BOWERS & WILKINS ZEPPELIN WIRELESS SPEAKER
- Versatile wireless streaming connectivity
- 2.1 speaker design utilizing 5 drivers in a single enclosure
- Sufficiently powerful internal amplification
- Well-built product in unique and attractive lifestyle design
- Solid sonic performance
As a single multi-driver speaker system, the Zeppelin is touted as the beauty of sound. It is a lifestyle product that is designed not only to meet sonic performance expectations but also to have a beautiful appearance. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there is no denying the unique design appearance of the Zeppelin, the main form of which has been maintained since the first introduction of the model in 2007. Its main function as a speaker bearing the B&W name also remains the same, that is to produce great sound. Even though the form and function of the Zeppelin do not change much, the product features have undergone several updates, mainly to adjust to the trend of streaming music. This review will specifically look at the latest iteration of the Zeppelin, which was introduced in late 2021. Will this new Zeppelin have what it takes to meet the ever-evolving customers’ desires and expectations?
Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) first introduced the Zeppelin single-speaker system in 2007 as the ultimate iPod dock. The name ‘Zeppelin’ represents very well the unique shape of the speaker enclosure, which looks very much like the typical shape of those lighter-than-air airships. The Zeppelin has undergone several updates since then, but the main shape of the enclosure is overall maintained. That the Zeppelin has been in the B&W product lineup for these many years suggests the company’s success in delivering the performance and versatility promises of the product that necessarily evolve with the musical listening trend, which by itself is influenced by the time and the technological progress in the field.
The previous update prior to this new Zeppelin was in 2015 with the introduction of the Zeppelin Wireless, which I had a chance to review and came away impressed. Even with its shortcomings, I remember it as one of the favorite single-speaker systems that I ever evaluated. The recognition that the streaming landscape has changed considerably since then prompted B&W to introduce the updated Zeppelin in late 2021, which includes enhanced features, some of them alleviating the previous shortcomings, to cater to the current streaming lifestyle. Considering inflation, the new Zeppelin is priced about the same as its predecessor at $799. Needless to say, I am excited to see what this new Zeppelin brings to the table.
Bowers & Wilkins Music App (with Deezer, Qobuz and TIDAL support), Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect
5.0 with supported codes: aptXTM adaptive, AAC, SBC
USB-C: for service only
2 x 1″ Double-Dome tweeter
2 x 3.5″ midrange, utilizing Fixed Suspension Transducer (FST) technology
1 x 6″ subwoofer
Digital Signal Processing
35 Hz – 24 kHz
Amplifier power output:
Power supply voltage:
100 – 240 V, 50/60 Hz
< 2 W (sleep)
25.6″ (650 mm) W x 8.3″ (210 mm) H x 7.6″ (194 mm) D
14.3 lb. (6.5 kg)
midnight grey, pearl grey
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The new Zeppelin, like its past iterations, sports an unmistakable unique blimp-like shape that I find appealing. It is offered in dark-tone (midnight grey) or light-tone (pearl grey) finish options. The review sample had the midnight grey finish. As the metal pedestal stand and the front Bowers & Wilkins nameplate are finished in silver, the darker midnight grey finish elevates a more contrasting two-tone appearance. Besides the Bowers & Wilkins nameplate, the front part of the speaker mostly consists of a non-removable cloth-covered grille. The Zeppelin is also equipped with downward-facing LED ambient light that is activated when the unit is in operation. This light can be dimmed or switched off completely (through the B&W Music app) if desired. The Zeppelin is definitely an attention grabber just by its look alone. At the same time, its unique appearance can also serve as a room-décor enhancer.
Despite its simple appearance, the Zeppelin packs advanced drive units under its hood. Two 1″ Decoupled Double-Dome tweeters, which are derived from the B&W 600 Anniversary series, are mounted at the outer edges of the enclosure. The decoupling technique is used to isolate the tweeters from the vibrations of the cabinet and the larger drive units to achieve cleaner high-frequency responses. Located inward of the tweeters are two 3.5″ midrange drivers, which use B&W proprietary Fixed Suspension Transducer (FST) technology, found in the 800 Series Diamond speakers. In the middle of the enclosure, a 6″ subwoofer driver is used to handle the bass reproduction. This mounting location is optimized to avoid rocking of the cabinet as the subwoofer operates. The whole Zeppelin enclosure itself is designed to be very rigid and overall, the speaker is very well built.
A 240-Watt Class-D amplifier is used to power this essentially 2.1 speaker system. Besides the 192kHz/24bit Digital to Analog Converter (DAC), the Zeppelin is also equipped with a Digital Signal Processing (DSP) feature for its internal filtering and tone-control functions. The amount of engineering utilized in the creation of the Zeppelin shows that B&W really goes the distance in trying to extract as much performance as possible from the product.
The physical control buttons of the Zeppelin are located on the top of its enclosure, which includes a multifunction button (with three lines symbol), a play/pause button, volume up and down buttons, and a circular Alexa button. And yes, this Zeppelin has Alexa built-in! So, it can serve as a much-better Alexa speaker, sound-wise, than the typical Amazon Echo or Echo Dot devices. You don’t need to be an audiophile to notice the difference in the sound quality here. But you have the option to not activate the Alexa feature if you don’t want the Zeppelin to serve double duty as an Alexa device. The three lines on the multifunction button have color-coded illumination, for example, they display pulsating yellow illumination during setup, steady red illumination when the speaker needs to reset, etc. The illumination is typically off during normal operation.
The main power port of the Zeppelin is located on the lower back of the unit, accessible through an opening on its pedestal stand. It is flanked by a USB-C port for software updates on its left and a reset button on its right. Besides using this physical reset button, the reset of the unit can also be done through the app. Unlike its predecessors, no physical connector for audio signal is available, hence this new Zeppelin is purely a wireless music playback device. The provision of at least one wired input would make the Zeppelin a more comprehensive device.
The new Zeppelin is sufficiently versatile in its wireless connectivity. Its Bluetooth is compatible with Bluetooth 5.0 and equipped with the aptX Adaptive codec. Its Wi-Fi connection can accommodate AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, so sending playback music from any smartphone device or tablet is convenient. Music playback to the Zeppelin can also be controlled using the Bowers & Wilkins Music app, which is available for both iOS and Android. This is a definite step up from the previous iteration of the Zeppelin, which was not that friendly towards Android users. This app, which controls the operations of the Zeppelin through Wi-Fi, has a good interface and is relatively easy to use. It also serves as the host for a number of streaming services such as Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, and TuneIn. Playback control from these services can be done conveniently using the app. The app can also access the other Zeppelin settings, such as bass/treble adjustments, ambient LED switch, and brightness level adjustment, and to link or unlink your Alexa account.
The B&W Music app works not only with the Zeppelin but also with other B&W wireless speakers, such as the B&W Formation series. The idea is to have a single app that is used to control the whole ecosystem of B&W wireless speakers for convenient multi-room music listening. It is a pity, however, that the app does not provide connection access to the local NAS or music server. If you are an iOS user, you can use AirPlay to play music from your local music server. However, if you are an Android user like me, you will have to resort to the Bluetooth connection or summon the service from another app, which is a slight inconvenience. I found that the BubbleUPnP app worked for this purpose.
Out of the box, the Zeppelin is very easy to set up. First, you will need to download the B&W Music app to the device that you will use to control the speaker. I used my 2020 Samsung Galaxy Note 20 phone for this purpose. Then, after connecting the Zeppelin to the power outlet, the only thing left to do to make the speaker operational is to connect it to the Wi-Fi network using the app. I found that the step-by-step guide in the app was quite easy to follow and I was able to connect the Zeppelin to my home Wi-Fi network relatively quickly. Once this connection has been made, I did most of the controlling of the speaker using the app. Even during the setup, I hardly felt the need to use the physical buttons on the speaker. I mostly just observed the illumination color of the Multifunction button to check the status of the setup process.
During the review, I moved around the Zeppelin a little bit, just to see how it performed in various room sizes in the house. I put it on top of the side table in the large open-space living room or on top of the waist-high cabinet in the smaller family room or bedroom. I listened to it in the typical way such a speaker is listened to, that is in a casual fashion. It is not realistic to suppose that the people who buy a single-speaker system like the Zeppelin pull up a chair and sit dead center at a certain distance in front of the speaker to listen to the music. More likely than not, the Zeppelin will be used to fill the room with ambient sound and enjoyed while relaxing on the sofa or bed, or perhaps while having dinner. So, my evaluation was based on the sonic performance of the speaker in these typical uses. Streamed music from Qobuz and my local NAS served as the sources for my evaluation.
Park Hye Jin “Before I Die”
First of all, the Zeppelin sounded well balanced across the audible frequency spectrum. Its midrange reproduction was respectable, presenting the midrange content in the music with good clarity. The Zeppelin also conveyed the high-frequency energy well, presenting music with excellent treble extension and detail. But, perhaps, the most surprising aspect of its sonic performance was its bass reproduction. The Zeppelin was not shy in the bass department. In fact, I would say that it was one of the Zeppelin’s strengths. Its bass response was articulate and overall satisfying, and the Zeppelin could generate prodigious bass when called for. Perhaps this excellent bass response was the reason why music always sounded full and never thin or too lean through the Zeppelin.
When I listened to the lively and vibrant Let’s Sing Let’s Dance track from the album Before I Die (2021) by the LA-based Korean singer, Park Hye Jin, the full-range nature of the Zeppelin’s sonic presentation made me forget that I was listening through a small single-speaker system. The liveliness of the music was conveyed very well by the Zeppelin through its punchy bass and nice treble details. The Zeppelin’s sonic trait might not have been the last word in smoothness, but it made it up with its well-balanced sonic presentation and natural dynamic transients.
Wolfgang Haffner “Kind of Tango”
Although understandably a single speaker system like this could not produce the soundstage depth and width as in a full-size stereo system, nevertheless the Zeppelin displayed an impressive ability to project a good-size soundstage belying its small physical dimensions. The jazz ensemble music by Wolfgang Haffner from the album Kind of Tango (2020) exemplified this very aspect. The sense of musical space from the tracks Close Your Eyes and Listen and Tango Cordoba was nicely conveyed, preserving the necessary ambience portraying the musical stage of the presentation.
The Zeppelin was also more than capable of filling the room, even a rather large one, with good sound. This is another good trait of the product that seems to be carried over from its predecessor. It is not a party speaker, but impressively the Zeppelin can play loud without losing its composure. When I pushed it hard, it maintained its sonic clarity without becoming edgy and distorted.
With the complement of the B&W Music app, the Zeppelin was overall a smooth operator. I did not experience any connection hiccups during the time I was reviewing the product. Its network connectivity was steady and free of glitches. Even when I unplugged and plugged it in again after moving it to a new location, the Zeppelin was able to re-establish the connection to the Wi-Fi network with no issue. The Zeppelin was not only capable of delivering good music, but it also made my Alexa sound much better!
With its appealing look, great build quality, and strong all-around sonic performance complemented by versatile music streaming features, the new B&W ZEPPELIN WIRELES SPEAKER is hard to beat in the wireless single-speaker system category.
- Great build quality and finish
- Appealing unique look
- Versatile streaming features
- Well-balanced sonic performance
- Strong bass response for its size
- Capability to access local music server through the B&W Music app
- At least one wired input
As a speaker designed for music-streaming purposes, the new Zeppelin does what it is intended to do with great conviction. This wireless single-speaker system packs solid engineering from the B&W’s extensive speaker-building expertise to deliver refined sonic performance that puts it comfortably among the best in the category. Moreover, complemented by the B&W Music app, the speaker offers great user experiences. For hi-fi audio enthusiasts looking for a lifestyle music device that sounds great and looks good with strong streaming features, the Zeppelin should be on their audition shortlist.