B&W Zeppelin Air review B&W Zeppelin Air review

ratingratingratingratingrating
We love
Detailed, musical sound quality, iconic design, convenience of AirPlay
We hate
Poor quality video output, connection issues, no album art support, expensive
Verdict
A worthy, if pricey, upgrade on Bowers & Wilkins’ original hoity toity iPod speaker system. It sounds as good as it looks
Launch Price
£499

B&W Zeppelin Air review

The B&W Zeppelin Air is the second iteration of Bowers & Wilkins’ high-end iPod speaker system. When the British loudspeaker brand introduced the original Zeppelin back in 2007, it effectively redefined what was possible with digital downloads.

Now with the inclusion of Apple’s AirPlay music streaming technology, B&W hopes to raise the bar again. Can it? We put it to the test: read on and find out the results here in our B&W Zeppelin Air review.

The same but different

It looks familiar, but it's not just a Wi-Fi upgrade

The B&W Zeppelin Air apes the original Zeppelin’s torpedo design, but this is not just the original funky boom box with a Wi-Fi bolt on. The brand has gone back to the drawing board, uprating internal components and drivers.?
Connections are located on the Air’s lower back, between two dimpled bass ports. There’s an Ethernet LAN, auxiliary minijack input for analogue and digital audio sources, USB and a composite video output.

The connections are a hit and miss affair

The Ethernet jack itself sits too far inside the cabinet to allow hooded Ethernet cables to snap tight, meaning a goodly number of our cables just pulled loose. Luckily we did have a minimalist selection of flat Cat 6 cables that clipped securely in. The 30-pin iPod dock itself meanwhile orbits the centre of the Zeppelin. A tiny LED flits from red to purple to confirm it’s online.

Connection challenge

We’d like to say that getting the Zeppelin Air online and streaming from iTunes was fast and simple, but unfortunately it wasn’t.

Buy the B&W Zeppelin Air now

The initial set up routine actually requires that you connect the Zeppelin Air via Ethernet and call up its setup page in a browser. From here you can select your Wi-Fi network and input the requisite security key. Once online, the unit is duly discovered by iTunes. Unfortunately trying to connect and stream music from a test PC via a Netgear router was frustrated by a barrage of iTunes -15006 errors.

Instead, we quickly set up a secondary network using a BT Home Hub. This worked a charm and our Zeppelin Air was online and streaming in short order.

AirPlay in action

Once you've got it set up, AirPlay works like a charm

AirPlay itself is wonderfully elegant. Once registered onto the same network as your iTunes server, the Zeppelin Air turns up bottom right as a supported device. From this point you can stream albums and playlists directly from your PC to the Zeppelin. AirPlay supports multiple speaker delivery, so if you have other compatible devices dotted around you can create multi-room audio remarkably quickly.

The system really comes into its own when streaming from a partnered handheld iOS device. The iPad provides a glorious interface to browse your music and stream, but it works as efficiently with an iPod Touch or iPhone. Of course, if you want to dock your device you can. A glossy pebble-shaped remote offers simple volume and playback functionality.

Digital Diva

You can get a lot of sound out of the Air - if anything, too much for your poor compressed MP3s

The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air can certainly play loud. It has enough muscle to drive the average MP3 rip to quite intolerable levels. For the best audio quality, the Air shouldn’t be played too loud. Kept within sensible listening limits, the beefy bass output blends well with the crisp mid-range. The result is an altogether polished sonic performance. There is no significant penalty between listening over Wi-Fi and having your iPod docked.

Read our Denon CEOL RCD-N7 AirPlay review now

There are a couple of disappointments, though. The video output allows you to plop JPEGs from your iPhone or iPod touch onto a TV, or to stream videos, but the quality of the output is poor. The provision of a low-def composite video output seems ill-judged in this age of HDMI. Quite why the Air is hamstrung in this fashion is a mystery. Equally confounding, while you can slideshow images to music when docked, you can’t view album art.

Verdict

Overall, the Zeppelin Air is a worthy upgrade on an already lauded design. The inclusion of AirPlay seems a natural evolution, and performance is suitably premium. If you’re looking for a high-end sound system for your iTunes collections you’ll not be disappointed.

The £499 ticket is a high price to pay, putting this particular hardware squarely in the “if you have to ask then you can’t afford it” category of kit – but if you fell for the first Zeppelin, doubtless you’ve been saving up for this moment.

  • Mdaniels

    Sadly I’ve fallen into the category of one the unlucky few when it comes to the Zeppelin Air. I’ve given up on it after having two faulty systems in the last 8 days. The first was purchased with Bowers & Wilkins direct from their Worthing shop. After reading previous rave reviews I was looking forward to getting it home and listening to its impressive performance. I was in for a disappointment. I closely followed the setup procedure but the Zeppelin Air just would not connect wirelessly to my router (O2). I called Bowers & Wilkins technical support and to their credit where very helpful but still weren’t able to assist with the connectivity. It was established very quickly that my router was the correct band and that it had a WPA encryption as required by the Zeppelin Air so there was no logical reason why it wouldn’t connect. After performing a factory reset the Zeppelin Air started flashing a red light on the main arm. Upon hearing this the technical support team arranged a swap for my Zeppelin Air for a new one as they confirmed the Zeppelin Air had a system/software fault. The new one arrived after 4 days later. However, I’m not convinced it was new, more likely a previously returned and repaired one. The original seal had been opened on the box and replaced with a second. In addition the main docking arm leaned slightly to the left. Ignoring this for the moment I was frustrated to find out that this Zeppelin Air was a dud also. Straight from powering up the system started flashing its red light in warning. I had enough, this is an expensive bit of kit and not a run of the mill piece of equipment from Argos. I got straight on the phone to the shop where the original Zeppelin Air was purchased with a view to return it. The very hostile manager – you know who you are Jim – just couldn’t accept that the system was at fault, especially for a second time and that it has to be the customers wrong doing. An hour later I was in their shop asking them to setup the Zeppelin Air – i had to prove that it was not me. To my satisfaction it started flashing red, they suggested a software update which was available but the Zeppelin Air wouldn’t even connect to their PC for the update. B&W conceded that there was a fault and offered an exchange, refund or a Zeppelin (original) and the balance refunded, i took the later.Take some advice, save yourself GBP100 and get the original Zeppelin, comparing the sound in the shop between the two Zeppelin’s I was struggling to justify the significant difference in cost, plus there is a lot less gadgetry to go wrong.Fingers crossed I’ve had no problems with the original Zeppelin to date and can honestly say that the rave reviews about the Zeppelins performance are correct.

    • Pallymatt

      Hi,

      I had two faulty ones too, i had give up and lost faith with b&w completly, spent all weekend to connect to the net, red flashing light,

    • Pallymatt

      Hi,

      I had two faulty ones too, i had give up and lost faith with b&w completly, spent all weekend to connect to the net, red flashing light,

    • Vodkatonic123

      I to have a faulty Zeppelin air, I bought mine last Sunday the 11 sept.
      It was fine for the first few days. Tried to connect it wirelessly but it didn’t work so I just docked my iPod touch. Wasn’t that bothered about air play.
      Came home today turned it on it played about 3 minutes of a track and then suddenly went dead with nothing working just a red light flashing. Tried resetting, tried unplugging for a couple of minutes and then setting up again but same problem every time. Plays about 3 minutes of a song then goes dead with just a red light flashing. Love the look and sound but sadly think will take it back and get a refund.

      • Haste

        Hello Vodkatonic123 have the same problem, did you solve the problem? Can you tell me how

    • nardoc

      Ditto, except that I tried with THREE–also suspect that on the second attempt I was sent home with someone else’s problem child. On all three I could not connect with my new Netgear router and when I put an iPhone on the cradle it would play for a couple of minutes, then cut out, with a fast flashing red LED that didn’t go away upon pressing the power button.

      It’s a bit perplexing. Why would anyone continue distributing a product that so many people end up being unable to use. It must be costing B&W a fortune.

      • Andy from Switzerland

        This f-word Zep droves me crazy. I bought it yesterday. Setup and Airplaying Music, everything fine. This morning, he played 5 minutes and since then – dead with the well known red flashing led. I’m reaylly disappointed. This Premium Brand have a big peace full of chinese shit selled to me. Well done B&W, its a shame!

        • Paul X Williams

          Same here did an Airplay update after hat would play song for approx 2 mins then just die no matter what you did same, shop did the firmware upgrade for me seemed to work but i was in a hurry so did notb hear full track got home played one song 2.15 in flashing red light of Doom what a piece of shit! 

          • Sgroomy

            yep.. mine lasted 3 months and failed.. power supply issues.. piece of rubbish

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