The Zeppelin Is Finally Downed

3/6/2013 9:26:50 AM

Bowers & Wilkins A7/ Wireless speaker

B&W’s Zeppelin products had a characteristically adventurous style that we came to love – so it’s a surprise to see the A7 opting for such a subdued design. As it happens, that’s the point: unlike the attention-seeking (and now iconic) Zeppenlin, the A7 is designed to blend into its surroundings. It doesn’t even have a dock. Instead, Apple’s AirPlay tech is the primacy connection, so you essentially place it out of the way, anywhere you like.

Bowers & Wilkins A7

Bowers & Wilkins A7

Of course, just because the A7 is designed to blend in doesn’t mean it’s dull or dreary – this is B&W, after all. No, what you get is a seriously solid block of classy audio design. Apart from the logo, the only other detail on the typically unfussy brushed-metal face of the A7 is a single LED light that changes color depending on which input is selected.

The sides are just as uncluttered. On the left the metal band doubles as a power button, on the right it’s a volume control while on the back there’s a neat row of inputs beneath the bass port. That’s right, while the A7 is clearly designed primarily as an Airplay speaker; it still has a standard 3.5mm aux-in and a USB input for a computer. There’s also an Ethernet socket for those not yet ready to go wireless.

Set up no longer requires a computer and is just about as simple as Airplay gets, and once done your A7 appears whenever you press the AirPlay icon on your Apple portable or iTunes computer (be it a Mac or a PC). And of course there’s nothing to stop you filling your house with multiple A7s, Zeppelin Airs or soon-to-be-released A5s to create a simple and stylish multi-room system. True, you can send music from an iOS device to only one of these at a time, but a computer can stream to all of them for when you want to entertain a party that’s spilled into every room of the house.

Fantastic audio quality

Sitting at the top of the Bowers & Wilkins audio ‘dock’ range means the A7 comes with a great deal of sonic expectation. Honestly, can it really sound so much better than the excellent Zeppelin Air and really justify the extra money it’s expected to command? Why, yes. Yes it can.

It might share the Air’s five-driver array but the bigger woofer and increased cabinet volume of the A7 results in significantly greater bass extension. Play a lossless version of Polica’s haunting I See My Mother and there’s a depth and gravity to the introductory bass line that the Air can’t match: it lends extra, immediately engaging impact to the track.

The Zeppelin Air’s broad wingspan can make you assume that it would be the better of the two at spreading sound to the left and right, but in practice it’s the A7 that provides the wider soundstage. In fact, the way it handles the strategically placed left and right effects of the track occasionally fools you into thinking you’re listening to a pair of properly separated and toed-in speakers. Be in no doubt, this will fill all but the most humungous of rooms.

The A7might not have the Zeppelin’s eye-catching looks, but it does deliver head-turning sound

It does subtlety, too

But despite its looks, the A7 is no blunt instrument. The complicated, largely electronic strands of I See My Mother are defined with truly impressive detail, while maintaining cohesion with the presentation as a whole, and the vocals are projected with such clarity that it’s almost possible to make out singer Channy Leaneagh’s ambiguous, heavily vocoded lyrics.

Switching to Bloc Party’s Real Talk via streaming proves that the A7 can also work its magic on more heavily compressed tracks too. Here, the punch of the bass impresses as much as the depth and weight, and while the track is more narrowly mastered it still benefits from the A7’s exceptional ability to give each instrument its own space – it’s more like standing right in front of the band than a single box fed a compressed MP3 should ever really be.

If you want to hear the a7 at its very best, hook it up to your computer. While The Mother from The Road OST is detailed and subtly dynamic with AirPlay, playing it via USB releases extra definition and nuance to make it achingly, beautifully melancholic.

Connecting a device using a 3.5mm jack doesn’t result in quite the same level of audio quality, but it’s still a match for AirPlay, and those wanting to connect something with an optical output can use a mini-optical cable that 3.5mm aux-in doubles-up as a digital connection.

For some it will be a slight shame that B&W hasn’t sought to include DLNA or Bluetooth support, but the A7 is all about simplicity. It’s about just throwing a tune from your phone with genuine hi-fi sound quality. We’d say it’s a job well done.

The A7 can fool you into thinking you’re listening to a pair of proper hi-fi speakers – and it will fill all but the most humongous of rooms

AirPlay set-up app

Browers & Wilkins AirPlay Setup (Free)

Setting up a Zeppenlin Air when it first came out was a rather fiddly process that involved a computer, Ethernet cable and network addresses, but any B&W AirPlay device you buy now can be installed using this rather descriptively titled app.

AirPlay set-up app

AirPlay set-up app

Essentially, the first time you turn on your A7 (or A5 or Zeppenlin) it creates its own wireless network, which the app prompts you to connect to. It’s a bit of a shame that doing so means leaving the app and going into your phone’s Wi-Fi settings, but we suspect that most iOS users will be perfectly comfortable with that and B&W has thoughtfully included audio  instructions for those who aren’t. From there it’s back to the app, tap in your home network’s details and about 90 seconds later your A7 is connected and ready to go.


§  Speakers: two 25mm tweeters (2 x 25W), two mm mid-range drivers (2 x 25W), one 150 mm subwoofer (1x 50W)

§  Frequency response: 40 – 36,000 Hz, +/- 3dB

§  Connectivity: RJ45 Ethernet, Wi-Fi, mini-jack, USB 2.0

§  Dimensions: (L x W x H): 360 x 160 x 220 mm

§  Weight: 5.7kg

§  Price: $999.99

§  Rating: 5 stars

§  For: A fantastically deep, wide, well-organized presentation; bags of detail; awesome build

§  Against: Lacks connection options

§  Verdict: If you use AirPlay from your Apple portable and want awesome sound, the A7 demands your attention. But in a subtle way…


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