The year 2021 welcomes a new version of the mythical Zeppelin. The wireless speaker returns with new connected and even intelligent features, always with the desire to offer the best possible listening experience.
It's been more than 13 years since Bowers & Wilkins set foot in the world of wireless speakers with the Zeppelin. Over the years, the English manufacturer's speaker has progressively positioned itself as an icon of the genre thanks to its acoustic performance, but also and especially thanks to its atypical look. The 2021 model which is the object of this test carries many promises which touch as well its use as its sound rendering. We note for example the integration of the Zeppelin to the connected ecosystem of Bowers & Wilkins, the implementation of AirPlay 2 and the voice assistant Alexa, or the support of the Bluetooth codec aptX Adaptive.
The Zeppelin 2021 is based on a new three-way audio system that promises not only excellent sound reproduction, but also a very nice stereophonic reproduction and a real control of the distortion.
Bowers & Wilkins has always taken great care in the design of its Zeppelin speakers, and this 2021 version is no exception. In addition to the use of quality and robust materials (dense metal stand, rigid mesh fabric), we feel that great care has been taken in the assembly of the various parts, so that we can see absolutely no defects or even the slightest flaw in the finish. Another proof that the Zeppelin remains synonymous with beautiful work.
The appreciation of the so particular look of the Zeppelin is obviously a matter of taste. Its minimalist and "discrete" aspect facilitates all the same its integration in a room, and the coatings which it displays show themselves perfectly insensitive to the fingerprints. It remains to find a sufficient place for it on a piece of furniture or on the wall - the metal foot is removable -, because it is far from being compact (21 x 65 x 19.5 cm, for 6.5 kg). The weight of the beast is well distributed on the stand, no chance to make it tip over once in place.
Much to the chagrin of cable lovers, the Zeppelin 2021 is a 100% wireless speaker and therefore does not provide any wired connection, not even an RJ45 port! Fortunately the wireless has been refined to limit the frustration and offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect supported).
There are several notes about the Bluetooth connection that deserve specific attention. First of all, the speaker does not support multipoint, and it can only connect to a single device at a time "t" - it can still store up to 8 devices. We also noticed a particularly high latency via this connection mode (of the order of 350 ms), which causes a significant delay between image and sound, even on mobile applications applying some compensation for this delay (Netflix, Prime Video ...). In addition, although the manufacturer indicates support for the aptX Adaptive codec, we were not able to enjoy this codec on a source device yet compatible. And finally, in very rare cases, we noticed a drastic drop in audio quality, which was resolved by re-pairing the device to the speaker or switching to another Bluetooth codec (SBC/AAC).
Like many wireless speakers, the Zeppelin 2021 requires some initial set-up before it can be fully used. The process, which is done exclusively through the Bowers & Wilkins Music app, is guided by a quick, uncluttered tutorial, with the speaker itself responding with very discreet and rare audible and visual alerts.
Once the operation is done, the minimalist approach is confirmed in daily use: the indications are neither more present nor more visible and, it must be admitted, we navigate almost by sight as long as we don't use the application. In the absence of a dedicated remote control, the application is the only solution for controlling the speaker remotely. Its interface is clear and intuitive. However, you should not expect a lot of advanced settings. Fortunately for the user, the speaker does not push the simplification to its paroxysm, since the essential controls remain at any time accessible on the speaker (management of the listening volume, navigation between tracks, manual triggering of the assistant, triggering of Bluetooth pairing).
The Zeppelin can also be controlled by voice, if you want to use Amazon's assistant, Alexa. By the way, no switch is integrated to manually turn off the integrated pickup system. Another oddity is that the speaker does not have a command to force the standby or turn it off and on.
The Zeppelin is part of the Bowers & Wilkins Music connected ecosystem, just like the British manufacturer's Formation Series speakers.
From what we could see during our test, the experience is fluid, but still quite limited in a few respects. First of all, the Zeppelin is not yet fully integrated into this ecosystem, which deprives it for the moment of the famous multi-room function, which should arrive in 2022, the manufacturer promises. In addition, although the interface is practical and responsive for playback as well as for navigation and song search, we can only remain frustrated by the rather limited list of compatible music streaming services (Deezer, Qobuz, Tidal, Soundcloud, NTS and TuneIn for web radios). It is also not possible to read files on the local network. We are reassured, however, with the support of AirPlay 2, which allows you to stream content with compatible devices and enjoy the multiroom and Spotify Connect.
The Zeppelin's integrated voice recognition system is extremely effective in transmitting our requests to Amazon Alexa. Whether we're in the same room or in an adjacent room, even if it's relatively noisy - and even when the speaker itself is playing content - our requests always reach the assistant without difficulty.
Of course, depending on the ambient noise level and the distance, it is sometimes necessary to raise the voice or get a little closer to trigger Alexa with the corresponding wake-up call - as one would do to address a human being - but it was never necessary to scream or stick to the speaker to make oneself understood. It then remains for the assistant itself to interpret our requests well; and as is often the case, we note that Alexa is not as effective and as relevant as its rival Google Assistant.
The Zeppelin 2021 doesn't hold any huge surprises in terms of sound reproduction and lives up to the reputation forged by the previous models.
The Zeppelin (2021) indeed takes a number of components from the Zeppelin Wireless (2017) and thus offers a rich, well-defined, clean and precise rendering of the whole spectrum, accompanied by a beautiful reproduction of the sound space. The extension in the extreme low register is not astonishing on this model - we have known more demonstrative loudspeakers on this level -, but remains sufficiently generous and especially well controlled. The speaker shows a particularly healthy behavior here, even on the more "loaded" pieces (many instruments, fast and close percussion attacks...) and thus more testing for the reproduction system. The various instruments are perfectly identifiable, the sensation of impact is nicely retranscribed and the dynamics well preserved, even at a generous listening volume. This remark on the identification of the sources applies moreover to all the rest of the audible spectrum. There is no masking effect and the timbres are respected. The amateurs of vocal contents will find here their happiness: the Zeppelin having a slight tendency to put forward the medium register, the voices are pushed a little more on the front of the scene, without being distorted and without masking other elements.
This is especially true since the sound signature of the 2021 Zeppelin has undergone a slight reworking compared to the previous model: the attenuation of the upper midrange to the highest frequencies of the Zeppelin Wireless is no longer as marked on the new version. The soft and "matt" sound gives way to a slightly more energetic and sharp reproduction, and de facto to a feeling of greater presence, which is particularly beneficial to voices.
From the strict frequency point of view, the Zeppelin (2021) is more balanced than its elder sister, but it is not yet an absolute model of neutrality and transparency. The purists, with the very fine hearing, will indeed be able to reproach to the loudspeaker its emphasis a little too pronounced of the very high frequencies, which can sometimes give a very slightly "artificial" aspect to the effects of rooms (reverberations, echoes...) or to the cymbals, which seem more prominent than usual. We can also point out a small lack of "binding" and coherence between the bass, the midrange and the treble; a phenomenon certainly related to the management of the crossover frequencies between the different channels of the speaker - which is based on three channels: two tweeters, two midrange drivers and a woofer dedicated to the bass.
As we mentioned in detail in our lab article published a little before this test, the Zeppelin 2021 still has a generous power reserve, largely sufficient to enjoy its music in a large living room. The distortion is moreover well controlled on the whole spectrum. We will note all the same a little confusion in the low-mediums/mids and a very light retreat of the lowest frequencies when we wish to push the speaker in its entrenchments - although it is never necessary.
Continuity with change: this is a formula that perfectly sums up this new version of the emblematic Zeppelin, which is modernized without taking any risks. Despite its still solid sound performance, the Bowers & Wilkins speaker still proves to be rather limited in use, and sometimes a little frustrating on certain small aspects, especially considering its elitist placement.