I’m back with yet another iPhone/iPod speaker review. But wait, before your eyes glaze over, you really should read what I have to say. This time around, I tested out the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini, which is sort of the baby brother of the Zeppelin (which I personally think is a bit too wild looking for my tastes). In my opinion the Zeppelin Mini solidly slides into that little slot of near perfection…as far as iPhone/iPod speaker docks go!
The first Zeppelin was, well, shaped like a large Zeppelin blimp. I must say that the design is intriguing, modern and quite elegant. Despite, as I said, it being “wild looking”, the design does grow on you after you look at it from various angles. And that is part of the aesthetics, the fact that you need to and want to view it from many different angles.
But we will leave big brother for another time perhaps and focus on the smaller sibling, the Zeppelin Mini. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received the Mini. I have tested quite a number of speaker solutions for the iPod and I was expecting this to be just another run-of-the-mill ones. Some of the speakers I have tested had absolutely no bass but lots of crisp highs while others had stellar bass but that bass distorted the mids and highs at louder volume.
I have been developing a theory that the more you pay, the better the quality…wait, you mean that is nothing new? You don’t say! Well, I have to admit that it is true for the B&W Zeppelin Mini. But, for many people, music makes up their lives so they are willing to spend a little bit extra to truly enjoy better quality. Let me qualify something quickly, the price point ($399.95 MSRP – Amazon) of the B&W Zeppelin Mini’s is on par with other comparable speaker systems like Bose SoundDock 10.
Let’s start with some geeky stuff first, the specs:
- Digital Signal Processing (DSP)
- Digital amplifier
- Switch mode power supply
- Rotating Arm for portrait or landscape view
- FlowPort moves air when the base is bumping
- USB streaming from Mac/PC; 3.5mm analog AUX input to connect other devices
- iPod/iTunes sync
- 2x18W amplifier power output
- -6dB at 38Hz and 20kHz frequency range
- 6.8″ x 12.6″ x 4″ (H x W x D)
Now that I got that out of the way, let’s find out why the Zeppelin Mini rocks, literally. I was skeptical when I hooked up my iPod into the dock. And I got a mini surprise when I tried to attach it to the dock. I discovered that the arm actually rotates (I thought that I had broken the arm). This is a very nice touch so that you can really enjoy the elegance of the iPod’s CoverFlow (in landscape view).
The Mini comes with a series of iPod and iPhone adapters that attach to the swivel arm, making it quite easy to secure your device and hold it in place when you rotate its orientation. And you can wrap your fingers around the dock fully to hold it in place. To rotate the dock, start twisting and it will continue the rotation. Very slick.
The design of the Zeppelin Mini is minimal in that most of the lines are curved, there are no “sharp edges” that you can see easily which means that the Mini is really easy on your eyes. I particularly enjoyed the curved mirror-like surface on the top. It almost makes the speaker look like a presentation pedestal for the iPod.
Let’s talk a bit about the sound. My first test is always to put on a song and crank it as loud as I can and see how much distortion there is. Very scientific, I know! As I turned up the volume to the pain threshold, I couldn’t hear any perceptible distortion of either the mids or the highs. The sound remained crisp, clear, and balanced.
Another thing that jumped out at me was the level of the bass that we emanating from the Mini. So I wanted to figure out why the bass sounded so good. It turns out, there is actually a quite robust subwoofer build into speaker. I first looked underneath the Mini for a down-firing subwoofer but then felt some air pulsing from the back. On closer inspection, it was a hole in the back where air was moving in and out, called the “FlowPort”. It definitely was pushing the air at high volumes.
The Mini is driven by a Digital Signal Processor which means that you are virtually guaranteed that all of the ranges of your music are beautifully presented without out much, if any loss. Couple this with the fact that you can actually create a digital connection between your computer (Mac/PC) and the Mini via a USB connection. So not only can you sync your iPod via that dock, you can also play your music via a USB digital connection. The Zeppelin Mini takes the digital music from the computer and does the digital-to-analog conversion within the speaker system itself which results in much better sounds emanating from the system.
So beyond the elegance of the physical design itself, the Zeppelin Mini also exceeded my expectations in terms of sound quality. It doesn’t really have any other bells and whistles other than the rotating dock. Beyond that, the B&W designers purely focused on creating a shelf or desktop speaker solution that outputs audio that is digitally crisp and clear, at both low and high volumes. The bass is stellar, solid and practically thundering, much better than many other systems that I have tested. And the highs and mids are clean and distinct.
Oh, and the remote that comes with the Zeppelin Mini look like a miniature Zeppelin as well. It sort of looks like a flattened football and has all of the functions that you need to fully control the Mini remotely. Another important thing to note is that the Zeppelin Mini is shielded to eliminate the TDMA radio noise that comes from iPhones. This means that you don’t have to put it into airplane mode when you are playing your music. Lastly, you have the ability to perform firmware updates to the Zeppelin Mini which means that if there are any software fixes that need to be applied, you can do it yourself! You can view the firmware version of the mini by going to the “About” section in the “Settings” area of your iPod or iPhone.
At a retail price of $399.95 (Amazon), the Zeppelin Mini isn’t for all of us. There are plenty of other similar speaker solutions for your iPod or iPhone, however, when you stack them side by side with the Zeppelin and review the design AND the sound quality, you will quickly see that you get what you pay for. I recommend the Zeppelin Mini for those people who want a nice desktop speaker solution that they can not only dock an iPod or iPhone on, but also those who wish to connect their computer to in order to play digital-quality music through the Mini. And since I wrote this just a few days before Father’s Day, I whole-heartedly recommend the Zeppelin Mini as a gift that Dads will love for a long, long time.
Disclosure Text : I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.
HTD says: If you are looking for a great gift for an audiophile or someone who really pays close attention to the quality of all aspects of music coming from a speaker system, definitely put the Zeppelin Mini at the top of your list.