What's that, an alien egg? Nope. Memory foam iPillow? No, silly, it's a Zeppelin, a Zeppelin Air more specifically. Bowers & Wilkins brought us the first iPod-centric Zeppelin in the middle of the great iPod dock flood of '07. A few years later they downsized and brought us a mini version. The logical extension after the advent of AirPlay is here: a Zeppelin that does its thang without wires. We've been beaming music to it for a few weeks now -- wanna find out how our relationship has been? Click through, captain.
- Huge, fulfilling soundSparkly-clean designEasy to use
- Overwhelming bassAirPlay is laggyPricey
The first -- and actually, maybe the last -- thing about this dude is how it looks. It's about the size of a traditional over-the-shoulder boombox, 13.5 pounds of mesh-coated minimalism designed to look fierce on your coffee table or bookshelf. There are only three controls on it, nestled behind the elegant chromed iPod stand: power, volume up, and volume down. A tiny pancaked Zeppelin remote gives you standard transport and volume controls, plus an input selector, but in such a slippery form factor we can imagine it spending more time lost between the cushions than controlling the music. Our test unit got enough wolf whistles and loving strokes during its stay in our living room than we care to talk about. It kind of hearkens back to that Sharper Image feeling of 1994: the "I'm a grown-up gadgets guy, check out my slick equipment... if you dare" mentality definitely looms large here.
Pairing your devices with the Zeppelin is kind of an interesting trick: during setup mode, the unit creates a WiFi network that you log into from your computer. Browsing to an internal server application allows you to tell the Zeppelin which network it should log into in the future. Our Zeppelin's server crashed a couple of times during setup, but it wasn't a huge hassle to get the sounds slinging. For all y'all AirPlay newbies out there: you tell iTunes to look for devices on your network, select them as your output, and hit play.
As with any minimalist device -- especially one without a screen -- the Zeppelin Air's biggest drawback is the lack of control over its performance. While it will certainly make for a fine constant companion in any room in the house, it's not a device for audiophiles or professionals. That big fat bass pumping out of the Zeppelin Air will do its best to choke out high end in many situations, especially if you're close to the unit. Even after a good deal of EQ adjustment in iTunes, it still feels like there's something holding back the highs, something of a fog keeping them from being all they could be. It's certainly not going to ruin your enjoyment of any song -- in fact, bass freaks could find a perfect match here -- but if you happen to prefer more treble in the mix, this is probably not the device for you.
The iPod / iPhone dock, the 1/8" input, and USB output modes all function exactly as they should. We gathered that the iPad can also fit in there, but of course, it'd look a bit silly, and don't forget that there's AirPlay at your disposal. There are even a few neat tricks thrown in, like the ability to use the speaker as a monster-sized USB sync station, and an RCA out for video coming from your iDevice.