While it may be pretty huge by iPod dock standards, the Zeppelin Air is much smaller than just about any full-blown stereo system, so I was really impressed by just how big of a sound it managed to deliver. Forget the tinny sound of the typical cheesy, plastic iPod dock: The Zeppelin Air sounds rich and full, with a real sense of dynamics coupled to an extended, revealing top end.
A lack of stereo separation is about the only thing keeping the Zeppelin Air from fooling you into thinking it’s a bigger stereo rig — something I suppose is to be expected when the left and right speakers are separated by only a few inches. While some docks manipulate phase between channels to give a false illusion of space, B&W has taken a purist approach with no added trickery. I found that if you sit fairly close to the Zeppelin Air, say four feet away, the stereo effect is actually quite good, with well-defined placement across an admittedly narrow soundstage.
Naturally, I couldn’t resist the urge to fire up some Led Zeppelin on the Zeppelin Air, so I went with “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from Led Zeppelin III. John Bonham’s massive drum sound (complete with his famous squeaky bass drum pedal), came across great, with the system managing to keep guitar, vocals, and drums nicely separated without one element dynamically squashing the others.
Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” is a great test for bass definition, and the Zeppelin Air did a pretty decent job of separating out Herbie Flowers’ double-tracked bass lines. The acoustic bass on this song, however, drops down into the bottom octaves where the Zeppelin Air simply can’t reach. Even so, it made up for that by tossing in a little extra emphasis in the mid-bass. Sure it’s cheating, but the overall effect is pretty satisfying.
To dismiss the Zeppelin Air as just an overpriced iPod dock would be to miss the point completely. With fewer people than ever willing to devote space in their homes to a real hi-fi system, the Zeppelin Air manages to fill that role quite convincingly while looking stylish and chic. That B&W has managed to add wireless AirPlay capability and improve audio performance without a price increase over the original Zeppelin just adds some tasty icing to an already very luxurious cake.