Zeppelin Mini by Bowers & Wilkins: The Smaller Standard for iPod Speaker Docks
After reading our review of Bowers & Wilkins‘ brilliant P5 Mobile Headphones, one might walk away with the impression that we’re fans of the products that B&W makes–and that’s a fair assessment. What people may not realize, is how easy Bowers & Wilkins makes it for people to not only be fans of their products, but also be fans of their ethic; this is a company that truly crafts their audio line and it comes through in the way every one of their products looks and sounds–and the Zeppelin Mini is no different. Looking for a speaker dock for your iDevice that offers excellent sound, beautiful design and a small footprint? Look no further than the Zeppelin Mini.
Bowers & Wilkins’ iconic Zeppelin has been acknowledged by many in the audio world as the finest iPod speaker dock on the market; in fact, its sound and design are so lauded, calling it a “speaker dock” probably doesn’t do it justice considering it sounds better than most home audio systems. However, as great as the Zeppelin is, it may not be right for everyone; after all, its dimensions may make it less than ideal for the “space challenged,” and at $599–though a good value for what you get–it’s price may be out of reach for some. Thankfully, Bowers & Wilkins knows that there are still folks out there that want B&W sound in a smaller form-factor, and at a slightly more accessible price–so they’ve given you the Zeppelin Mini. At just over a foot wide and 4″ deep, the Mini packs in much of the same tech that its big brother has, but in a much smaller package. Though the Mini doesn’t share Zeppelin’s dramatic lines, its design is still beautiful; featuring an oval design with a concave chrome top, it has a warm, modern look that allows it to live as comfortably in your office as it would in your bedroom or living room. The minimalist theme also continues in the Mini’s lack of a cluttered control panel; in fact, aside from a small vertical power button and volume rocker integrated tastefully into the side of the unit, there are no buttons whatsoever–the unit is mostly controlled by your iPod or the included wireless remote…more on that in a bit. The Mini also has a power light on its front, but it’s hidden under the thin, black fabric that covers the mini–a subtle touch, but appreciated when you see how it keeps with the overall design.
Perhaps the Mini’s most unique design feature is the actual dock itself. Instead of going with a traditional “fixed” dock, Bowers & Wilkins gave the Zeppelin Mini a docking arm that rotates 90 degrees, allowing users to choose between keeping their device in landscape or portrait mode. Though this may seem like a gimmick, it’s actually quite practical; because of its size, the Mini could easily be placed next to your bed, making it an ideal solution for watching movies–landscape mode is perfect for this. Landscape mode is also a way to enjoy Cover Flow–something most speaker docks won’t allow because of their fixed positions. The Zeppelin Mini comes with 4 different adapters, making it accessible to almost every model of iPhone and iPod out there. I’ve found that for most iDevices in portrait orientation, the adapters weren’t necessary; however, rotating to landscape does let gravity do its job…so using the adapters here is recommended. The rotating arm also feels quite sturdy–an important thing if you plan on changing your orientation with any frequency. On the back of the unit, you’ll notice that along with power input you see an auxiliary in as well as a USB in; the aux in lets you give sound to a variety of devices, including your computer. The USB input is a bit more interesting; not only can you use the Mini as a USB speaker system for your laptop or desktop, but while your iDevice is docked, you can also sync with your computer this way–a very nice touch for those that don’t want the extra clutter of a dedicated docking cradle and 30 pin connector.
Now back to the remote. Having the look and feel of an oval polished stone, this IR remote lets you control your iPod as well as your Zeppelin Mini; powering your device on or off, volume, selecting a song, even choosing your input source, are all but a click away. The look and feel of this remote match the Mini perfectly, right down to the chrome backing and rubberized battery cover. As far as performance goes, even with the limitations of infrared technology, I never had an issue with the response…even without a straight line of site.
While it’s easy to convey the look and feel of the device, conveying the aural experience is far more difficult. I’ve never been one for quoting a spec sheet, especially when it comes to audio products; aside from the fact that numbers can’t tell you how something sounds, they can also be misleading. Rather than trust the numbers, I prefer to trust my ears–it’s not an exact science, but they’ve rarely led me astray. When you’re buying a speaker dock, for the most part, you’re buying for a specific purpose–and with that, there are usually compromises that must be made. For the convenience of docking, many manufacturers make you pay a price when it comes to sound quality. Many times, these tradeoffs are hidden, as some feel giving more volume will distract you from less than ideal sound–Bowers & Wilkins plays no such games. If B&W was going to design a smaller sized speaker dock with the Zeppelin name on it, watered-down sound was not an option–and the Zeppelin Mini sounds fantastic. I know we’ve all heard how some audio products “sound better than speakers twice their size;” it’s become a bit of a cliche, so I’ll try to avoid saying it–but I defy you to listen to your favorite music on a Zeppelin Mini, and NOT think that’s it’s coming from a full size speaker system–and I’m not just talking about the power. The clarity of sound the Mini has is where you can really appreciate what B&W has done here. Gone are the muffled highs you associate with smaller speaker docks; instead, you get clean, crystal clear sound–and this goes for dialogue as well. Smaller systems also often cheat on the lower end, pumping out too much bass, to distract you from weaker highs and mids. Though the bass on the Zep Mini will not rattle you the way a dedicated sub might, its presence is more than enough to fill your music..and your room.
As for your room, I owe my friends at Bowers & Wilkins an apology. I too, was deceived by the size of the Mini–and because of this, I did most of my testing in my office and bedroom. It was only when I brought it into the living room to demonstrate for a friend, that I realized the Zeppelin Mini is a perfect solution for larger rooms as well. Will it match the best high-end home theater systems on the market? No; but at $299, it will shame almost every other speaker dock out there..and in the process, exceed all of your expectations.