An upfront, energetic performer that delivers detail, clarity and style in spades.Write your own review
- Admirable clarity and space
- Impressive low-end for its size
- Times well
- Physical dock
- Treble can be slightly thin at high volumes
The B&W Z2 has been a long time coming. It's the successor to the Zeppelin Mini, and we were given a sneak peek midway through last year, before the brakes were firmly applied thanks to the announcement of the iPhone 5 and Apple’s new Lightning connector.
Taking it back to the drawing board, B&W redesigned the dock section to feature the new connector, threw in AirPlay connectivity and produced the rather striking Z2. But can it continue the five-star legacy of the Zeppelin range?
B&W Z2: Design
As we’ve come to expect from B&W products, the Z2 is as stylish as its predecessors, and in particular shares a very similar design language to the Zeppelin Mini.
The top of the unit is curved in a way that allows the physical dock to be almost invisible when not in use, while the front is largely made up of a curved metal grille covering the Z2’s two 3.5in full-range drivers. In front of the dock there are touch-sensitive volume controls, which we found to be responsive and easy to use.
On the back you’ll find B&W’s Flowport, added to aid a richer bass response, but other than that, the Z2 keeps it fairly minimalist – all clean, sweeping lines and uncomplicated design. It’s available in black or white, although the white version won’t be available until June.
B&W Z2: Features/connectivity
Aside from the Lightning dock, the Z2 adds the wireless functionality of AirPlay, making it the baby of the B&W AirPlay speaker line-up. While many manufacturers are now choosing to go one way or another with a physical dock or wireless connectivity, having both does allow the Z2 the freedom to be used when wi-fi is unavailable or unreliable.
It’s worth noting, though, that although the Z2 features a Lightning connector, you aren’t able to dock iPads – only iPhone 5s and fifth-generation iPods.
Any device with a 3.5mm output can connect to the Z2’s 3.5mm jack, opening up this rather Apple-focused speaker to other phones, MP3 players and even laptops, if in a rather rudimentary way. On the back you’ll also find an ethernet port for hard-wiring the Z2 to your router for a more stable AirPlay connection.
B&W Z2: Set-up
Getting AirPlay up and running was as simple as on any other B&W device. The Bowers & Wilkins Control app is still one of the best out there when it comes to usability and gets the job done in a few minutes.
Once you’ve followed the onscreen instructions to get started, though, the app is fairly redundant, letting you register your device or set up a new one but offering no further controls.
That’s hardly a problem, though, as everything you’ll need for controlling volume and tracks is in your Apple device’s music player or via your streaming app of choice – though some additional EQ controls like Libratone’s offerings might have been nice.
B&W Z2: Sound
To listen to the Z2, we first docked our fifth-generation iPod into the top and hit ‘Shuffle’. We were immediately impressed with the level of detail we heard, with the piano chords that punctuate the beginning of Aloe Blaac’s I Need A Dollar layered, crisp and snappy.
The drum beat kicks with a rather surprising punch for its size too, though it is Aloe’s voice that really cuts through the mix and pushes to be centre of attention.
The vocals certainly seem to be an area of concentration for the Z2, and it gives them plenty of space to shine as a result. The mid-range as a whole is an area of impressive clarity and focus, sounding more open and refined than the same-priced Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100.
While the Z2 does fall behind the Minx Air 100 somewhat when it comes to scale and overall weight, we were impressed by the kick it had in the low-end – especially considering its stature. It offers a satisfyingly warm, controlled and agile bass response that is much improved over its predecessors'.
We did find the treble had the tendency to slight thinness side at higher volumes, though, and this is where some EQ settings from might have come in handy – the ones on the iPod itself aren’t subtle enough for what’s needed. It’s a niggle rather than a huge consideration, though, and when the system is placed within a proper home setting it’s something that we'd expect to soften up.
Overall the Z2 is an upfront, dynamic and energetic listen that grabs your attention immediately and takes you along for the ride. We would certainly recommend, where possible, that you dock your device rather than streaming over AirPlay: we found the difference in detail and clarity is really quite noticeable.
Of course, this is down to the limitations of wireless playback rather than any fault on B&W’s part, and is a compromise you’ll make for wireless convenience. It’s a nice feature to have, but one we’d probably suggest you kept for house parties rather than Sunday afternoon listening sessions.
B&W Z2: Verdict
Once again, Bowers & Wilkins has managed to strike that hard-to-find balance of a product that’s thoughtfully designed, looks the part and sounds great. No matter what your music tastes are, the Z2 takes whatever is thrown at it in its stride, displaying vigour that far surpasses its price and physical size.
Of course, larger, bassier sounds can be found from speakers further up B&W’s range, but the Z2 does its job as the company’s entry-level option with aplomb.
It’s also proved that, while wireless connectivity is great for convenience, our audio love affair with a physical dock is far from over.
The Z2 was some time coming, but it's most certainly been worth the wait.