No AirPlay speaker earns better reviews overall than the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air (Est. $600) . Shaped like a futuristic football, it can stream music from any Apple device: iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. You can also physically dock your device to play music without a wireless network. It's a top performer in professional tests, earning 4 stars from both CNET and PCMag.com. Reviewers are consistently impressed with the Zeppelin Air's sleek, modern design and full, rich sound. However, its impressive performance comes with some drawbacks. First, at more than 2 feet across and a hefty 12 pounds, it's not what many would consider "portable." Also, many owners at Amazon.com encountered a bug that caused the Zeppelin Air to stop playing without warning, often in mid-song. However, one reviewer reports that OS updates to the iPhone 4S have fixed this problem.
One of the biggest downsides of the Zeppelin Air is its steep $600 price tag. A less expensive option is the Bowers & Wilkins Z2 (Est. $400) . It's an Editors' Choice at PCMag.com, and Digital Trends awards it 4 stars out of 5. The Z2 is smaller and lighter than the Zeppelin Air, and its styling is equally sleek. However, reviewers aren't quite as enthusiastic about its sound quality. Although PCMag.com praises its "warm, rich, transparent sound," Digital Trends finds it uneven on the bass end, and CNET describes the sound as "good for its size, just not great." Also, several reviews say the setup process is too complicated.
One big drawback of Bowers & Wilkins speakers is that they're hard to use outside your home. Both of them require an available Wi-Fi network to use AirPlay, and neither one has a rechargeable battery, so they're tethered to AC power. If you want an AirPlay speaker that's truly portable, your best bet is the Libratone Zipp (Est. $400) . It includes a unique feature called PlayDirect that allows you to stream music directly from any Apple device, without the need for a Wi-Fi network. It also has a much more portable design: a 10-inch tall, 4-pound cylinder in a wool carrying case with a handle. Unlike the Zeppelin models, it includes a rechargeable battery, though its four-hour life isn't very impressive. Reviewers say the Zipp offers remarkable sound quality for its compact size, though it's a bit skimpy on the bass. One downside of the Zipp is that, like all AirPlay speakers, it works only with Apple devices. However, as a review at Engadget.com points out, that's the trade-off you make for the improved sound quality you get with AirPlay as opposed to Bluetooth.