In an age of wireless speakers dominated by singing soda cans and the occasional light show, the Zeppelin Wireless from British audio firm Bowers & Wilkins keeps the focus refreshingly on the task at hand. The latest in the Zeppelin line takes what was previously a muscle-bound iPod dock, upgrades it, and delivers a top-tier speaker that just happens to be wireless. Let's take a listen.
The most obvious feature of the Zeppelin Wireless out of the box is that it's big. At 660 mm (26 in) long and weighing in at 6.5 kg (14.3 lb), it almost qualifies as a piece of furniture. That doesn't just mean that it takes up more space than the average wireless speaker – with its dramatic curves this is not a speaker for tucking away discreetly, it wants to be seen in a place of prominence.
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Built seven years after the first Zeppelin speaker, the latest iteration is still a case of form following function. The company says that every element has been redesigned using Finite Element Analysis (FAE), which employs a computer algorithm to study applied stresses and see how it affects the final design.
The result is a sturdy reinforced cabinet that acts as a solid base for the speaker components. The front fascia is half again as thick as in the previous Zeppelin with glass fiber ribs to dampen vibrations, special tuned vents to relieve internal pressure for better drive unit movement, and optimized bracing to reduce cabinet resonances.
From the front, the Zeppelin Wireless shows a seamless, elliptical fabric face while the power, Ethernet, auxiliary, and service ports are situated on the back, as are the simple play and volume controls. Unfortunately, some usability has been sacrificed to aesthetics here, a point echoed by the Bluetooth button on the front beside the brand badge, which is almost impossible to recognize as a button without the start-up guide.
But then again, we're talking about a wireless speaker here. Once it is paired with a playing device, we found the Bluetooth connection excellent within 30 m (100 ft) with barely any skipping. Reconnection was automatic and efficient, and the Wireless is also compatible with Airplay and Spotify Connect.
Inside the Zeppelin Wireless is a redesigned 6-in, 25 W subwoofer with an ultra long-throw voice coil. The company says that the suspension was designed for total linearity and that the motor system resonance has been raised to 500 hz to remove ringing from the audio band.
There are also two 1-inch, 25 W decoupled aluminum double-dome tweeters and "Fixed Suspension Transducer" (FST) midrange drivers based on Bowers & Wilkins' CM Series of Hi-Fi loudspeakers. For mid range, the Zeppelin Wireless has a pair of 3.5-in, 25 W speakers that use the technology developed for the company's 800 Series Diamond model and features an anti-resonance dust cap fitted to the voice coil bobbin. All five drivers are individually driven by bespoke class D amplifiers.
Backing up the speakers it Bowers & Wilkins' Digital Signal Processing (DSP) system that the company says has twice the power of its predecessor. All signal inputs are upsampled to 24bit/192kHz resolution and it's specially designed to maintain clarity at high volume by analyzing the audio signal at every sample, with a particular eye on balancing the bass output.
Putting all this together, we were impressed by the simple outward design of the Zeppelin Wireless. It's a marked improvement on the previous Zeppelin with an elegance that justifies the need to do a bit of rearranging to fit into a room.
In regard to the sound quality, we found that the speaker design gives the Wireless a lot of latitude as to where it can be placed. Setting it up on a bookshelf in the corner was nearly as effective as the center of the room and it can even handle a small restaurant dining room.
The Wireless is definitely a heavy hitter with a lot of emphasis on volume and bass. It can get very loud and lacks discernible distortion or other audio defects at top volume, while the bass remains nicely balanced with a strong thump (which one needs to be aware of in a domestic setting) that can hold its own very nicely against a smallish vacuum cleaner.
Throw in excellent treble, a high degree of clarity that allows one to discern individual instruments, along with an impressive ability to maintain sound quality at any level and you have an all-round performer. With a price tag of US$699.99, the Zeppelin Wireless is an upmarket music box, but it does give value for money for the audiophile who wants to cut the cable.
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