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
Play David Arnold and Michael Price’s soundtrack for BBC’s Sherlock series and the Z2 comes alive with beautifully crisp and clear detail. The intricate pieces are delivered with refinement and subtlety, and agile timing keeps it all upbeat.
The Z2’s midrange focus is obvious too. Voices sound rich and expressive, but we’d like a touch more openness.
The small scale of the Z2 becomes painfully obvious when it’s placed next to speakers such as the Geneva Model S Wireless DAB+ and Libratone Zipp. There’s a fair amount of bass coming out of the relatively compact speaker, and it’s fine with going loud – though not neighbour-irkingly so, where its composure starts to waver.
While the Z2 does fall behind the Cambridge Audio 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
Everything we love about the B&W Z2 is still there, but it’s starting to lag in terms of streaming features and outright sound quality. Most wireless speakers now support streaming from all OS devices, and the B&W Z2 might just be missing a trick with focusing solely on Apple products.
For similar money, Cambridge Audio and Libratone offer far more versatile connectivity.
But it’s with sound quality that the B&W really takes its hit. The appearance of rival speakers such as the JBLOnBeat Rumble and Geneva Model S means that B&W has some catching up to do when it comes to outright clarity, definition and scale.
Nevertheless, the Z2 remains a really engaging and pleasing speaker, and its attractive design and smooth sound will win over many hearts.