Lab Test: Players and Dockers – B&W Zeppelin Mini and Sonos ZonePlayer S5

Dave Bullard
29 April, 2010
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Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini

B&W’s $1000 Zeppelin is a stunning piece of kit, not least due to the cigar-shaped design that gives it its name. So when B&W announced its smaller brother, the $600 Mini, expectations ran high.

I must admit I was a bit disappointed to find it was merely an oval-shaped black speaker unit with a polished silver top panel angled to mimic the Zeppelin shape when viewed from the front. I’m assuming that using the cigar shape in a small form compromised the sound that is so important to B&W’s reputation for making audiophile-quality loudspeakers.

Still, when not compared to the Zeppelin, the Mini is still a lovely looking unit. And yes, the sound is very good. In terms of the systems reviewed here, the Geneva still comes out in front, but the B&W comes in a good second.

It’s very easy to listen to, delivering a very neutral sound with a fair amount of detail … it doesn’t have the punch or soundstage of the Zeppelin but it is, after all, $400 cheaper.

Controls on the speaker unit are restricted to Power and Volume Up/Down, but there’s a lovely, small pebble-shaped remote that adds Skip, Play/Pause and Input buttons to the mix.

The inputs, besides the dock connector, run to a 3.5mm audio jack for connecting other audio players, plus a USB 2.0 connection for streaming and syncing with your Mac.

The dock that sits atop this very-well-made unit can swivel 90 degrees so you can control your iPod or iPhone using Cover Flow.

Be warned, though – the Mini doesn’t work with all iPods. I’ve kept an older 5th-gen iPod Video for use in docking speaker systems, mainly because it has a big hard drive and I’m usually using my iPhone for things other than music. But it’s not compatible with the Zeppelin Mini.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice. I still think B&W could have made this more Zeppelin-like to conform with the bigger unit, but that aside it’s lovely to look at and to listen to.

Sonos ZonePlayer S5

The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 is the most technically complicated of the units in this Lab Test, but also one of the most satisfying.

Like the Bose SoundLink, it streams music from your Mac. Unlike the Bose, though, it can be controlled via an app for your iPhone or iPod touch.

The S5 – a nice-looking white plastic unit with a silver metal grille – can be hooked up to your Mac via Ethernet or, more elegantly, via a wireless network created by hooking up a $179 ZoneBridge to your router. You can also use an Ethernet-wired S5 to create a wireless network for further ZonePlayers.

The first steps are to plug the ZoneBridge or ZonePlayer into your router, place any other ZonePlayers around your house or office, then install the Sonos Desktop Controller software on your Mac and update it via the internet. A setup wizard will then take you through the fairly simple setup process.

The ZonePlayers can be controlled from this software – you can even create queues of your iTunes music – or from a Sonos Controller remote, but the real attraction here is the Sonos Controller for iPod app you can download from the App Store.

The app doesn’t play the music on your iPhone or iPod, but acts as a Wi-Fi remote for the music on your Mac.

The S5s worked really well, with the iPhone controls wowing everyone who used them. The sound was beautiful for an all-in-one unit – rich, full of life and detail.

Playback Systems gave me two units to test for this review. One was in the loungeroom and the other in the bedroom, and I was able to label each correctly, thanks to quite an extensive list of location tags provided by Sonos.

It must be said that the units didn’t always pair via the wireless network, and I spent some time trying to troubleshoot one of the units sent for review.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice. A highly recommended system. The sound, while excellent, isn’t as good as the $100-cheaper Geneva, and the creation of a separate wireless network isn’t for everyone … but everyone who played with it loved being able to control it via the iPhone.

Click here to go back to the Ravon i332 and Bose SoundLink.

Click here to go back to the Yamaha PDX-50 and GenevaSound Model S.

Sonos ZonePlayer S5

Cons Wireless setup can be frustrating
Pros Excellent sound; iPhone control
Playback Systems
RRP $699
Rating 4

B&W Zeppelin Mini

Cons Not really a Zeppelin
Pros Very well made; lovely sound
Convoy International
RRP $599.95
Rating 4

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