Zeppelin™ Wireless delivers a dramatic leap forward in sound quality when compared to the already exceptional and award-winning Zeppelin Air. We talked to the product’s Senior Development Engineer Tom O’Brien, to discover the secret of its sonic success.
Zeppelin Wireless was much more than simply the third generation of Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin music systems. It is the first to lose the traditional iPod/iPhone dock. It is the first to feature Bluetooth® and Spotify® Connect connectivity, also making it the first to offer its services to uses of non-Apple mobile devices. It is also the first to come in a choice of colours, with the sumptuous new White version. But, and this is possibly the most important part, it is also without doubt the best-sounding Zeppelin product by some considerable margin.
We talked to Development Engineer Tom O’Brien, and asked him how you would go about updating a product as successful as Zeppelin Air, which itself was a massive leap forward in terms of acoustics and connectivity when compared to the original, iconic Zeppelin.
“Some decisions were easy,” Tom told us. “We knew we wanted to remove the dock because it just reflected the way things were going in the portable world. We also knew that we wanted to open up the product to non-Apple owners so we set about about introducing new ways to use the product that opened it up more. Hence Bluetooth AptX and Spotify Connect.”
So much for the connectivity, but what about the acoustic performance? Tom says that he was told many times that customers never complained about the sound quality of the Zeppelin Air, but he couldn’t help but improve the performance.
“That’s what we do! I can’t stop myself, I suppose. I can’t imagine a world where we wouldn’t try to make a product sound as good as we possibly can within the limits of what we have to work with.”
The first element of the acoustics that was addressed by Tom and his team was bass performance. “We felt we could do more to improve its integration and make the product easier to live with wherever you installed it,” he told us. “Removing the rear ports has helped significantly with flexibility because it means we have fewer problems with proximity to the boundary – a bookshelf, a corner, on a wall bracket – than we did before. Obviously removing the ports leads to other issues though, and we significantly changed the cabinet to counteract the potential downsides.”
For starters, Zeppelin Wireless’ cabinet is significantly more rigid than previous incarnations, and is constructed from a stiffer single layer of skin. This also provided the team with more internal volume to work with – a major factor when it comes to producing better bass.
“We have a 50% increase in internal volume.” Tom says. “And we’ve coupled that to a bigger, COMSOL-modelled and heavily redesigned bass driver. It’s much more linear than the old one and it has a single, cleanly identified break-up mode that we can deal with via a first-order filter, handled via DSP. We’ve ended up with more overall bass sensitivity than the older model.”
The Zeppelin Wireless project also utilised the same recent advances in computer modelling that were a major feature of the 800 Series Diamond development project, in particular increased used of the COMSOL computer modelling application.
“With the midrange driver we wanted to use the FST TM (Fixed Suspension Transducer) technology that appears on many of our core loudspeakers because it’s more transparent, cleaner and more free of the box than a regular driver. FST units are also more sensitive so it gives a welcome sense of immediacy to the midrange. Much the same applies to Zeppelin Wireless’ twin high-frequency units, which use the new Double Dome tweeters, as used in our CM S2 loudspeakers.”
The result needs to be heard to be believed, and Zeppelin Wireless outperforms Zeppelin air in all areas. But as someone who has been pivotal in the development of all three generations of Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin products, we will leave the last word to Tom.
“When we went from the Zeppelin to Zeppelin Air it felt like a massive leap forward. We’d improved so many aspects of it that at first we felt that maybe we’d never be able to do that much better again with the new model because of the costs involved and the retail price we wanted to aim for. But with Zeppelin Wireless I really feel it’s a bigger leap over the Zeppelin Air than the Air was over the original. The product feels even more ‘grown up’ now. I think it’s really a dramatic change. The level of resolution and the information retrieval is just exceptional.”
You can purchase Zeppelin Wireless direct from Bowers & Wilkins here