Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air hands-on

Bowers & Wilkins has introduced an updated version of its award-winning Zeppelin speaker, with vastly improved acoustic performance as well as Apple AirPlay capability, and we were lucky enough to get up close and personal with the Zeppelin Air for some hands-on time and we were mighty impressed with what we saw. 

Sporting the iconic looks of its predecessor, which was launched 3 years ago, the Zeppelin Air is one of five launch products for Apple's new service, and it's likely that it'll be the first to hit the shops.

The inclusion of AirPlay means that you'll be able to stream directly from your computer (from iTunes) or from the music library on an iPod, iPhone or iPad, as long as its running iOS 4.2. What's more, you can download the Apple Remote app from iTunes and turn your iDevice into a remote control for iTunes so that you can change tracks wherever you are in the house. If you've got Spotify on your iPhone you can also stream tunes directly from there. As the Zeppelin Air is essentially an iPod dock you can also plug your Apple device straight into the docking port or hook up a non-Apple product using the inputs on the back.

Ears-on so to speak, the audio performance itself is remarkably good and a substantial improvement on the original Zeppelin speaker. Sound clarity is excellent and the transparency on detailed tracks is such that it almost feels like the musicians are in the room. The bass performance is particularly impressive and is maintained even when the volume is lowered - a definite mark of superior engineering. With its distinctive cigar shape, the overall design of the speaker is very slick and also surprisingly sleek and compact for such a powerful product.

The use of Apple's OS means that controlling the AirPlay function is a piece of cake and unlikely to confuse even the most ardent of technophobes. Even without the addition of AirPlay, this is still a fantastic conventional iPod speaker that towers over its rivals in terms of audio quality.

Not content with simply adding AirPlay capability, B&W has also made huge leaps in audio quality with the new speaker. New drive units have been included for better dispersion of sound within the room and the Zeppelin Air is also an active 2.1 system meaning that it has dedicated amps for each driver.

The digital signal processing has also been improved for better control over the driver units which should result in a balanced sound at all volume levels. Audio aficionados will also be be pleased to hear that the new device sports an audiophile-grade DAC. What's more, the inclusion of a Flowport, borrowed from one of the brand's high-end speaker ranges, controls the air flow produced by the bass drivers for a clear, stable sound.

With high hopes B&W told us that: "The Zeppelin Air is going to fundamentally change the way that people listen to audio at home". As the number of AirPlay users grows, it's likely that we'll see the introduction of more compatible products including more compact devices for use in smaller rooms around the home.

The Zeppelin Air is available from March with a price tag of £499.99.