The new Zeppelin Air is exactly like Lady Gaga—looks amazing, sounds wonderful, and includes upgraded electronic components. Also, it finally brings AirPlay's potential awesomeness to fruition—tap a couple buttons and your room is filled with beautiful wireless music.
I had a chance to test out the new AirPlay functionality—sort of. The halls of CES are filled with a fog of competing wireless signals thicker than the second hand hooker smoke in Vegas' casinos, so testing out a product grounded on Wi-Fi here isn't exactly fair. I wasn't able to connect my iPhone 4 to B&W's in-booth network in order to force my own taste of music on everyone, but a rep's iPad was working, so that had to suffice. I'm willing to give B&W (and Apple) the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to the hellish CES circumstance and not an AirPlay glitch, but we'll have to see once we can test the thing out under real world (read: not convention centre apocalyptic) conditions.
Caveats over! The thing sounds incredible—and for good reason. It's $US600, yes, which is a hell of a lot for an iPod/iPhone dock. But B&W has bumped up the wattage to 150 (from 100 on its non-AirPlay predecessor), stuck in a new digital signal processor, and added two extra drivers. Even amid the cacophony of the convention centre, Louis Armstrong sounded full and fabulous—sound that sure as hell didn't sound like it was coming from an "iPod dock," which at this point is sort of a tech pejorative. It sounded huge. It was satisfying and surrounding. I'll avoid audiophile buzzwords like "rich" and "bright," and simply say that the audio produced by the Zeppelin Air is terrific, even when cranked all the way up—in the middle of Las Vegas Convention centre. You might even call it rich—fine!
And it's easy. It works just like we've been wanting AirPlay to work. Connect to the network, select the Zeppelin, play your song. That's it. There were a few seconds of lag between selection and playback, but if that's the worst thing I can say about the AirPlay experience, consider me content. I want every speaker to be this much of a joy to beam music to.