Compared to any other compact iPod speaker solution, the ultra-stylish B&W Zeppelin excels in its precise yet flowing sound quality.

Bowers & Wilkins is not the first specialist British loudspeaker maker to build a speaker dock for the iPod. But it has created one of the most iconic designs yet - and if B&W's 40-year reputation for sonic excellence is anything to go by, this country's biggest name in acoustic engineering may have the best one-box iPod speaker system to date.

We're presented with a matte black lozenge, 640mm across, with a cloth cover concealing an array of drive units inside. Pick it up and the B&W Zeppelin shows its pedigree as a solid unit, at 7.3kg more of a lead ballon than one of those myriad lighter-than-air plastic solutions.

The B&W Zeppelin is seemingly hewn from solid metal, stainless steel polished like chrome, with sculpted reflex ports to augment bass. Extra socketry includes a power inlet; S-video and composite video outputs for video iPods, and an aux 3.5mm input. This doubles as a mini-Toslink digital input, great for connecting to devices with optical output such as an AirPort Express wireless station.

Drive time

Inside the black-and-silver dirigible are five drive units powered by 100W of amps: this comprises the B&W Zeppelin's 2x 25W to the midrange and tweeters, and 50W to a woofer behind the iPod mount. Amplification is Class D switching technology, not the first choice for audiophiles but perfect for enabling plenty of power from small amp modules, and cool running to boot.

Simplicity in design is married to straightforward operation. An iPod is plugged into the B&W Zeppelin's metal cradle, supporting the entire iPod securely; even when firmly pressing buttons and dialling up new songs.

Two controls are provided on the B&W Zeppelin itself: standby, and volume +/-, these controls blending into the metal band that circles its waist. A small pebble-like handset duplicates these functions and adds play/pause, track skip back/forward (press and hold for fast-forward), and aux input selection.

When plugged into the B&W Zeppelin, the 5G iPod we used for testing also showed an additonal option in the top-level menu, offering B&W-customised tone control and an option for full-screen album art.

A power-on blue LED lurks behind the B&W Zeppelin's speaker cloth, switching momentarily to red when a remote command is heard. This LED also provides other user feedback. When flashing white, for example, you know you're approaching maximum volume.

On-board digital signal processing and considered cabinet design ensure that the B&W Zeppelin's modest dimensions don't result in anaemic sound. In fact, the audible results of B&W's labours are quite something to behold.

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Compared to any other compact iPod speaker solution, the ultra-stylish B&W Zeppelin excels in its precise yet flowing sound quality.

Whole Lotta Love

The B&W Zeppelin has a big, spacious sound that could almost redefine the expression ‘room-filling' when applied to iPod speaker docks. You get wide, wide sound, and impressive tonal eveness across the spectrum.

Playing stadium rock such as Pink Floyd's live version of ‘Wish You Were Here', we were rewarded with a crowd roar that imaged well behind and around the actual B&W Zeppelin. This ‘speaker disappearing act' is the first good sign of high-performance audio. The opening 12-string guitar floated free to the left, leaving solo acoustic guitar to project cleanly from the centre.

Bass is entirely solid and tuneful, and even if you won't get the depth of a true hi-fi system you're rarely left wanting, even when the B&W Zeppelin's handed cinematic low bass. From Vangelis' soundtrack for Blade Runner, we heard clean, controlled low frequencies with realistic texture.

Vocal projection is an area where many add-on speaker packages fall over, suffering from a suck-out of body and detail in the critical midrange. Not so with the B&W Zeppelin, whose midband allows clearly intelligible vocals to project freely. As a means to upgrade the sound of a flat-screen TV, you'll find the Zeppelin is more than up to the challenge, preserving good diction.

The perfect iPod speaker? Well, critical ears may spot a slight emphasis in the treble that gives steel-strung acoustic guitars a little more zing than is real, and that treble could be sweeter, perhaps betraying the use of ‘digital' amps; yet compared to any other compact iPod speaker solution, this B&W Zeppelin excels in its precise yet flowing sound quality.

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B&W Zeppelin: Specs

  • 2 x 90mm midrange drivers
  • 2 x 25mm metal-dome tweeters
  • 1 x 125mm bass driver
  • 2 x 25W and 1 x 50W Class D amps
  • 30-pin iPod connector, 3.5mm hybrid analogue/optical digital inputs
  • USB 2.0 software upgrade port
  • S-video and composite video outputs
  • 173x640x208mm
  • 7.3kg
  • 2 x 90mm midrange drivers
  • 2 x 25mm metal-dome tweeters
  • 1 x 125mm bass driver
  • 2 x 25W and 1 x 50W Class D amps
  • 30-pin iPod connector, 3.5mm hybrid analogue/optical digital inputs
  • USB 2.0 software upgrade port
  • S-video and composite video outputs
  • 173x640x208mm
  • 7.3kg

OUR VERDICT

Peerless build quality sets apart from the crowd this iPod speaker. The B&W Zeppelin feels solid and exudes high-class attention to detail. And the Zeppelin's audio quality soundly complements its design, giving a detailed and insightful sound, with a tight and musical low end that gives real body to all music. B&W has ably translated its competence in loudspeaker design to an iPod speaker anyone will be proud to own.

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