Review: B&W Z2 AirPlay streamer

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by Danny Kaey on May 28 '13

Z2 C5

“Hey, what do you recommend I get for speakers around $400?” A query I hear all too often from my fellaz. “Ok, let’s see here… do you expect magic?” Is, quite frankly, the answer I give back most of the time. I mean seriously, what do you expect to get sound wise for $400? Then again, technology has marched on considerably over the past decades, in particular as it relates to boom boxes, aka. that thang you use to listen to music… background music that is. After all, even as far as technology has progressed, it’s still – nearly – impossibly to recreate a true stereophonic image via a shoebox, no matter how many fancy drivers and DSP you put in there. Punch warp drive to read the rest...

There, I said it. Technically, this review is over then. Well, not so fast. Much as automotive Hi-Fi has progressed dramatically from those silly-willy 3” drivers that manufacturers placed there and there, so has the little box that could. Case in point, B&W’s Z2 desktop speaker / Wi-Fi streamer / dock for your shiny iOS device, iPhone preferred. Since the dawn of the iPod, B&W, more so than anyone else I know of, has really pushed the envelope of what’s possible in such a small, compact design. Zeppelin truly changed the perception of what’s possible, dramatically expanding the sound quality spectrum of a sound “dock”.

Fast-forward a few years and seemingly everyone has since joined the fray. Price ranges from $100 to $700 seem filled with one “dock” or another battling it out with silly spec wars and minutia: “dude, check me out, listen to how LOUD I can play” Never mind that what sound does emanate from said box is garbage. B&W of course is different. First of all, B&W, unlike many of these newbies on the block, has an incredibly rich history of designing and manufacturing world class Hi-Fi speaker systems, many of which can be found in recording studios and of course Hi-Fi rigs around the world.

Z2 C2

It stands to reason therefore, that much of that element can thus be transplanted to something of far more modest size and proportions, not to mention deliver a knock out punch for knock out prices. Enter the Z2. Available in classy black or splashy white, B&W Z2 is quite the elegant looker. Oval shaped, it carries forth at least some design elements of their famed Zeppelin, still to date my favorite such docking device. Unlike the first generation Zeppelin, Z2 enjoys built in Wi-Fi and Apple’s AirPlay technology, allowing you to stream music from your iOS device to Z2 without much fuss.

A single, tiny LED dot in the bottom right corner indicates operational status of the Z2, switching from red to purple (setup / problems detected) to cool blue when operational. Neat. An egg shaped remote completes the package allowing you to remote control Z2 and your iOS device with skip forward, back, volume up/down and mute / on-off. Clever. But wait, there’s more. A cleverly designed iOS app that you download (for free of course) from The App store guides you to bulletproof setup instructions. Imagine that. From the time I unboxed Z2 to the time the first tune played (Wi-Fi connection required), no more than 10 minutes passed, quite literally.

2 full range 3.5” drivers along with cleverly designed DSP and a “high quality” Class D amp, account for all the sound you get from this little box. Astounding, was the first exclamation I recall. Cueing up the first random track that came off my iPhone, Trentemøller’s Nightwalker, I was shocked as to what the Z2 was delivering. Boom box? No way. Setup in my office, the Z2 played – at decent volume – quite contently this heavy dose of electronica. Treble was just right, mid range was well defined, yet it was the bass output which truly caught my attention. Tight, quite moving and taught, I simply couldn’t believe my eyes er. ears. This little thing filled my office space with tuneful music – quite literally.

Was it Hi-Fi? Was it Memorex? Let’s see: I’d say that the Z2 achieves precisely what its set out to achieve, which is to say, offer good quality sound from a compact, remote location. No matter the tracks I cued up, from symphonic classical to Dean Martin’s Sleep Warm, each song sounded far richer, fuller and more right than not, or, at least, more so than I ever would have expected it to. Nuts. Now back to those physical limitations: look, it’s really quite simple: to get a proper stereo image you need to have 2 separate speakers some distant apart – it’s just the way it works. I have always advocated that a well setup 2 speaker system will always outperform a crappy surround sound system, all other things being equal.
Z2 C3
The Z2, while quite capable of projecting a sonic image farther into your room than it really should, simply can’t create a true, stereo image that has width, depth and spatial cues derived from the recording. Then again, I am unaware of any speaker system that will do all that for $400 either. A friend – often asking me precisely the question in the opening line – remarked during a recent visit as to the convenience of the Z2. Heck, what more could you want really – connect your iOS device to your Wi-Fi and stream whatever your heart desires; alternatively, plug your iPhone 5 to the dock; same result.  Music 24/7. Bam. This is how we do it.

The Z2 leaves me thrilled and baffled at the same time: thrilled that you can get this kind of good quality sound for $400 from a “dock”; baffled that more people aren’t jumping at the gun to get this thing. Killer. Most highly recommended, A+++.

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