Upon seeing the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin, a contractor in my house nearly dropped his screwdriver.
“Wow, what is it? he asked. I replied that the Zeppelin played music from the internet and smartphones. He thought it was great to see a really interesting and attractive product for a high-tech loudspeaker, since most of the products out there were dull, boring boxes.
Britain-based Bowers & Wilkins flaunts a dry British sense of humor by naming this internet speaker Zeppelin because it resembles the famous airship. An American company would have named it Canoe. Rest assured, the only explosive part of this Zeppelin is the sound quality.
This fourth-generation Zeppelin eschews the iPod docking station of its original incarnation. Previously, you could connect an iPod or smartphone to the Zeppelin. The new model is completely wireless. It incorporates the latest Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless circuits.
While the Zeppelin works well as a stand-alone unit, Bowers & Wilkins designed it to integrate with any of their wireless whole-home speaker systems. It is available in Midnight Gray or Pearl Gray with an integrated shelf bracket or optional wall bracket. A white option would be nice.
A minimalist two-page manual accompanies this $800 speaker. You can download a more comprehensive four-page manual from the Bowers & Wilkins website, but the company assumes, practically insists, that the app explains and controls everything.
Bowers & Wilkins stands out with this new Zeppelin by requiring a smartphone or tablet to operate it. You download its free app from Apple or Google to adjust all settings and stream audio.
Without the app, the Zeppelin is a very attractive paperweight. You can feed it Bluetooth audio from a PC or Mac, but that’s not ideal. It also accepts Spotify Connect, which you control from your phone, tablet or computer. The Zeppelin also connects to Apple AirPlay 2. Five small raised buttons on the back allow a limited degree of manual control. It is also compatible with Amazon Alexa for voice commands.
Bowers & Wilkins has designed its app to work with online audio streaming services such as Qobuz, Tidal, Deezer, SoundCloud and Apple Music. This suggests that TuneIn and Pandora are on their way. You can still transfer any music app directly from your phone or tablet to the Zeppelin via Bluetooth. The only complication is that you have to reset the Zeppelin when switching between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Rather than Hydrogen, this Zeppelin comes with a 240-watt amplifier driving five speakers derived from Bowers & Wilkins’ high-end reference speakers. The digital circuit can decode 24-bit ultra-fidelity audio from audiophile internet streaming services.
The Zeppelin reproduces an open, spacious and full sound. There’s plenty of bass and ambience. By banning the box, Bowers & Wilkins eliminated the drawbacks of conventional boxes. It designs most of its expensive home and studio speakers with gently curved sides and unusual interior angles. In his famous $800 speaker family, he mounts the tweeters outside the enclosure.
I loaded uncompressed high-quality audio files onto my Pixel 6 and zapped the Zeppelin with Bluetooth audio using the latest iteration of Bluetooth. The impressive sound easily and evenly fills a fairly large room. The vocals sounded natural without sibilance, but at the same time not boring or lost in the production.
Even my partner, who normally keeps her own board, commented on the sound quality.
My main feud with the Zeppelin is its complete reliance on owning a smartphone or tablet. Without the app, it’s just a talking point.
The least Bowers & Wilkins can do is provide a simple remote control. It could also take inspiration from the Bose SoundTouch by incorporating an Internet tuner to be able to select favorite music channels without the need for a smartphone.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime critic of consumer electronics. Email him at [email protected]