12/09/2015

BOWERS & WILKINS ZEPPELIN WIRELESS REVIEW

I have to confess that I’ve never been a big fan of the Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) Zeppelin speakers. Something about the voicing, the price-to-performance ratio, and the shape has always rubbed me the wrong way. And it’s always been disappointing to have to give them poor reviews because, generally speaking, I’m a fan of B&W products. So it was with some reservation that I accepted a review sample of its latest all-in-one speaker, the Zeppelin Wireless.

It turns out, Bowers & Wilkins recently decided to radically reinvent itself and its products. The company just threw out its playbook and redesigned its legendary Diamond Series loudspeakers from the ground up, which had breathtaking results. That same approach has been applied to B&W’s flagship wireless speaker, and though I’ll stop well short of saying the results are breathtaking, I will say the Zeppelin Wireless is the finest self-contained speaker the company has ever made, and a vast improvement on the Zeppelins of yore.

Out of the box

The Zeppelin wireless is sleeker, more streamlined, and less gaudy than its predecessors thanks to immaculately clean lines. It’s still got a polarizing shape, but I must admit to finding this new design far more appealing.

When you lift the Zeppelin Wireless from its box, its build quality is apparent. Its heavy, dense feel says that although you can’t see them, the components inside it are of the finest caliber.
The Zeppelin Wireless weighs about 14.8 lbs, and measures roughly 7.4 x 30 x 7.2-inches at its broadest points.

Under the hood

At the foundation of Bowers & Wilkins’ aforementioned overhaul is a new suite of drivers, amplification, and meticulously programmed digital signal processing (DSP). The beating heart of the system is a robust 6-inch subwoofer driver, positioned at the center of speaker and driven by 50 watts of amplification power. Flanking the subwoofer are two 3.5-inch midrange drivers, each driven by its own 25-watt amplifier, and two 1-inch double dome tweeters, also powered by discreet 25-watt amplifiers.
The Zeppelin wireless is sleeker, more streamlined, and less gaudy than its predecessors.
To ward off unwanted resonance and cabinet vibrations, Bowers 7 Wilkins made the baffle to which the drivers are mounted extremely rigid, and strengthened the rest of the enclosure as well. If you give the speaker a knock, it really bites back.
Even with all those top-notch components, B&W could have screwed everything up had it not nailed down the Zeppelin Wireless’ DSP programming. Fortunately, not only did B&W not screw things up, it really nailed the sweet spot of frequency response management and SPL limitations, resulting in a speaker that is loud, clear, and dynamic. Its ability to manage wide swings in volume (dynamics) in particular is what helps this speaker sound more like a high-end hi-fi than just another over-sized Bluetooth speaker.

Features

If Bluetooth is your preferred streaming method, the Zeppelin Wireless will accommodate you with the latest in the wireless technology. The Zeppelin Wireless uses a Bluetooth 4.1 Class 2 chip that supports aptX, AAC and SBC, ensuring the best quality sound possible from a wide array of Bluetooth sources.
For Apple fans, AirPlay is also supported and immediately available once the speaker is connected to a home’s network. Spotify Connect is also available, which is a handy feature as it allows you to sort of “hand off” your Spotify stream to the speaker so that it streams directly from the music service, freeing up your phone’s resources and preserving its battery life in the process.
While a Wi-Fi connection is obviously more convenient (and in keeping with the speaker’s name), B&W did include an Ethernet jack for a wired connection. The speaker also offers a 3.5 mm analog audio jack for nearly any type of device one might want to connect.

Setup and stability

One of our chief complaints about wireless speakers is that they are often difficult to get connected to a home network, and even when they are connected, they often have trouble maintaining that connection reliably. The Zeppelin wireless suffers neither of these maladies. The Bowers & Wilkins Control app makes setup as quick and easy as we’ve ever experienced, and the speaker never lost its connection with our network, no matter how many times it was powered on and off, or unplugged and plugged back in.

Performance

Aggressive, hissy, or overtly bright treble is an instant deal-breaker for this reviewer, and it was a problem for us on previous Zeppelin speakers, but Bowers & Wilkins reigned in the Zeppelin Wireless’ high frequency performance enough to change our tune. The treble remains a little on the forward side, but gone is the artificial zing that turned us off in the past. Also, the tweeter positioning at the extreme left and right of the Zeppelin’s enclosure provides an unexpected benefit in the way of enhanced perception of stereo separation, which is difficult to achieve with single-cabinet speaker like this.
Bowers & Wilkins reigned in the Zeppelin Wireless’ high frequency performance enough to change our tune.
On the whole, the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless exhibits a reasonably balanced sound, with just a bit of extra oomph in the bass, and an upper midrange response that threatens to get shout-y should the volume dial get pushed too hard.
We launched our critical listening session with Remain Silent from Keb’ Mo’s 9th studio album, Suitcase. The Zeppelin Wireless’ bass prowess was immediately apparent as the tune kicks off with Mo’s acoustic guitar and the drummer’s sparse treatment of the beat with just snare, high-hat and a punchy kick drum laying the foundation. Later, the electric bass comes in with a lyrical line that dashes in and out of the lower register, providing plenty of potential for a muddy, tuneless response. The Zeppelin Wireless kept things impeccably tight, though, delivering the kick drum pattern with poignancy and potency, while the electric bass sang over the groove, rather than simply growling through it.
Mo’s carmel-colored vocal sounded just as rich as if it were delivered through the Bowers & Wilkins CM8 S2 floorstanding speakers that take residence in our high-end two-channel system/home theater rig. The intricacies buried in Mo’s trademark husk were readily apparent, showing off the Zeppelin’s propensity to deliver inner detail without pushing it too forward in the mix. Meanwhile, the drummers cymbals cut through with an appropriate amount of shimmer and sparkle.

Forced to come up with criticisms, we would say the Zeppelin Wireless’ bass response, while tight, forceful and tuneful, seems a bit separated from the rest of speaker’s frequency response — almost as if the bass was an island floating around in a vast oceanic music mix on its own, synchronized with the rest of the music, yet not entirely integrated.

Conclusion

The DT Accessory Pack
Up your game and the get the most out of your gear with the following extras, hand-picked by our editors:
Mediabridge 3.5mm male to male stereo audio cable ($5.49)
Astell & Kern AK Jr. Hi-Res music player 64GB ($399)
Arrowmounts 9 Ft Cat5e RJ45 cable ($6)
It takes a lot of cajones to demand $700 for a wireless speaker, but Bowers & Wilkins can do it. The Zeppelin Wireless delivers a sense of class and a refined sound that many hope expect from Bose, but never quite get. If you’re going to lay down big cash for an all-in-one wireless speaker, we can’t think of any product more worthy than the Zeppelin Wireless. If you don’t mind the shape,  you’ll absolutely love the way the Zeppelin Wireless sounds.

Highs


  • Sleek, refined design
  • Robust build quality
  • Powerful bass
  • Clean overall sound
  • Rock-solid wireless stability

Lows


  • Expensive
  • Bass feels slightly detached