Bowers & Wilkins is a name that brings recognition and respect among audiophiles. The British manufacturer has produced really good speakers and since 2008 they have also provided audio docks for Apple products.
The most popular one is the Zeppelin with its distinctive design that is different from most others on the market. Zeppelin Air is the second generation, and apart from support for AirPlay* it comes with new and enhanced digital transmission via the dock and USB, new drivers and a new sound processor.
There is little discussion that the B & W Zeppelin Air is one of the best iPod docks on the market right now, and lots of people buy it for the airplay support as well as for its great sound.
The dock for iPod or iPhone is centrally located on a metal frame and a clever feature is that the cradle can be used both horizontally and vertically. The point is, of course, that you can scroll through your collection using Cover Flow, which is activated when the device is rotated to landscape mode.
It comes with a small elliptical remote and in the same way as the main unit it is stripped of buttons so the remote carries just the bare essential functions.
It all looks and sounds fantastic, but in order to get started with Airplay, a tedious installation procedure is required to connect the device to the network. Even worse is that the music is sometimes choppy, as if the transmission capacity is not quite enough, and also happens that the device ejected from the network.
This is of course frustrating compared to simple systems such as Squeezebox that can readily use regular WiFi as a platform for streaming audio. Sure you can stream music to more airplay-compatible products simultaneously but only one song for all devices. From an iPhone or iPod, you can also just use one airplay unit at a time. If you want to stream the same song for multiple devices you are forced to go through iTunes.
Nevertheless, if it's sound quality you're after, this small and well-designed system will deliver. Unfortunately it's relatively expensive.
*AirPlay is a proprietary protocol developed by Apple for wireless transmission of sound, images, video and related metadata. AirPlay is primarily implemented in hardware and software from Apple, but has recently also been licensed to third-party manufacturers.
Compared to other wireless streaming systems AirPlay has some limitations. From an iPhone or other iOS device, for example, you can only use airplay for one unit at a time.