Late last fall, the folks at Bowers & Wilkins resurrected one of the most iconic speakers in the company’s stable, or really any other brand’s for that matter. Fifteen years after its first introduction, the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin is making a second debut with new modern features like AirPlay 2 – all in that classic and utterly novel design. But, is the Zeppelin’s signature look all it’s cracked up to be, even with some refreshed functionality?
Hands-on review of the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
Bowers & Wilkins launched the soon-to-be iconic first iteration of the Zeppelin speaker – which rocked built-in iPod and iPhone support – all the way back in 2007. The new iteration, which launched last October, continues that Apple emphasis nearly 15 years later. After using the Zeppelin as a daily driver over the past month or so, I’ve come to my own conclusion on the value of this $799 speaker. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Before we get to anything about how the Zeppelin sounds or even how you’ll be able to play music from the speaker in the first place, we’ve got to talk about the signature Bowers & Wilkins design. Even a decade and a half after the speaker’s first release, the company is standing its ground on a design that is ultimately one of the more unique and eye-catching pieces of tech on the market.
Just as you’d expect from its name, this smart speaker is shaped like, well, a Zeppelin. Bowers & Wilkins took the distinct look from on-paper design to physical form with appropriately premium materials. A soft mesh fabric exterior coats the entire package. I’ve been enjoying the black model, but there’s a white model available, as well.
The most striking aspect of the design is the unique metal stand the Zeppelin precariously perches atop. This look hasn’t changed from the original incarnation, and the way that the stand connects to the speaker delivers an audio setup centerpiece that is as elegant now as it was back in the mid 2000s. I know calling a speaker elegant might be pushing it, but if there’s any model on the market that deserves such praise, it’s arguably the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin.
More than just dashing good looks
Dashing looks aside, we are talking about a speaker after all, and the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin has to do more than just look the part. And, with a $799 price tag, there are some big sound expectations to be met. I have to say that Bowers & Wilkins has really upheld that end of the bargain.
The speaker is room filling to say the least, and its 240W audio system should have no problems dishing out your tunes. Lately I’ve been listening to the Attack on Titan OST, and the Zeppelin’s soundstage has been nothing short of a treat for emphasizing the composer’s iconic drops. Out of the box, the tuning is quite polished, too. The bass isn’t overpowering but still has a punch to it, while the mids and highs flutter out of its Double-Dome tweeters and 90mm midrange drivers. If you want to tune the speaker yourself, there is a companion app with adjustable EQ settings.
AirPlay 2 steals the spotlight.
Bowers & Wilkins had effectively won me over at this point of running through the spec sheet and performance of the Zeppelin, but it’s the connectivity that really seals the deal. Even with onboard Wi-Fi that enables Alexa and support for the companion app, AirPlay 2 is the star of the show. I won’t mince words – it’s really the only feature on the smart roster that matters to me and likely others too. The inclusion of Apple’s wireless standard also means that Bowers & Wilkins can come full circle on supporting iPhones, despite the over-14-year gap between models.
Where the downsides start to come into play, though, is on the wired connectivity front – which is ultimately to say that there isn’t any. On the back, there’s a USB-C port, but it is flagged as only a service port. So, anyone hoping to be able to plug in a wire and jam out like back in 2007 will be out of luck. The one saving grace in this context that I will mention is that the Wi-Fi connectivity has been so solid over my usage so far that I haven’t once thought about even needing to plug in.
First and foremost, there’s no getting around the fact that we’re talking about a $799 speaker. Even with Bowers & Wilkins’ legacy of being the kings of hi-fi, the steep price tag is going to be a nonstarter for some. But for everyone else, there is definitely enough value on the table to recommend the latest installment of the iconic speaker.
Throughout my testing, I’ve been comparing the Zeppelin to a pair of stereo HomePods, and I have to say that the single Zeppelin speaker has its perks. Even if Apple’s fine-tuning is a bit better for creating an immersive center speaker, Bowers & Wilkins takes them on with an audio array that can deliver full-sounding tracks with a wider soundstage. This is quite fitting since the demise of Apple’s flagship speaker has left a Zeppelin-shaped void that Bowers & Wilkins is more than happy to fill.
At the end of the day, if you love the iconic design offered by the Zeppelin, there’s even more of a reason to dive in now. I certainly found myself intrigued by the iconic form-factor, but I am ultimately giving the Zeppelin a seal of approval for its balanced sound and AirPlay 2 connectivity.
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