iPod docks. Cheap, tinny and no replacement for a proper stereo. Prepare to have all those statements challenged by the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin. Oh the humanity…
The first thing that strikes you about this dock is its design. It won’t take the clever kids in the class to realise why it’s called the Zeppelin and sticking this anywhere in a room makes a statement. That’s partly because it’s large enough that it’s almost impossible to hide away, but with a finish and look this good why would you want to?
We were slightly clumsy putting the base unit together and slotting the weighty main speaker pod onto it, but once attached it wouldn’t look out of place standing on a plinth in the Tate Modern. Black material is complemented by chrome stylings and your iPod actually sits on metallic slice that curves delicately out from the main base. No adaptors to mess about with here, mind, as all iPods simply slide onto the same multi-fit docking point.
Even the remote control benefits from the design team’s skills. What could have been a weak point in the overall package is a beautifully rounded egg of a device that apes the main player’s shape.
All well and good, but is there any substance behind the fancy packaging? The first test came as we set this up in the offices at Future to gain a respite from Total Film’s rubbish selection of ‘music’. Within seconds other staff came over to have a look and wanted to know how loud it could go. When we reached two-thirds volume and people’s heads started looking like that guy at the beginning of Scanners we figured there was only one way to describe this rude beast: fucking loud.
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So, is it good enough to chuck away your old boombox or Matsui sound system? Well, despite doing a Spinal Tap and going all the way up to 11, the quality of the tunes is striking. There’s virtually no distortion when played at high volume, with individual instruments remaining clear and even the repetitive beats from very annoying shite dance music (not the good stuff) handling well.
One issue is that you’ll definitely want to encode your Tunes at a higher level than 128kbps – a bit of a bind if you’ve been getting away with that level on less impressive bargain basement docks all these years. However, the increase in quality is noticeable and it would be a waste to not use such a powerful system to its full capacity.
Another impressive feature is the amount of connections the B&W Zeppelin offers. Things kick off with a standard 3.5mm connector to attach a non-iPod music player (and for once we can see why you might buy an iPod dock to play another device). There’s also a USB port, although sadly this is designed for updating the system rather than spinning tunes from a memory stick. Best, though are the S-Video and composite video outputs that let you port all those iTunes movies directly to your TV.
So, is there anything that can deflate our enthusiasm for this musical airship? Well, all this technology doesn’t come cheap. Even we balk at a price tag of £399 for a product we can buy much cheaper from almost any other manufacturer. However, if you’ve got it in these credit crunch times then this really is worth the money. When a player can make you go back and resample all your existing albums to a higher quality (as this did with us), it time to say hello to your new sound system and relegate your old stereo to the garage where it belongs. You won’t regret it.