Not everyone wants multiroom sound and the Bowers & Wilkin Z2 knows it. Need a standalone, AirPlay-compatable, wireless speaker dock for your home? Feast your eyes
Affordable wireless speakers for the kitchen are all the rage in the audio world and 'affordable', it seems, is the operative word as far as Bowers & Wilkins is concerned - that's where the B&W Z2 comes in.
While the bigger B&W Zeppelin Air and friends have very quickly become the docks by which all others would be judged - both for their style and sound - the company's smallest and cheapest product of the range has been overdue an update for a while now.
Why? Well, first the Zeppelin mini wasn't that strong. Second, because it's over three years old and, third, there's some serious competition out there in the shape of the Apple-friendly Harman Kardon Go+Play Wireless, the hugely portable Big Jambox and all round cracker that is the Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100.
B&W Z2: Size and build
B&W has nailed it for design. The Z2 is the right size, shape, build, it's ergonomically satisfying and reassuringly solid. Best of all, though, it looks dead sexy; a little safe, perhaps, but sexy. It's a George Clooney in a tux kind of look - classic but all the chiselled lines and sweeping curves are in all the right places as to cut the most flattering of a dash in any light.
You will not find a room the Z2 does not look right in and, at 180 x 320 x 100mm, it will fit on any shelf or sideboard space that you've got earmarked for sound.
True to form, it comes in a straight choice of black or white. Whichever you go for, its elliptical cross section with metal front grille is finished perfectly with a solid rubber top and some seamlessly sensitive volume controls that sit flush with the surface. Very neat indeed.
B&W Z2: Features
There's not an awful lot in the way of features and that's probably no accident. The Apple Lightening connector dock in prime position is a bit odd given that B&W could have stuck with AirPlay like most manufacturers seem to be doing in the possible ever-changing face of the Apple connector.
On the one hand, B&W is admitting that the Z2 might be out of date in a few years. On the other, it's an olive branch to the less tech savvy of your household for whom even wireless audio streaming might be a step too far. The other more serious issue is that the Z2 will not dock an iPad even if it does have a Lightening connector, and that loses it some points in our view.
Aside from the super-smooth, ultra easy to use volume controls already mentioned, the only other significant feature of note is the B&W remote control that comes packaged. A shiny black pebble of a gadget, it's nothing like as slick as the speaker itself and, mercifully, you'll need little to do with it unless using the dock connection.
The lack of Bluetooth is something of a surprise in the B&W Z2 and a bit of a slap in the face of any friends and housemates you have who don't happen to own an iOS device. Imagine! It also offers a very good reason for choosing the Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100 instead.
Otherwise, there's little to complain about here. Setup is very standard for these devices and AirPlay ensures it's as easy to use as streaming is going to get. Again, the quality of the streaming is predictably good and you'll not notice the difference between when docked or otherwise. The one saving grace for Android owners comes in the form of the 3.5mm aux-in slot tucked around the back.
B&W Z2: Audio quality
There's just the two full-range drivers at a decent 3.5in size along with the same patented B&W Flowport that you'll find in Zeppelin Air to add some depth of sound. Even further behind the scenes is a class-D amplifier promising and delivering digital signal processing designed to create a clean listen.
As for the sound itself, the Z2 is certainly loud enough. The 2 x 20W on offer is enough to blast out any room in your house and, as one would expect with the Flowport, the base is stunning for something that size and price.
That said, while this speaker definitely delivers on the audio side, there's something not quite right about the balance of what comes out. The top notes simply don't sing like the bottom and even the mid-range do on this device. As a result the high notes are rather shown up and it's a real pity if you're a big fan of guitar solos. We've heard Sweet Child sound better.
B&W Z2: Verdict
The B&W Z2 should definitely be on your shopping list if you're in search of a secondary wireless speaker system for your home. The sound quality is very good for the outlay, if not quite consistent throughout the range, and it will look very good on the shelf wherever you put it.
Our two main reservations with it, however, are that the lack of Bluetooth makes it a bit of a no-no for anyone who uses Android and that we'd have to recommend the Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100 because it fills all the gaps that the B&W leaves and for exactly the same price, too.
B&W release date: Out now
B&W Z2 price: £329.99