Review: Bowers & Wilkins’ Zeppelin iPod Speakers - Macenstein

Review: Bowers & Wilkins’ Zeppelin iPod Speakers

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker

If you’re anything like me, you live in a mansion, drive a Mercedes and eat lobster 3 times a day. Yes, life is good. In fact, the only downside to my fabulous life is that my iPod is shackled to plebeian-priced iPod speakers. Many is the time I have wished I could spend $600 on something to truly set my iPod apart from the speakers my hick relatives and low brow college friends use…

Enter the Zeppelin

Ok, so pretty much everything in the above paragraph is a lie (except for the part about my hick relatives) but it’s reassuring to know that if I ever should get a real job or suddenly become flush with cash, there IS an iPod speaker system out there capable of letting the world know that I have arrived. Bowers & Wilkins, a top notch audio company known best for their much sought after recording studio components, has decided to enter the iPod speaker market, and have done so in a big way with their Zeppelin – one of the most unusual-looking, expensive, and best-sounding all-in-one speaker systems we’ve had the pleasure to review here at Macenstein (oh, and one of the heavier, too). The Zeppelin is available exclusively at the Apple Store.

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker

Coming in at a whopping $600, the first question most of you might be asking is, does it sound like a $600 speaker? Well, in the interest of tickling your ass with a feather, I’ll answer that question last. Let’s first check out what you get for that $600.


When I first saw pictures of the Zeppelin this summer, I remember thinking “Wow”.

Looking back, I can’t remember whether I was thinking “Wow, that’s a crazy-shaped speaker”, or “Wow, that’s an expensive crazy-shaped speaker”, but in either case, the Zeppelin looks a lot less crazy in person. In fact, as soon as you remove this 17-plus pound behemoth from its Apple-inspired packaging, you begin to fall under the spell of its “work of art” marketing hype. The combination of its unique shape and choice of materials give the visual and tactile impression of quality. The front of the Zeppelin is covered in black speaker cloth, while the rear and base are machined into a seamless chrome enclosure. Sleek chrome accents carry across the front of the speaker via a thin strip which bisects the face and houses the few controls the speaker has, as well as in the metallic iPod docking arm which juts from the front of the speaker.

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker

The docking arm is actually quite cool, and somehow doesn’t look as wrong as it should. When your iPod/iPhone is docked, it seems to become part of the Zeppelin’s design, floating there in mid-air. Yet, even when iPod-less, somehow this in-your-face docking arm looks more right that the traditional tactic most iPod speaker manufacturers take, putting an iPod docking cradle on the top of a plastic molded speaker housing. I think the Zeppelin’s lack of plastic actually has a lot to do with the perception (real or imagined) of a quality-built product (perhaps more so to we reviewers who have come in contact with more cheap $100 iPod speakers than we care to remember).

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker

On the back of the Zeppelin are ports for USB syncing, S-Video out, and an audio input jack that can handle both TOSLink optical and analog sources. While for $600, in theory I am glad to see the USB and video-out functionality, the reality of ever using them on a speaker like this is laughable. This speaker is not designed for frat-house use where you might have this sitting next to (or even on top of) your beat up CRT television, using it to play videos or replace your TV’s speakers, and you sure as hell aren’t going to have it balanced on your cramped, cluttered desk serving as a $600 iPod dock. As seen in their product photography, the Zeppelin is really designed for people who have large, clean rooms with surfaces of wood, glass and leather, as well as a place to showcase the system. The Zeppelin seems designed to serve as much as a conversation piece as a music device, even if the conversation always ends in “$600 for an iPod speaker?!?”.

I’d almost rather have seen B&W just blow off the extras entirely, telling the world, “That’s right. A $600 iPod speaker that just plays music. You know you want it.”

Actually, yes, I do.

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker


You might think a $600 speaker would be loaded with extras, like maybe a car, or at least some Friendy’s gift cards, but no, the Zeppelin takes its minimalist design philosophy and carries it through to the goodies it ships with. Aside from the stylish remote, there is not much else included with the Zeppelin, not even an audio, USB, or S-Video cable to make use of the ports on the back. One odd accessory the Zeppelin DOES ship with, however, is a molded rubber base that you can optionally set the speaker on. The base is angled, and designed to point the Zeppelin at a downward angle for times when you will be positioning it on high surface, such as a bookshelf. Bowers & Wilkins claim the natural upward angle of the Zeppelin should be ideal for waist-high placement of the unit, such as on a table or kitchen counter (and we’d love to see the kitchen that has one of these!).

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker
Above: The included rubber base can angle the Zeppelin depending on how high you position it.


What most impresses me about the Zeppelin time and again is how solid the unit is. Thanks to a quality 50-watt subwoofer and two sets of 25-watt tweeter/midrange drivers on either side, you can crank the Zeppelin up to its loudest volume (which is extremely loud, almost uncomfortably so, in fact) and the sound is still crystal clear. There is really no discernible distortion, no rattling of components as in other systems. The unit just looks and feels rock-solid, immovable, even as vases and other items placed next to it begin to slowly vibrate away.

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker
Above: Only a select few have seen the iPhone’s Tone Control Menu and lived to speak of it.

The Zeppelin is a member of an exclusive club of iPod speakers that brings up the hidden “Speakers” menu on a connected iPod (or iPhone), allowing you to adjust the amount of bass the iPod pumps out. Unlike most iPod speakers we’ve tested, we found the Zeppelin actually sounded great at the iPod’s flat EQ setting on virtually every song, and did not really benefit from bass adjustments – a testament to the engineers’ involved in the Zeppelin’s creation. Yet while the Zeppelin sounds great, no question, it is a little hard to justify the price for the average home user. Despite Bowers & Wilkins’ impressive audio heritage (they outfitted Abbey Road Studios, after all) there is only so much audio wizardry you can cram into a standalone system. True audiophiles will likely not throw away their current home theater systems for an all-in-one unit like the Zeppelin. However, the Zeppelin would make an amazing addition to your mansion’s living room or giant kitchen, even if your chef is the only one who gets to hear it.

But of course, the $600 question is, how good does a $600 all-in-one iPod speaker sound? Is it better than the (discontinued) $349 Apple iPod Hi-Fi? Yes. Is it $250 better? No… but it is discernibly better, even to my relatively untrained ears. I’d put it about $148 better, if I had to put a price on it. 🙂

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker
Above: Even my Shrek-green iPhone looks good in the Zepelin.


So, what does a $600 speaker sound like? Well, it sounds like a really nice $400 speaker. However, I will admit that the Zeppelin looks and feels like a $600 speaker, and the analogy can be made between the Zeppelin and an expensive car, such as the Mercedes I don’t drive. Sure, you can spend thousands less on a car and get a similar driving experience, but little things – like the sound the door makes when you close it, or the way the interior controls feel in your hands – do make a difference to some people, and add to the overall enjoyment of the car. The same holds true for the Zeppelin. It is not just a speaker, it is a designed piece of art… with a chord. Kind of like an expensive lava lamp. And while my Toyota Camry-driving ass cannot personally justify spending $600 on an iPod-centric speaker system, if I had a Mercedes I would.

As you may be able to tell from the number of times I use the word “expensive” in this review, price is my only real issue with the Zeppelin, and “expensive” is a relative term. I often criticize speakers for being a little over-priced for what you get in relation to similar-priced offerings, but honestly, Bowers & Wilkins went for something a little more than just an enjoyable audio experience with the Zeppelin. Maybe I’m delusional (or maybe I am just an Apple-user, used to paying a little extra for good design) but for whatever reason, I feel the Zeppelin comes very close to justifying its price, not only for its rich sound, but for the visual and tactile experience that accompanies it.

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker

If you love your iPod and if money is no object, then by all means, order a couple Zeppelins today. You will not regret the decision. For the rest of us, well… the iPod ear buds aren’t that bad, right?

Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin

Price: $599.95 (available only at the Apple store)

Pros: Amazing sound for an all-in-one speaker, extremely high volumes with no distortion, quality build and unique design

Cons: Pricey for an iPod speaker

4 Responses to “Review: Bowers & Wilkins’ Zeppelin iPod Speakers”
  1. seward says:

    I actually saw one of these in a store in London and I thought it looked very cool. Didn’t get a chance to hear it though. There’s something about a $600 speaker sitting on a stand with a spotlight on it makes it seem like it is worth $600. They should ship these with mood lighting.

  2. Rowlings says:

    What’s the deal with the Tone Control menu? Does that only appears on expensive speakers? Do manufacturers have to pay extra to Apple to unlock that? I remember the Apple iPod Hi-Fi had that, but haven’t seen it on any other speakers.

  3. Steven says:

    This may well be the “replacement” to the Apple Hi-Fi. Albeit a higher priced replacement, but the fact that its only available through Apple and boasts “Apple inspired packaging” this seems logical. And could give birth to an entire line of Apple related B&W products.

    I love the floating dock idea. Mainly because it won’t be completely useless when Apple releases a product that is just slightly wider than the iPod Classic but nonetheless wide enough to not fit in any of the current docking speakers or devices. (Grr.) In short, its pretty future proof. And it doesn’t look funny when you put a smaller device like a Nano in it. It just fits.

    I would love to see this method adopted in more products, like Apple’s own dock, for example. So that a person could share a dock for their iPhone, Video iPod, and Nano without looking like a fool.

    Regarding the Tone Control menu, it appears you have to work closely with Apple while developing your speaker in order to gain this feature. This is yet another reason I believe this counts as a Hi-Fi replacement.

    Another reason lies in the USB port. Unlike most docking speakers that merely offer a dock pass-thru so you can plug your dock cable into the back of the speaker (like on Apple’s own dock) this device offers a USB cable. Meaning that they probably have to do some crazy USB voodoo which can only be through Apple teaching your people how the dock cable works exactly. I know they aren’t the only company to make special use of the dock, but the first I’ve seen to use a simple USB out.

  4. Jc says:

    Can you use the USB port to connect to PC and synch Ipod?

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