, noticeable and superior to the Sonos S5. It’s also significantly superior to the many other iPod attach music systems, that are floating around retailers. Many of these “Made In China Devices” such as those made by the likes of Logitech, who are in essence an IT accessories company, are not designed to deliver superior music because they have not been designed from the ground up by a Hi Fi Company like Bowers & Wilkins.
In the new Zeppelin Air, the tweeters are the same as the MM-1 desktop speakers. A new low-frequency amp delivers 50 watts of output resulting in the quality and clarity of the audio being superior to all other IPod attach devices we have bench tested.
One of the big new features in the B&W Zeppelin Air is the inclusion of Apple’s new AirPlay technology which is all about being able to “push” content from an iOS device like an iPod, iPad or iPhone to the Zeppelin Air. AirPlay is similar to the DLNA standard which I wrote about recently.
Out of the box all you have to do to activate the service is connect the Zeppelin Air to a broadband network using the supplied Ethernet cable. You then press the power button until it blinks purple. It will then go to solid purple.
When this happens you type in the supplied IP address into your browser and the Zeppelin Air set up page activates. You then select your home network.
Once this is done you can disconnect the device from the network and activate your Apple device. However, I suggest that you reboot your iPhone or iPad prior to doing this.
Once the handshake is done between the Zeppelin Air and the Apple device users can play music to not only the source Zeppelin Air device but other B&W Zeppelin products.
The B&W browser application, allows users to search for remote speakers that are connected to the AirPlay network. However this is few and far between because the technology is brand new and very few manufacturers have launched AirPlay products in Australia.
AirPlay is similar to the DLNA standard, but is designed to be easier to use, and only available on Apple devices or products that license the technology.
At $799 this product is a bargain especially as the sound is superior to any other iPad attach device on the market for under $1,000.
If you are looking for “good sound” not “stunning sound” and superior networking capability the answer is the Sonos S5 which is more a content device than a sound device.
The Sonos S5 which sells for $579 has superior networking capability and front end software which is available via an iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.
Sonos owners also have access to Internet radio as well as a new music streaming service from Sony.
The real strength of the Zeppelin Air is the fact that it is made by Bowers & Wilkins, a British Hi Fi company that has a reputation for delivering great Hi Fi devices.
The company’s, MM-1 desktop speakers and P5 headphones are just two examples of the quality that one gets in a B&W product.
What I do miss is the stainless steel back that the original Zeppelin had. This has been replaced with a high gloss black back, but that’s what you get when the price drops from $1,100 to $799.