Small audio dynamite

    30 November 2013

    Not long ago, the Fawn came about as close as she ever has done to crossing the red line marked ‘instant divorce’.

    It wasn’t about one of those incredibly trivial things that long-married couples bicker about pointlessly. What she had done was commit the worst crime imaginable: she dropped my Zeppelin Air on the floor and broke it.

    Some of you, women especially, won’t know what a Zeppelin Air is and why such a thing could possibly be a divorcing issue. So let me put it in a way you can all understand: wantonly breaking a man’s Zeppelin Air (or equivalent) is a bit like taking out a pair of scissors and lopping an inch off his willy.

    Well, near enough. As the Fawn could tell you, I’m not generally a materialistic person. Sure, I worry about money all the time, but when it comes to coveting shiny objects and precious things, I’m pretty useless, except where one or two key items are concerned. Key items with which you mess at your peril.

    One is my first edition of B.S. Johnson’s novel-in-a-box The Unfortunates; one is my metal detector; and one is my Zeppelin Air.

    Why do I love my Zeppelin Air so? Well, one reason is that it’s a piece of hi-fi equipment — and men always love and cherish their hi-fi equipment. And the second reason is that it’s one of the few pieces of kit I’ve bought in the last decade or so that has genuinely improved my life.

    In the old days you had a hi-fi system and speakers and spaghetti wiring and a CD/record collection which took up a lot of space and required quite a bit of maintenance (refiling your CDs alphabetically; buying new stuff), and led to no end of complications setting it all up again when you moved house.

    The Zeppelin Air — and its rivals such as the Bang and Olufsen Beolit 12 — puts paid to all that. It’s a music player whose sound quality is as good as (or not noticeably worse than) your old bank of hi-fi equipment but which is a thousand times more useful and versatile.

    First problem it solves is your CD/record collection: you won’t need it any more because, from now on, you just plug in your computer — or do it wirelessly — and listen to pretty much any album you want, whenever you want off the internet from Spotify. My premium Spotify account costs me £9.99 a month and for that I get a record collection bigger than Tim Rice’s. The only downside here is that there are some artistes who refuse to allow their work to be shared on Spotify. Led Zeppelin are one; Pink Floyd another; nor, I think, is the new Roy Harper available on it. So you won’t be able to do away with all your CDs: just most of them.

    Another useful thing it does is keep your tastes right up to date. In the old days when somebody recommended a new album to you, it entailed much risk and hassle: first you had to go and find it in a shop, then you faced the possibility that having spent the money you now owned a CD you realised was rubbish. With Spotify you can flit mercilessly from new album to new album like some jaded emperor. And there’s none of that pressure you used to get in the days when a friend tried playing you an album they liked — and they sat fretting next to you, anxiously assessing how much you were enjoying each track, and saying things like: ‘Yeah don’t worry. I hated that one at first. But it’s a real grower…’.

    Portability is the other key benefit. If, like me, you’ve only got one sound system and lots of rooms, then it’s great to have a device that you can lug all around the house, depending on whether you need it for kitchen bridge or in the sitting room or wherever. Great for taking with you to holiday rental homes, too — because their hi-fis are almost bound to be rubbish.

    What we’re saying here, in other words, is that if the man in your life hasn’t yet got a Dock System — as these devices are generically known — then that’s his Christmas present sorted this year.

    It’ll cost you, mind: the attractively shaped Zeppelin Air is well worth the £500 for the sound (though is quite awkward to carry around, as my wife discovered, along with their efficient, cheapish repair service). Its more compact, picnic-basket-shaped competitor the Beolit 12 is pricier (£600), definitely much more portable, but doesn’t have such an exciting sound. According to What Hi-Fi?, the best one in this price category is the funky-looking JBL OnBeat Xtreme (£500); in the middle range, the Logitech UE Air Speaker (£300); and in the bottom range the Logitech S715i.

    See, wives, girlfriends and mothers of the world, how easy I have made it for you?