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Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 December 2007
Article Index
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
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Downloaded music is only as good as the rip. Apple’s AAC files are pretty good when compared to a compact disc, especially when you rip them at the highest level of resolution. With that said, the Zeppelin sounds its best when you feed it less compressed, clean files from your iPod or computer. That version of “All the Young Dudes” you stole from Napster back in 1998 likely isn’t going to give you the best sound on the Zeppelin, nor, quite honestly, will it sound good on any system at any price.

Starting the only place I could, I cued up “The Song Remains the Same” from Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy album, ripped to my iPod as an AAC file. While not as high-resolution as the CD, you can hear the Zeppelin come alive as you squeeze the volume up button on the appropriately-shaped cylindrical remote. The little desktop speaker system effortlessly breaks free from the constraints of low-level listening and hits the accelerator for some spirited listening. The depth of field of the sound of Jimmy Page’s 12-string Gibson SG guitar was believably rendered. The bass was pushing it and droned a little compared to my desktop audio reference, the XHiFi-fi XDC-1. To be fair, the XDC-1 is a more expensive system that has its own dedicated subwoofer. On the Zeppelin, the mids were engaging and the highs were very open, but not really bright at all.

What was most noticeable about “The Song Remains the Same” on the Zeppelin was how good the off-axis listening was. You’d have to be a pretty big geek, with your head in a vise, to sit down in front of a system like this and listen like some audiophile snob. This system is for listening to music, not audiophile tomfoolery, so when sitting on my sofa, clear across the room and nearly 180 degrees from the spot on my desk where I installed the Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin, I was shocked to find how engaging the unit could be from another zip code.

The Zeppelin thrived on music from The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. While gazing at the area in West Hollywood (called “the Bird Streets”) from my office high atop Beverly Hills, the track “Blue Jay Way” seemed contextually appropriate. The Zen-like and somewhat lethargic doped-out intro had an openness that you would be surprised to hear from such an out-of-the-box audio system. The more natural instrumentation of “Fool on the Hill” sounded even better. The flutes danced above the piano in a way you would expect to hear from a speaker system costing thousands of dollars, not hundreds. The vocal harmonies that kick off “Your Mother Should Know” showed the finesse of the system, as the bass notes were solid and the vocals beamed above the Zeppelin. On “Hello, Goodbye,” the imaging was much wider than the physical limits of the Zeppelin. With the volume up, you really can widen the scope of the speaker system to sound much larger than the unit actually is.

You can’t help but want to bump the volume up for “Riding the Scree,” a disco-inspired, don’t-even-think-of-trying-to-dance-to-it odd time signature track from Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. To say “they don’t write songs like these anymore” is an understatement, as well as an indictment of today’s all-sizzle-no-bacon acts like Britney Spears and Coldplay. Peter Gabriel’s vocals hovered above the Zeppelin with a psychedelic aura that took me right back to the musically ripe year of 1974. Phil Collins’ snare sound was a bit thin, a sign of where bigger speakers pick up from where the desktop speaker systems leave off. When the band began their crescendos, I could actually feel the bass kick in, which was impressive for a unit this small. I liked the guitar sound on “Lilywhite Lilith,” as well as the separation on the vocals during the chorus. The piano sound on the title track of The Lamb Lies Down” on Broadway sounded open. However, the midrange was somewhat collapsed as the main verse kicked in. It didn’t really matter because with a tune this good, who ever reaches for the remote?

Never wanting to miss an opportunity to push an audio component to the point of combustion, I cued up “Thunder Kiss 65” from White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1, and cranked the volume to a level that is fair to describe as “11.” The Zeppelin held its own, but you could sense the DSP try to keep things together as I pushed the limits of a 25-watt-per-channel amp. The bass wasn’t deep, but it was loud. I wouldn’t call it outrageously low, either, but when you consider the Zeppelin is 18 pounds, you must be reasonable with your expectations from a physically small system.


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