Published on May 8th, 2013 | by Greg0
Bowers and Wilkins Z2: The Best iPhone 5 Speaker Dock Yet
There’s been quite a bit of recent audio coverage on these pages, as gear from that we saw showcased in many instances at CES starts becoming available. It’s our favorite season for music, with new albums on the way from Vampire Weekend, the soundtrack to Great Gatsby, and all of the summer singles that hit the airwaves and get our heads bobbing and ready for the beach. But while we might at some point want to get away, today’s piece of gear is keeping us firmly planted inside, getting the party started in the office and the rooftop.
The product in question is the Bowers and Wilkins Z2 Dock and AirPlay Music System- the latest in their lineup, which we’ve reviewed widely here. As long as we’re not in need of noise-cancelling, the headphones we most often can be spotted wearing are probably the P3s, and we regularly field questions about our Zeppelin Air when folks come into the office. The Zeppelin Air is a great dock that is slightly stymied by occasional AirPlay drop-outs, and the original (now four or so years old) is a classic, though we now have iPhone 5s and cannot dock as easily because they use the old 30-pin connector.
We’ve seen plenty of speaker docks here, and many have offered AirPlay functionality. We’re a fan of this method for wireless audio, though it does have some disadvantages. iTunes can be a bit rickety, and if you’re on a PC trying to stream from Spotify or Pandora, good luck (there are ways, but they are complicated). But it’s definitely cheaper than Sonos, and allows multi-room setups unlike Bluetooth, plus it’s nicely integrated into the iPad and iPhones. If you have an iPhone 5 (or whatever Apple decides to call their next models), then do yourself a favor and get a Bowers and Wilkins Z2 with the new Lightning connector- it’s just that good.
In fact, our only major criticism is thais the Z2 doesn’t quite make as much of an impression as the Zeppelin. That was true as well with the previously-reviewed Zeppelin Mini, which is the Z2′s clear predecessor. On the upside, it takes up far less room- it’s about a foot high and only seven or so inches wide. As always, we like the clean looks and lack of buttons, but that means that you’ll need the remote if you want to walk away from the unit (or use your phone or mobile device of course). It outperforms the A5 in some ways, one of Bowers and Wilkins other AirPlay-capable models that we checked out earlier this year. In fact, we feel that the Z2 is the superior option, with fewer streaming issues and a slicker design, though of course that partially depends on whether you would prefer a dock or not. The docking port on the Z2 is practically invisible when there is not a device plugged in, as it is recessed into the unit, and it is hinged for a bit of flexible movement which helps it feel more sturdy. It doesn’t support iPads though.
Setup is pretty easy, and you can use it either via wireless or wired ethernet (though you cannot connect over 5 GHz, only 2.4GHz). Thankfully, there is a free setup app that helps guide you through the process, and is available for iOS, Mac, and Windows. If a firmware update is available, the app will notify you as well. The Z2′s size is perfect for a kitchen, bedroom, or office, but a bit small if you were try to use it as a primary sound source for a living room. It uses the same egg-shaped remote as other B&W audio devices, for better or worse. We’ve always liked the way the remote is shaped, but it is a little glossy and plasticky, plus some of the buttons can be hard to find in the dark.
In terms of audio quality, it’s what you’d expect from a premium name like Bowers and Wilkins. You’re getting solid spatial dynamics, and sound that feels much bigger than the unit would seem capable of producing. Everything is well-balanced and slightly warm, with plenty of kick to the bass and snap to the snares. Vocals sound appealing and rich, though we did notice that on tracks like M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” that the Z2 didn’t quite feel as full as we would hear from the Zeppelins. Instruments were distinct and didn’t feel strained or constrained, and volume was sufficient for all but the biggest rooms. We did find it performed better with a wall nearby to bounce the sound around.
Available now, online and in stores, the Z2 is a natural evolution for Bowers and Wilkins, and one of the best values yet coming in at only $400 or so. Black units are shipping now, though the white option will be on shelves later this summer.