Last week, Bowers & Wilkins invited us downtown in New York to show off their latest audio line, Formation. The lineup is predicated on five launch products, all sharing the same Formation namesake at the beginning: Bar, Duo, Wedge, Bass and Audio.
Featuring support for AirPlay 2, the company is touting the innovations presented in the Formation line as top-tier wired audio fidelity achieved wirelessly, all with the same setup simplicity of a $249 everyday-consumer level speaker.
Nine months after launching the wireless version of its iconic Zeppelin speaker, offering both AirPlay and Bluetooth support, Bowers & Wilkins has today announced a white model. The company says it’s intended to appeal to those who prefer a more neutral color tone.
If you’re buying gifts for music lovers in your life, there has never been a better time to do it: there’s a vast range of products to choose from at every price level. But here I’m focusing on the premium end of the market – a main gift for someone who you love as much as they love music!
These are products consistent with my philosophy of buying the right thing once. Gifts that will be appreciated as much a few years down the line as they will when first unwrapped.
I don’t envy any vendor of legitimately premium audio accessories made for Apple’s devices. After established audio companies including Bose, Klipsch, and Bowers & Wilkins demonstrated that Apple device owners were willing to pay $300, then $400, then $600 for all-in-one speaker systems with increasingly better sound quality, Beats by Dre materialized, hooking people on expensive, stylish, and sonically underwhelming alternatives. Between Beats and the Bluetooth revolution, it seems clear that the speaker market is all about flash and convenience rather than audio quality… right?
Of course not. There have always been low-end, mid-range, high-end, and ultra-premium audio options; Beats has succeeded at capturing (a lot of) low- to mid-priced customers. By comparison, the respected British speaker maker Bowers & Wilkins focuses on the upper end of the scale. It literally established the high-end Apple speaker category with its original Zeppelin back in 2007, then refreshed it with AirPlay support as Zeppelin Air in 2011.
Now that another four years have passed, B&W has returned with another “even better” sequel: Zeppelin Wireless ($700). Having spent years touting its atypically upscale design and components as alternatives to low-fidelity speakers, the company is offering a compromise to broaden the new Zeppelin’s appeal. Despite packing speaker and amplifier hardware that’s in the same league as B&W’s $800 A7, Zeppelin Wireless includes a key feature — Bluetooth — only found in its entry-level $350 model T7. But the new Zeppelin still has AirPlay, for those who care, as well as Spotify Connect. So while the price tag may limit the number of people who can afford this new all-in-one speaker, its feature set has broad appeal…
Bowers & Wilkins, maker of the iconic Zeppelin speaker and its AirPlay sequel Zeppelin Air, today announced an upgraded model with even more horsepower and features: Zeppelin Wireless ($700). The original $600 Zeppelin redefined “high-end iPod speakers” at a time when Bose and Klipsch had established a $300 to $400 price ceiling, successfully upping the ante in both sound quality and industrial design.
Zeppelin Wireless retains B&W’s classic elongated football shape and five-speaker concept, but now relies entirely on wireless streaming for audio, boasting Bluetooth aptX, AirPlay, and Spotify Connect support. Backed by 150 Watts of amplifier power, a new twice-as-powerful digital signal processor upsamples all inputs to 24-bit/192kHz resolution, promising to deliver greater accuracy, lower noise, and enhanced dynamic range through an audiophile-quality DAC. The speakers and enclosure have been upgraded, as well…
Back when white earbuds dominated the market, Beats by Dre proved that mainstream customers were willing to pay $300 for large wired headphones and nearly $400 for wireless versions — even plasticky, overly bassy ones. The subsequent shift towards big headphones nearly killed makers of premium in-ear models, leading many audio companies to mimic Beats’ formula. But there were holdouts: iconic audio companies including Bowers & Wilkins refused to compromise their materials or change their sonic signatures to match Beats. Instead, B&W offered premium-priced headphones made from premium-quality materials, and let customers pick between plastic Beats or metal and leather alternatives.
Today, Bowers & Wilkins is debuting P5 Wireless ($400), a Bluetooth version of last year’s luxurious P5 Series 2 (and the since-discontinued original P5). Mixing chrome, brushed aluminum, and ultra-soft sheep’s leather, P5 Wireless is virtually indistinguishable from P5 Series 2 apart from its ability to operate with or without a 3.5mm audio cable. Classy in ways that even the top-of-line Beats Pro can’t match, P5 Wireless is the first Bluetooth headphone I would recommend to fans of classic premium audio gear…
Apple makes great phones, tablets and computers; earphones not so much. The ones that come free with the iPhone look attractive, but they’re pretty much worth what you pay for them when it comes to sound quality.
Great sound, though, doesn’t come cheap, which is why a pair of premium headphones or earphones can make the perfect gift for someone who loves their music but perhaps doesn’t have the budget to really splash out on themselves.
If you’re buying for a musician, check out the more studio-oriented recommendations in our music gift guide. For those who will mostly use their headphones while on the move, read on … Expand Expanding Close
My first post for 9to5Mac is on a topic near and dear to my heart: best-of-breed Apple products and accessories. Why should you trust me? I’ve been a professional product reviewer for 23 years and an Apple user for 28 years. Last week, I finished an 11-year stint running the editorial side of iLounge, the leading Apple product review site, where I tested literally thousands of Apple accessories from every major company on the planet. Readers have praised my reviews as accurate and insightful, and I always put my readers’ needs first when testing new products.