capsule review

Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) Zeppelin Air

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Maximum volume is also significantly louder than with the original Zeppelin, no doubt due in part to the Air’s additional amplification. The Zeppelin Air can also play louder without distorting—I was able to crank the system well beyond safe listening levels without it breaking a sweat.

Finally, one of my criticisms of the original Zeppelin was that while treble detail was good overall, the highest frequencies were a bit recessed compared to some of the other top-tier speaker docks I’d tested. B&W seems to have taken steps to address this in the Zeppelin Air. While some listeners will still wish for a brighter sound, I think most listeners—even the picky ones—will be more than happy with the improvements.

The overall result is audio quality that’s noticeably better than the original and should please all but the most critical listener. Most impressively for a desktop system, the Zeppelin Air’s audio is balanced, as no range of frequencies stand out. It’s safe to say that if you want better audio, you’ll need to go with a system with separate speakers—and even then, you'll need a good amount of power, not to mention speakers large enough to put out decent bass.

Macworld’s buying advice

The original Zeppelin impressed us with great sound quality, impressive design, and unique technology, and the Zeppelin Air bests its predecessor on each of those metrics, offering noticeably better sound quality, some useful design tweaks, and a number of technological improvements—first among them support for AirPlay—at the same price. Granted, that price is $600, and, as I noted when I reviewed the original Zeppelin, some of that money surely goes towards the B&W name. But there’s no question you’re also paying for a high-quality product. You might be able to get better sound for $600 by putting together your own AirPlay audio system with separate left/right speakers (a topic we’ll be covering soon), but if you’re looking for a one-piece system that sounds and looks great, the Zeppelin doesn’t have much competition—especially when you consider that it works with AirPlay, iPhones, iPods, your Mac, and any other stereo audio source, digital or analog. For many listeners, the Zeppelin is the first "speaker dock" that really can take the place of a home stereo system.

Updated 5/6/2011, 7:30pm: Removed the instructions for removing the Zeppelin's dock-cradle arm. B&W contacted Macworld to say that, contrary to what we were initially told, performing the procedure will indeed void your warranty.

[Dan Frakes is a senior editor at Macworld]

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Excellent audio quality for a one-piece system
    • AirPlay, dock-connector, USB, optical-digital, and analog audio connections
    • Impressive components and solid construction
    • Beautiful design and thoughtful features

    Cons

    • Single status light with many possible colors and flashing patterns
    • Composite video output provides poorer quality than other types of video
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