Bowers and Wilkins is a brand that most style conscious audiophiles are well accustomed to, with a reputation for producing some of the best (and more uniquely designed) speakers around. The company's latest foray caters toward the mainstream, appealing to the iPod generation. Tagged as the Zeppelin for its semblance to the airship, their latest iPod speaker system comes with all the company's professional expertise in one surprisingly compact package.
Ignoring for a moment the idea of compressed music being fit for an audiophile, we went about unpacking the Zeppelin. To set up this speaker system with its accompanying rubber base (to change the angle of the speakers) and the all-important power cable, we would suggest getting some help due to its hefty 7kg weight. With its distinctive shape, the unit will make a great conversation piece, though you might want to invest in some swanky new furniture to match.
Above and behind the projecting arm where the docking port is, we have the power button and another rocker for controlling volume. While the projecting arm might seem like a mere design quirk, it actually allows one to grasp the docked iPod as you would normally for your navigational purposes.
The sheer quality of the sound coming out of the Zeppelin has to be heard in person. The reason for this greater sonic accuracy can be attributed to its inclusion of five drivers instead of the standard three as seen on most other systems. A bass driver rests dead center, complemented with two mid-ranged ones on each side and a pair of alloy dome tweeters to complete this array at the very edges. Bass is well defined with nice separation in the mids and of course, unsurprisingly extended highs.
Fault the Zeppelin for its ironic entrance into the world of compressed music and thou shall be partially forgiven because of all that Bowers and Wilkins audiophile history. Expect no leniency though, for thinking of compressed music as mere 128 kilobit-per-second MP3 files that produce a predictable crackle whenever the musical mix gets too dense. With current iPods and their massive capacities that allow larger file sizes and even completely uncompressed wav files to be a plausible medium of storing music, even purists should find no fault with that.
Taking a ride with Michael Bublé's Everything, compressed at 256kbps in the AAC format, vocals were well projected with an amazing degree of realism that flaunts its mid-ranged accuracy. On the acoustic version of John Mayer's Belief encoded as an Apple Lossless track, guitar slaps came off with a nice echo while vocals remained grounded in the middle. Sound separation accuracy was also great for an omni-directional speaker system, projecting sound at almost the exact same intensity whether we were right smack in the centre or about 70 degrees off. Rock tracks that are too musically cluttered though don't seem to be any better on the Zeppelin. On our listen of Diary of Jane by Breaking Benjamin, the cymbals tended to clash with the vocals too often which is due to the average mastering standards on modern pop records.
With its compatibility with every dockable iPod and the best sound we've heard on an iPod speaker system to date, there's only one little detail that may come off as slightly less appealing: its S$1200 price tag. We can safely assume however that your lighter wallet will be a lot less apparent after you first set your iPod in the Zeppelin for a listen.