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Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini Review

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini
MSRP $399.95
“The Zeppelin Mini looks less outlandish than its Hindenburg-sized older brother, but loses some of its larger-than-life performance in the shrinking process.”
Pros
  • Smart, stylish aesthetic
  • Digital USB input provides cleaner sound
  • Works with all iPod and iPhone devices
  • Unique, rotating dock arm
Cons
  • Very aggressive high frequencies
  • No tone control
  • Poor off-axis response
  • Limited remote functions
  • High price for an iPod dock
bw-mini-zeppelin-e1
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Introduction

The Bowers & Wilkins name is practically synonymous with high-end sound. Since the original B&W 801 first appeared in 1979, the English company has enjoyed a great deal of success by producing some of the worlds finest and most stylish speakers found in recording studios and homes around the globe. In September 2007, B&W announced the Zeppelin iPod dock– an eye-catching, if a bit bulky, overachiever that has become a sort of modern design paradigm for the world of electronics. Now, B&W offers the Zeppelin Mini. Scaled down in size, the Mini promises to better fit your office, bedroom or living space and fill it with extremely high quality sound. In this review, we put the Zeppelin Mini through its paces to see if it earns its asking price of $400, and dig into some of its more unique features.

Out of the Box

There isn’t much packed in the box with the Zeppelin Mini. Accompanying the speaker dock is an egg-shaped remote control, four docking brackets, a DC power supply and a very simple quick-start guide. For more detailed user instructions, visit B&W’s website .

The Zeppelin Mini is a tidy 6.8 inches high at its tallest point, 12.6 inches wide and just 4 inches deep. Setup was pretty straightforward until we learned a firmware update was available. Going about updating the Zeppelin Mini was a little bit of a hassle, but their online instructions helped clear up the problem and we were soon up and running.

bw-mini-zeppelin-e7Features and Design

The Zeppelin Mini is one very cleverly designed piece of equipment. Its aesthetic mirrors the iPod Touch’s black-on-chrome color scheme very successfully. The top of the unit is a concave mirror of chrome that looks more like real chromed steel than it does plastic. Affixed to the top of the speaker section is a 90 degree rotating dock arm that effectively puts your iPod on display as if were a piece of art on its own. The speakers are covered in black grill cloth and trimmed with more chrome on the bottom. The only buttons to be found on the unit are inconspicuously placed on the side of the unit. The front face of the Zeppelin Mini is remarkably clean looking. Even the power indicator light is cleverly tucked under grill-cloth so that it remains unobtrusive.

On the back of the unit we found a USB connection, 1/8-inch mini jack and power connection all located just below the flared, textured speaker port. The rear is otherwise covered in more grill cloth.

Under the hood, you’ll find a digital amp pumping out 18 watts per channel to two 3-inch drivers, and some DSP technology for shaping the sound that is sent to the speakers.

The remote control is egg-shaped and, like the Zeppelin Mini itself, comprised of black and chrome plastic with just a few buttons. They allow the user to power on the unit, turn the volume up or down, advance the track back or forward and pause, or start playback. A seventh button resides at the bottom of the remote, but we can’t seem to determine what it does. The button doesn’t appear to be addressed in B&W’s manual either, so we’ll just enjoy that mystery for now.

The docking arm on the Zeppelin Mini deserves some special attention. To the best of our knowledge, it is the only dock that can rotate to allow landscape mode of an iPhone or iPod Touch – something we consider a bit of an oversight on the part of other manufacturers. Not only that, but the docking arm is positioned at the top of the unit and reclined back to make operating your iPod much more comfortable.

Performance

The Zeppelin Mini offers three different input connections: the obvious iPod dock connection, a typical AUX input and an atypical, but extremely useful, USB connection. The benefit of the USB connection is that you can connect a PC, Mac or other USB-capable audio device to the Zeppelin Mini through a digital interface. Rather than use the noisy, poor-quality analog audio outputs of your laptop or PC’s soundcard, you can connect directly to the Mini and experience, according to the manufacturer, significantly higher quality sound. For the purposes of this review, we tested all three inputs.

bw-mini-zeppelin-e6We found that the USB input did, indeed, offer significantly superior audio quality. When we compared the same uncompressed, high-quality audio files between our laptop’s digital USB connection and the iPhone’s analog dock connection, the USB source won every time. In general, the USB connection sounded fuller and more balanced, with tighter bass and smoother highs. We also enjoyed the fact that music could still be advanced, paused and restarted with the remote control through this interface.

Unfortunately, this is an iPod dock, and its audio performance really seems to suffer when serving that function. High frequencies are extremely hot, and vocals lacked the body we expected from such a finely made piece of audio gear. Bass is generally bigger than you would expect from a small unit, and fairly tight, as well. However, the bass response seems to be focused on the lowest octave of the bass region and as such, the Zeppelin tends to have a bit of a mid-bass hole in its response, giving it a boxed-in or congested quality. We also noted that off-axis response was significantly different than the on-axis sound. As we moved about our room, we noticed the sound character change more significantly than we’re used to hearing.

Going back to the USB interface, our ears relaxed and we found the Zeppelin Mini a little less fatiguing. We enjoyed the extremely dynamic capabilities of the Zeppelin Mini and the ultra-low distortion very much. We also benefited from the deep bass response when listening to some of our more bass-heavy material. Overall, the USB interface provided us with a much more pleasant experience than through its docking hardware but we can’t help but feel that most users will be docking their iPods, and with such hot treble response, some may find the sound a little abrasive.

Conclusion

The B&W Zeppelin Mini is an artfully designed, easy to use iPod dock with an exceptionally small footprint that will look excellent in almost any home or office. We enjoyed the USB interface and its significantly better sound quality but its aggressive high frequencies and slightly pinched sound when playing directly off an iPod may be off putting during longer listening sessions, and is cause for concern when considering a $400 piece of audio equipment.

Highs:

  • Smart, stylish aesthetic
  • Digital USB input provides cleaner sound
  • Works with all iPod and iPhone devices
  • Unique, rotating dock arm

Lows:

  • Very aggressive high frequencies
  • No tone control
  • Poor off-axis response
  • Limited remote functions
  • High price for an iPod dock
Caleb Denison
Digital Trends Editor at Large Caleb Denison is a sought-after writer, speaker, and television correspondent with unmatched…
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