B&W Zeppelin and Zeppelin Mini iPod Sound Systems Page 2

I put the Zeppelin and Mini on separate rolling carts in the main room of Grayscale Studio so I could listen with the units up against the wall and out in the middle of the very large space (roughly 45x25 feet with 8-foot drop ceiling). My seat was a rolling office chair that let me scoot around to different distances and angles with respect to the units' center axes.

I established a procedure in which I listened to the same track at least four times—once with each unit up against the wall and again out in the middle of the room, moving to different distances and angles during playback. When I first started playing tunes on each unit, the volume was very low—a wise precaution, but it confused me for a moment.

Once I turned up the volume, the first thing I noticed was that the sound from the original Zeppelin was very boomy and bloated in the low mids and upper bass, even when it was out in the middle of the room. After talking with B&W about this, I learned that connecting an iPod to the Zeppelin adds a bass control in the Speakers menu that can be set to +1, 0, -1, -2, or –3 (default = 0). The sound was greatly improved when I set this control to –2 with the unit out in the room and –3 against the wall.

Conversely, the Zeppelin Mini at first sounded quite thin and bright with too little bass, which is not surprising given its 3-inch drivers, though the specs indicate more bottom end. Unlike the bigger Zeppelin, the Mini does not add a bass control to the iPod's menu—all you get is the iPod's standard EQ presets. The iPod I was using was set to Acoustic, but changing that to Flat or Off improved things quite a bit. The Bass Booster setting does what it says, and it wasn't obnoxious, but it was a bit too much for my taste.

After adjusting the EQ, both units sounded much better than they had initially. I listened to a wide variety of music, including Bette Midler, Rod Stewart, the Beach Boys, ZZ Top, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Connick, Jr., Willy DeVille, Andrea Bocelli, and various orchestral tracks such as Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg played by Paavo Jarvi and the Estonian National Symphony.

Overall, the original Zeppelin sounded richer and fuller than the Mini, though I thought that vocals were clearer on the Mini because the Zeppelin was still a bit congested in the low-mids, even after finding the best EQ settings. Stereo imaging was significantly better from the Zeppelin—again, no surprise given its larger size and multiple drivers. Also, the Zeppelin exhibited less tonal alteration off axis; with the Mini, moving off axis lost some brightness in the sound. (Actually, the same was true of the Zeppelin, but it was less pronounced.)

I ended up preferring the Zeppelin on rock and symphonic music and the Mini with jazz, especially vocals. Of course, which one you get depends on several factors. First and foremost, listen for yourself; take your iPod to a retailer and try them, making sure to adjust the EQ and bass settings to avoid bass bloating in the Zeppelin and an overly thin sound from the Mini. Don't forget that the Mini only works with an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPod Classic, or iPod Nano (second gen or later), so if you don't have one of those models, the choice is simple.

Also, how important is portability? If you want to take it from one place to another, the Mini is far more accommodating in this regard. Then there's the issue of space—the Zeppelin requires a lot more horizontal space than the Mini. If you take these considerations into account and adjust the settings to avoid the problems I've cited, I have no doubt that the Zeppelin or Zeppelin Mini will serve you and your iPod very well indeed and far better than most iPod sound systems.

Sound quality is much better than most iPod sound systems after adjusting settings
Zeppelin exhibits better stereo imaging and less off-axis tonal shift than Mini
Zeppelin works with any iPod
Mini is reasonably portable

Zeppelin sounds boomy and bloated in low mids and upper bass at default settings
Mini sounds quite thin at default settings
Mini only works with iPhone, iPod Touch, iPod Classic, iPod Nano (second gen or later)