Zeppelin iPod Speaker
Company: Bowers & Wilkins
* * * * *
Bowers & Wilkins’ premium Zeppelin iPod speaker is many things: the biggest, heaviest, most expensive, most beautiful, unusually-shaped iPod accessory to date, with the best bass, most magnificent overall audio clarity, plus most peculiar iPod dock, and weirdest remote control of all. You can read its specifications here, and for now you can only test drive or purchase Zeppelin at an Apple retail or online store in the United States. Additional purchase locations will be available in 2008.
Setup is almost effortless, except for lifting the *very* heavy unit out of its stylish packing container. Plug in power cable, set iPod (3rd generation or later, with 30-pin dock connector) onto front-mounted dock handle, and blast off. Neighbors will easily be able to enjoy (or curse) your booming bass, momentous midrange, and terrific treble. Friends and colleagues will be stopped in their tracks upon encountering a stunning Zeppelin, and will then be blown away by its remarkable audio output, perfectly balanced for music and the spoken word.
Two unique accessories and no extra cables are included. A supplementary rubber foot shifts sound projection from upward to frontward (see Greg Williams’ remarks below). A small puck remote allows Zeppelin to change iPod tracks, volume, or audio source. Purchasers must bring their own cables and adapters, but Bowers & Wilkins places rear ports on Zeppelin to increase its versatility (again, see below).
I played two different iPods (3G and Classic) plus my Macintosh G5 tower through Zeppelin during our extensive, round-the-clock evaluation period. The sound steadily improved, and my enjoyment of all types of music or talk also was gradually enhanced. This is typical with high-end speaker units.
Due to Zeppelin’s remarkable quality, style, and price, MyMac.com conducted two separate interviews. The first was a live audio conversation with designer Morten Warren, which is part of MyMac.com Podcast #154. The second begins below, in a written Q & A with a company representative.
Other web sites and print publications have reviewed or will soon be reviewing Zeppelin. Read these raves, save your pennies, make space in your living room, and prepare your audio soul for a lifetime of iPod or auxiliary audio that will rock your socks off or lure you with lullabies. Listen to and read our exclusive interviews, then soar over to your nearest Apple store to hear it for yourself, with an iPod or audio device of your choice.
MyMac.com has reviewed many very good and several not so great iPod speakers. This one stands alone. If cost is a concern, Zeppelin is probably not soon going to be zooming around your house or office. When price is not a factor, but style and sound quality are, your $600 will be well spent on Zeppelin.
* * * * *
Greg Williams, Director of Business Development, New Media, for Bowers & Wilkins, answers our technical questions about the mighty Zeppelin:
Q. Which iPods are optimized to fit safely into Zeppelin’s “gearshift” or “handle” dock bracket?
A. Any iPod or iPhone with a 30 pin dock connector; 3G, 4G, 5G, Classic, Touch, Nano and the Mini. The 3G iPods with 30 pin dock connectors will dock and play on the Zeppelin, but will not charge, due to a different charging methodology applied back in those days. Apple has adhered to their standard since the 4G iPods and will continue in the foreseeable future.
Q. What happens if a person picks up Zeppelin by its “handle” dock bracket?
A. It depends. We made the arm as strong as possible without compromising the design and made it of stainless steel. It has the potential of breaking off when too much pressure is applied, so we strongly suggest that owners not use the arm as a handle.
Q. How much of Zeppelin’s unusual shape is for sonic response, and how much for style/design?
A. We generally start with function and develop a design around it. With loudspeakers, it is important to minimize baffle area and have just the right amount of internal volume to allow the drive units to perform at their peak. Cabinets need to be rigid and not flex, so, like an egg vs. a cube, if all things are equal, the round design is stronger than the flat sided one.
For stereo separation, which also adds to height and depth in a performance, tweeters and midrange drive units need to be separated as much as possible for distinct left and right imaging to occur. Finally, subwoofers need some volume behind them to make deep bass.
If you put all that together, the shape of Zeppelin is ideal for optimal performance. From a design perspective, the shape is distinctive and the materials used are unique. Our industrial designer, Morten Warren of <http://www.native.com/> Native Design Ltd., has been designing our loudspeakers for years. He understands the balance between form and function and the effect of every compromise on the acoustic performance.
Q. Why and how to use the standard base support versus the extra rubber base?
A. The standard base will work for the majority of the applications where you would want good overall performance in many listening positions. If you were to place the Zeppelin in a position that is near head height, it may “aim” the sound over your head. If you use the accessory rubber bass to cant the Zeppelin forward, you may find that it improves stereo separation and treble clarity.
Q. Was your goal full spectrum audio clarity with enhanced bass response? I need to REDUCE BASS on my iPod for optimal listening.
A. The goal for the Zeppelin was to have a flat, accurate frequency response. Every listener has preferences. Some like more bass, others not so much. When Zeppelin is placed in different positions in the room, the sound will be different. That’s why we included a bass control.
Q. Explain how treble and bass settings work on supported iPods.
A. Zeppelin has built in tone controls for bass. Treble is not affected by boundaries; walls, floors, ceilings and etc., in the same way that bass is. When you move a speaker from out in the middle of a room to a position next to a wall, it has the effect of reinforcing or boosting the bass to almost twice the output. If you leave the speaker next to the wall and move it into a corner, the bass almost doubles again. So we have added controls under the speakers menu to allow the user to optimize bass output, depending on placement at home. Good sound is somewhat subjective and people hear sounds differently, so we suggest that the user set the control where they feel that it sounds best.
If you’d like to support a little science in your setting selection, the Zeppelin’s default “0” setting is optimized for placement on a small table in the middle of a room, away from boundaries. If the Zeppelin is on a small table next to a wall, then “–1” is probably the right setting. Move the Zeppelin into a corner or on a bookshelf and “-2” is probably most accurate. “+1” and “-3” are for those situations where the user wants a little more or a little less bass.
Q. What’s the ideal room position relative to walls and corners, with Zeppelin’s two rear holes?
A. The two holes are called ports. If they are at least a couple of inches from boundaries, their efficiency is uncompromised. I know it sounds unscientific, but the ideal position is where it sounds best. On all of our loudspeakers, after we’ve gone through finite element analysis of drive units and cabinets with lasers and other measurement and testing devices, and applied as much physics at the design as possible, our acoustic engineers spend days moving loudspeakers around in the listening room and fine tuning their designs with their ears.
Q. How does DSP (Digital Signal Processing) work? What’s the Nautilus speaker?
A. DSP shapes the digital signal. In our case, we use DSP to optimize the sound for the volume output, somewhat like a loudness control on a stereo receiver, except that it is dynamic. We also use DSP to keep the drive units from overdriving, causing distortion.
Nautilus is our iconic flagship loudspeaker system, a description of which can be found on our website: http://www.bowers-wilkins.com.
Q. How will Zeppelin’s USB software updates be delivered and installed?
We haven’t released any software updates yet, but they will be downloaded from our website and installed by a thumb drive or other USB storage device.
Q. How well do S-Video and RCA jacks perform for total home theatre audio? What’s TOSlink?
“S-video” is a video connection, which does not carry any audio signal. RCA jacks are the standard for home audio. Some high end components offer balanced XLR connectors, which can reject noises picked up over very long cable runs, but RCA remains the standard and offers the same performance under normal conditions. TOSlink is an optical digital audio connection.
Q. Is there a wireless module or adapter available for complete wireless audio transmission?
A. Bowers & Wilkins does not offer a wireless adaptor, but many are available. One of the best solutions, especially if you are listening to music through iTunes, is Apple’s AirPort Express, which offers optical digital audio output in a very small package.
Q. Why is the included manual printed in unreadable 4 point type? Nearly every buyer will be old enough to need a microscope to read the text.
A. I believe that the manual is written in a larger type than 4 point, but we keep the cost as low as possible and use less energy and natural resources if we keep the manual to a manageable size. If you would like an easier to read document, access the manual on our website and enlarge it to a size that is agreeable to you.
Q. What is the B&W Society of Sound?
A. B&W’s Society of Sound is a community of music lovers and music creators. It includes listeners like you and me, engineers, artists, designers, musicians, songwriters and interested music industry people. The Society of Sound’s goal is to bring people together through music.
* * * * *
Thanks, Bowers & Wilkins, for joining with Apple to create Zeppelin. Long may it fly.
Available now in U.S. at select Apple retail stores and from Apple’s online store