Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin: the ultimate stand-alone speaker

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Fly high with B&W’s pioneering Zeppelin, the ultimate self-contained speaker

Reviewing the latest ever-more functional iteration of the sculptural Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin speaker, we talk to the brand about the secret to its 15-year success.

The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin is an icon of modern hi-fi design. Subtly evolving over its 15 years of production, it is the original sculptural loudspeaker, combining high quality sound with striking looks. The most recent version of the Zeppelin landed last fall, with enhanced streaming capabilities that make the most of its form of spatial audio promotion. Available in Midnight Gray or Pearl Grey, the unit incorporates ambient lighting and can be controlled via the Bowers & Wilkins music app. It also comes with newly integrated Alexa functionality.

Andy Kerr, brand director for the British company, spoke to Wallpaper* about the secret to the Zeppelin’s continued success.

Wallpaper*: How do you design for longevity in such a rapidly changing space? The Zeppelin began life as an iPod docking station, a typology now totally outdated. For a technology product to last 15 years on the market is quite an achievement.

Andy Kerr: I think Zeppelin perfectly sums up our approach to product development. It is built around the concept of form following function: it was shaped by engineering, by the right acoustic approach, not by the vagaries of fashion. There is integrity, honesty and purpose in its form. This is not to underestimate the crucial role of industrial design in the process, of course – our products should look as good as they sound – but the important point to understand is that with us, our acoustic requirements drive and our industrial design follows.

W*: How was the form originally born?

AK: Let me guide you through the process. The original Zeppelin prototype consisted of two separate stereo speakers. We wanted to prove the virtues of stereo separation in a single-speaker component: to achieve this, we took two of our compact, affordable lifestyle monitors (a now-defunct design called the LM1) and rotated them of 90 degrees, joining them in the center by a single 3D-printed section that also housed a generic iPod docking station. The result was rough and ready, sure – but it also proved the concept pretty well, sounding massively better than any other iPod speaker system we could find to review.

We have evolved the speaker configuration to facilitate acoustic separation and bass definition. It gave the Zeppelin its now iconic “tapered” shape. Form, as I said, is shaped by function – and the “function” in question is the quest for better, more compelling stereo sound from a single speaker component. And that is, I believe, why the Zeppelin concept has survived the years so successfully: although we have evolved its feature set over time to meet new needs – for example, removing the arm from the iPod docking station and adding wireless capabilities – we didn’t need to change its fundamental essence. Again, it’s about designing with integrity, honesty and determination.

W*: How has the internal technology evolved over the years?

AK: Another key point needs to be emphasized: DSP-driven smart digital platforms (essentially, the “brain” of a product) give us far more possibilities in 2022 than we had in 2012 for future upgrades. level that can extend the longevity of a product. beyond its usual lifespan. Today’s Zeppelin offers high-resolution streaming from many different providers, plus access to podcasts and online radio stations and more – and soon it’ll add multiroom functionality too. It will continue to evolve over the months and years to come – and it’s quite different from the original product which, as you correctly pointed out, was designed specifically to connect to an iPod and therefore , was defined by (and limited to) the capabilities of its source.

W*: How responsive is Bowers & Wilkins’ design to market trends and how does it steer consumers towards new ways of interacting with music?

AK: Of course, we are aware of changes in technology and changing consumer preferences – the key is to make informed decisions based on your own product information, rather than letting prevailing market trends define you. We try to look at the long lead time, not the picture right in front of us: we need to see and address the future of audio in the next five years, not design to compete with a product that dominates the market today. today. It’s not easy to do well and of course we’ll make mistakes along the way, but that’s our hope.

W*: What about streaming services? Do people use them differently?

AK: Our music app is a big part of this approach. We originally developed it to provide our audience with an easy way to add music streaming services to our Formation compatible wireless audio products and, more recently, to our Zeppelin and Panorama 3. not limit easy access to content. you want; it also helps you find content you’ll like. It’s smart – the more you interact with it, the more it will adapt to your preferences and intuitively deliver the music you’ll love without you having to lift a finger.

It will also work on all platforms. For example, if you “like” or often listen to music on TIDAL while working out and listening with headphones, that same music will appear in your favorite music in your music app when you get home. We also offer a wide range of curated playlists – some themed on products, some on contemporary cultural events, some just on the time of year – and we strive to fill these playlists with varied, interesting and different music, not the too obvious choices that many in our category will choose. And we know our audience loves it – the interactions we get with all of our playlists are immense. §

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