Bowers & Wilkins' original Zeppelin is pricey, but it's also arguably the most attractive and best-sounding iPod speaker dock on the market. Its rather bulbous dimensions mean not everyone has the space to accommodate it, though. That's where the Zeppelin Mini comes in. Its more compact design means it'll fit on pretty much any shelf around the home. But, at around £300, it's not massively cheaper than the £400 original.
After the majestic beauty of the original Zeppelin, the Mini's styling is rather a letdown. B&W has tried to tie in the Mini's design with the older model via the curved front and oblong mirrored finish that sits beneath the docking mechanism, but it just isn't as visually appealing.
The Mini comes with a range of dock adaptors that you slip your iPod or iPhone into before sliding them onto the Mini's docking bay. Once in place, you'll find you can rotate the dock through 90 degrees, so you can flip through your tracks using the Cover Flow interface, which is a neat touch. It's worth noting as well, that, unlike its older brother, this version fully supports the iPhone and is shielded against mobile-phone interference.
Internally, the Mini's handling of audio has also been upgraded. Whereas the original Zeppelin relies on the analogue audio feed from the iPod's dock connector, the Mini grabs the raw digital audio and then runs it through its own higher-quality digital-to-audio converter to make sure the signal is as clean as possible.
This has another benefit. When you connect the Mini up to a PC via its USB port, it can use this digital converter to act as a high-quality external soundcard for music playback direct from your computer. This USB port also lets you sync your iPod or iPhone with your computer while it's docked, and can be used for updating the speaker's firmware.
One of the reasons why the larger Zeppelin sounds so good is that it uses a total of five speaker driver units. There's simply not enough room in the smaller Mini for that number of drivers, so it makes do with two instead. As you'd expect, this means it doesn't sound quite as expansive or full-bodied as the Zeppelin, but it still puts in an impressive performance. It's certainly loud enough to fill a decent-sized room, and acoustic material sounds beautifully airy. Also, while it doesn't exactly produce earth-shaking levels of bass, you'll find that the bass response is supremely tight and focused when you slap on a heavy rock track or deep dub tune.
The Mini uses exactly the same remote as its larger sibling. As well as controlling volume, this also lets you skip forwards and backwards through tracks, start and pause playback, switch the unit on and off, and choose between different inputs. The remote has a distinctive egg shape and, although it's quite small, it looks the business, is comfortable to hold and its buttons are very responsive. On the speaker dock itself, you'll also find a volume rocker switch, along with the main power button.
The Zeppelin Mini doesn't really provide many extra, non-music features. For example, unlike some other docks on the market, it doesn't have a built-in mic, so you can't use it as a hands-free speaker phone to make or receive calls when you've got an iPhone docked. This wouldn't be an issue if it wasn't so difficult to get an iPhone out of the Mini's dock. We missed a few calls during our testing because we just couldn't undock it quickly enough. Also, while the Mini has an analogue input for hooking up external devices, it lacks the optical digital input of the Zeppelin, as well as that model's video output port. The latter omission means you can't hook an iPhone or iPod touch up to an external display while docked.
The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini is one of the better-sounding iPod docks around, but it doesn't quite reach the same sonic heights as the original Zeppelin. With only a £100 price difference between the two, we can't help but feel the Mini doesn't justify its high asking price to the same extent as its older brother.
Edited by Charles Kloet