Positives: top-notch sound in a more compact package than rivals.
Negatives: no AirPlay support.
A little over two years ago, we launched this gadget column with a review of the B&W Zeppelin iPod speaker dock. At the time it was in a class of its own, providing hi-fi quality sound in a unique, blimp-shaped package that rightly earned the unit my top recommendation.
The Zeppelin has remained the benchmark iPod dock ever since. Despite fresh competition from Bose, Sony and B&O, nothing could match the audio quality, style and convenience of the B&W machine.
Now hi-fi specialist NAD has thrown its hat in the ring with the Viso 1, a speaker dock that borrows many design cues from the B&W unit while adding a few tricks of its own.
Auditioned side by side, the physical resemblance between the two units is striking. Both machines sport anonymous black-cloth fronts with a raised chrome band around the middle. Both chrome bands host an Apple 30-pin dock connector, allowing compatible gadgets to be played and charged simultaneously.
Both models sport a stereo pair of full-frequency speakers and high-frequency tweeters plus a single low-frequency woofer, in both cases powered by a beefy 50-watt amplifier. At normal volume levels there is very little to choose between them, but crank things up to teenage house-party levels and the B&W wins.
The latest Zeppelin model features Apple's AirPlay technology, allowing wireless streaming from iPhones and iPads. With the Viso 1, NAD has taken a different approach, relying on the more widely used Bluetooth standard to provide wireless connections. It's a clever choice – while AirPlay is restricted to Apple gadgets, Bluetooth is supported by a whole range of smartphones, tablets and laptops.
The only compromise is range. While AirPlay devices use Wi-Fi networks to extend their range around the home, Bluetooth is a point-to-point technology with a range of just a few metres. Leave the room and the music stops.
All things considered, the Viso 1 and Zeppelin are evenly matched. In a house full of Apple gadgets, the Zeppelin's AirPlay support swings things in its favour, while users of Android or – shudder – BlackBerry handsets may prefer the Bluetooth support offered by the Viso 1.
My only hesitation in recommending either model wholeheartedly is a fear of the unknown. If the Apple rumour mill is to be believed, this month will see the launch of a new iPhone with a larger screen and, possibly, a new miniature dock connector to replace the 30-pin socket found on iPods since 2003. Adaptors will be made available to make it compatible with legacy kit, but it seems a shame to hobble a new hi-fi system with adaptor plugs if you're considering the new iPhone model.