Friday, October 22, 2021

Alexa and Airplay 2 Share a Ride on the $ 800 Zeppelin Smart Speaker

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Enlarge / Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin in midnight gray.

England-based audio brand Bowers & Wilkins is offering audiophiles another ride in their Zeppelin, but this time, there’s a new friend on board. The Zeppelin speaker announced on Wednesday marks the first new addition to the series since 2015. It is flying into the new era by integrating Amazon Alexa and some newer technologies to reduce wireless latency.

Bowers & Wilkins’ Formation wireless speaker series landed Alexa in 2020, but this is the first time the smart assistant has landed a ticket to the Zeppelin. For those who prefer not to talk to Alexa, the speaker also has physical buttons.

Some prefer buttons to Alexa.
Enlarge / Some prefer buttons to Alexa.

The latest Zeppelin continues the series’ flight towards completely wireless technology. The original Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin in 2007 was an iPod dock, while the 2011 Zeppelin Air still had a dock but added Apple Airplay. In 2015, the Zeppelin Wireless dropped the dock but offered a 3.5mm connection. The current Zeppelin has no wiring option except for a USB-C port which is for service only.

Bowers & amp;  Wilkins Zeppelin in pearl gray.
Enlarge / Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin in pearl gray.

Bowers & Wilkins relies on some of the latest wireless technologies to help ensure this decision does not result in delayed impromptu sessions. IOS users can connect via AirPlay 2, which also provides multi-room support. For those who don’t use iOS, there is the aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec. Unsurprisingly, the aptX Lossless extension for aptX Adaptive is not present, as Qualcomm only announced it in September.

The brand says the new Zeppelin is all about the “age of streaming.” Like the previous Zeppelin, the new rectangular speaker supports Spotify Connect. Downloading the Bowers & Wilkins app allows you to control the speaker and use other music streaming services, including high-resolution focused Tidal and Qobuz.

Bowers & Wilkins also plans to add multi-room support for non-iOS users in “early 2022” and suggested that it will continue to update the speaker’s software over the years.

B&W promises to update the speaker in the future, starting with multi-room compatibility.
Enlarge / B&W promises to update the speaker in the future, starting with multi-room compatibility.

Bowers & Wilkins has equipped the loudspeaker with a pair of 1-inch double dome tweeters, two 3.5-inch midrange drivers, and a 6-inch subwoofer for low frequencies. The loudspeaker supports a frequency response of 35-24,000 Hz. According to the company’s announcement, the drivers are “arranged in dedicated left and right speaker arrays around a large center subwoofer” and are driven by 240 W to fill a room.

Bowers & Wilkins believes that is enough to justify a price increase for $ 800– $ 100 more than the previous Zeppelin, the Zeppelin Wireless. Of course, there are many much cheaper Bluetooth speakers that also offer Alexa, Airplay 2, and the like. Bowers & Wilkins will have to prove themselves with sound quality (especially high resolution) and functionality.

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