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Z2 by Bowers & Wilkins

High-end AirPlay audio in an understated package

by James Thorne in Tech on 19 March 2013

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While Sonos remains a market-defining force in wireless music streaming, Bowers & Wilkins makes a strong case for Apple AirPlay with a seductive, newly expanded lineup. Today, the company introduced an update to the popular Zeppelin Air—the torpedo-shaped beauty that's been upgraded with a flexible Lightning dock for iPhone 5. New to the collection is the Z2, a smaller and more affordable model that packs a surprising amount of silky smooth sound.

Shape and sound aside, the real attraction here is AirPlay integration, which is probably the simplest system around for WiFi streaming. For users with multiple AirPlay units, it's a breeze to move your music between rooms and across speakers. One area where Sonos loses an edge is content—while Sonos can only play from a handful of content partners like Spotify and Pandora, there are no restrictions on the source of your AirPlay tunes, they just must be played from an Apple product. Despite the seamless streaming, Bowers & Wilkins decided to keep the dock for charging needs and ease of use.

Design-wise, the Z2 is a mashup of the aerodynamic Zeppelin and the minimalist A5 and A7. A sloped shelf and ovular body add a bit of character to the otherwise unassuming shape, which cleverly hides the integrated Lightning dock when viewed from the front. Smaller size and sound are great for smaller rooms, and the Z2 will be especially attractive to Bowers & Wilkins users who are looking for music solutions in the bedroom or kitchen.

Sound is delivered from two drive units, which are aided substantially by Bowers & Wilkins' Flowport system—the dimpled cavity on the speaker's rear—as well as class D amplifiers. The company remains at the forefront of high end audio despite the fact that the Z2 comes in at $400—not exactly cheap, but entry level for this sort of system.

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The Bowers & Wilkins Z2 will be available in April 2013 in black—which we can attest looks brilliant in the CH lobby—with a white model coming later in June.

Images by James Thorne

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