Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini impressions

Bowers & Wilkins isn't a name that's generally associated with "mere mortals." Sure, you'll find B&W gear within palatial mansions and the drool-worthy motorcars, but by and large, these guys stick to the high-end and never bother coming down to the level of the layperson. Thanks to Apple, it seems that even this company couldn't resist the temptation of pumping out its own iPod sound system, with the Zeppelin Mini being the second that it has sold. At $399.99 (MSRP), this one is positioned alongside more pricey options like Bose's SoundDock, JBL's On Stage 400P, Altec Lansing's Mix iMT800, iHome's iP1 and Boston Acoustics' i-DS3. As is typical with B&W gear, the Zeppelin Mini is nothing short of beautiful, but do the acoustics really match the design? Read on for a few of our impressions.

The Zeppelin Mini ships in an attractive box along with a few cradles for various dock-connecting iDevices, a pebble remote and an AC adapter. Aside from playing nice with the iPod and iPhone lines, users can also connect this directly to their computer via USB or plug in any other source through the 3.5mm auxiliary jack in the rear. Everything about this screams minimalism, and in our opinion, that ends up hurting the overall package. You'll find a color-changing light underneath the mesh speaker grille that signifies a variety of scenarios based on color and flashing, and in case you happen to misplace the diminutive remote, there's a power button and volume up / down rocker on one side. And... that's pretty much it.

Within, you'll get twin 3-inch glass fiber drivers, a rear bass port and 36-watts of Class D power. The iPod connecting arm can easily twist horizontally to enable Cover Flow and to show off widescreen movies the way they should be shown off. In terms of design, we honestly have no complaints. It's compact enough to be used in a bedroom or office, and unless you have something against mirror finishes, we doubt you'll be able to knock the aesthetics. It's easily one of the classiest, most highly stylized iPod speaker systems on the market today, and we get the impression that a fair chunk of the asking price goes toward the design.

You see, the Zeppelin Mini may look like a million bucks, but we found the actual audio output to be somewhat disappointing. For starters, the bass port on the rear is evidently for show, as we noticed a significant lack of low-end in every tune we tried. Highs were also too pronounced, and to compound the issue, B&W provides nary a way to adjust this. There's no built-in equalizer, and there's not even dedicated treble / mid / bass adjustment buttons. A $400 sound system with no way to control anything but volume? Color us underwhelmed. Granted, you could connect your iPod or iPhone via the 3.5mm auxiliary jack and utilize its integrated EQ, but that's very obviously defeating the purpose here.

Don't get us wrong -- the Zeppelin Mini didn't sound "bad," but it didn't sound $400 good. We put it up against an aged Logitech mm50 (which can be found today for just over $100), and frankly, we didn't greatly prefer the Mini over the mm50. What the Zeppelin Mini provides is yet another forgettable way to experience your iPod or iPhone library within the home, and aside from the design, there's simply nothing extraordinary to speak of. The weak mids and lows lead to an unbalanced aural experience, and the baffling inability to adjust levels whatsoever leaves you with no choice but to simply deal with the factory settings or tap into the aux input. We dig the exterior, sure, but we can't recommend spending four bills on something that doesn't absolutely dazzle the eardrums.