Last year Bowers & Wilkins introduced its own multi-room audio system: Formation. In recent months we have already tested the compact Formation Wedge and the complete Formation home cinema system with Formation Bar, Sub and Flex. In this review we look at the Formation Duo, which is the stereo flagship from the line-up.
What is Bowers & Wilkins Formation?
The Formation line-up from Bowers & Wilkins is a line-up that exists from wireless and active speakers that together form a multi-room system. You can link the speakers together in different rooms and stream music from streaming services to all or individual speakers. Formation has been developed in-house and must enable wireless streaming in high quality and without restrictions in its own ecosystem; a platform to which products can be connected and can communicate with each other. Formation works with six different radios, each with their own frequencies for stable and fast connections. Synchronization is an important component for multiroom; Bowers & Wilkins has ensured that this is almost perfect with a delay of 1-2 microseconds. In addition, the technology allows 24-bit / 96 kHz hi-res audio streaming. You can read more about the wireless technology behind Formation in our background article .
The Formation line-up consists of the Formation Wedge (compact stereo speaker), the Formation Duo (a pair of stereo speakers), the Formation Bar ( soundbar), the Formation Bass (subwoofer), the Formation Audio (hub to which you can connect, for example, a record player or CD player to make it part of the Formation system) and the Formation Flex (compact speaker for smaller rooms or
In this review we look at the Formation Duo, which is on the market in a black and white / gray version and has received a price of 3,999 euros per pair. The matching standards cost 799 euros per pair.
Design of Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo
Regarding the design, the Formation Duo is a bit out of control. Where the other Formation products are covered with fabric and have characteristics of the honeycomb structure, the Duo is a more slick loudspeaker, with a smooth and tightly finished housing with streamlined curves and a finish in black or white. The woofer / midrange driver and the tweeter feature a metal grill that is not removable and gives the speaker a somewhat more futuristic appearance. It is noticeable that the tweeter is disconnected from the housing and ‘floats’ above the speaker to minimize interference.
The Duos are relatively heavy speakers weighing 10.6 kilograms each and that immediately gives a premium feeling. They are also relatively large bookshelf speakers, with a size of 395 x 197 x 305 mm. All in all, the Formation Duo speakers are very just finished speakers with a premium look and feel, but with a design that either makes you enthusiastic or is totally out of place. So you have to love it.
Regarding the connections you don’t have to expect much. The only way to connect the Duos to sources is wireless. There is a usb connection, but it is purely for service purposes. You can connect the speaker to your network wirelessly via WiFi or via an Ethernet cable. At the front we see a number of buttons: play / pause, volume control and the Formation button with which the speaker can take over the audio stream from other speakers and with which you can switch input.
The installation of the Formation Duo is just like the other Formation speakers a piece of cake. You download the Bowers & Wilkins Home app, turn on the speakers and search for speakers directly. Once the speaker is found you can connect it by pressing the Formation button and then it’s a matter of entering the password for your WiFi network, adding the speakers to a room (or creating a room) and the latest firmware download and install the update. It is a very user-friendly process that you can walk through within a few minutes. Also positive is that you do not have to create an account for this.
Incidentally, it is still good in terms of placement that Bowers & Wilkins has not opted for a master / slave solution. So there is no cable between the two speakers. Both communicate wirelessly with each other and only need to be connected to a power outlet. The standards are optional because you can also simply place the Duos on a dresser or other cupboard. If you choose the standards, it is good to know that they come with spikes and rubber feet, and that you can neatly put the cables in.
Bowers & Wilkins Home app
For setting and Operating the Formation Duo (to a lesser extent) requires the Bowers & Wilkins Home app. With this app you get the possibility to create different rooms (zones) in your house where you can place speakers, you can link speakers together in a group and you can control the active music. The app is fairly simple and for the time being not an app that allows you to arrange and control everything. For example, you cannot search for music via the app, you do not have access to music stored in your network, there is no direct integration of streaming services and you cannot start music directly from the app. For this you use the relevant app of the streaming service or the function on your (mobile) device. You can play music directly from your Apple device via AirPlay 2 on the Duo, you can control the speaker directly from the Spotify app with Spotify (Connect), and you still have Bluetooth as an option.
Bowers & Wilkins has already announced an update for the app . The new version of the Bowers & Wilkins Formation app is available from early 2020 and offers direct access to the Tidal, Qobuz and Deezer music services. With the new app you can easily browse tracks, albums and playlists of the various music services, including personal libraries and other high-resolution content. Everything is therefore merged into one well-arranged library.
For Roon, users who want to play music from their own network, use more services, expect the highest quality and want more control. Through Roon you have access to almost all streaming services, you can search and play music from your own network, you can achieve the highest audio quality (direct integration of Tidal and Qobuz, among others), create rooms and music in different (or the same) rooms with Formation play speakers. Roon is, however, software for which you have to pay: $ 500 for a lifelong subscription, or $ 120 a year.
You will not use the Bowers & Wilkins Home app often until the above-mentioned update is there, certainly when you have only one Formation product. It is a rather austere and simple app, although that is not necessarily a disadvantage because it keeps the app manageable. Even if we look at the setting options, there is little to see or adjust. With the Formation Duo you have the option to turn the speakers, adjust the treble and adjust the bass response. That’s it. You do that once and then you don’t look back. The same applies to adapting or adding spaces, adding a new product or updating the firmware. What we still miss is a Trueplay-like that adjusts the audio reproduction to the acoustics of the room. Perhaps that is something for the future. Nor can we wait until the update appears that makes the Home app the central point for your sources (also locally) and how to operate them. That you now need an external (paid) app for this is a minus point.
Use of Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo
Although the Bowers & Wilkins Home app is not the central point for operating the Duo speakers, this has no direct negative impact on ease of use. After all, it is child’s play to control the speakers from the Spotify app, via AirPlay 2 or via Bluetooth and to listen directly to your favorite music. The great thing about AirPlay 2 is that you can also place the Duo speakers in a multi-room system with AirPlay 2 speakers from other brands. Once you have selected a source, you will immediately see what is currently being played in the Home app. If you have more Formation speakers, you can also switch to other rooms in the display screen of the relevant room.
Since the Formation Duo does not have a physical connection option, it is not possible to have a TV (or other source) directly. For this you need the Formation Audio. You can connect various sources to this, which you then have displayed on different Formation speakers. That is a shame as I can imagine that you also want to play the sound of your TV via this premium set, and that you will not hide the set in a separate room. Bluetooth is also an option to connect the TV to the Duo, but in our case this resulted in a 2-second delay, making it no option for watching TV.
Sound quality of Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo
The Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo is currently the flagship of the Formation series. The stereo speakers offer a power of 125 watts per channel and come with an integrated class D amplifier with its own DSP. There is no slave and master principle, so that each speaker has its own amplifier and they are not interconnected. Bowers & Wilkins has opted for an “audio grade” plastic, a 16.5 centimeter continuum driver that we know from the 700 series and the tweeter on top configuration that we know from the 702s2 floorstanding loudspeaker. All the technology used in these loudspeakers ensures high expectations.
Fortunately, those high expectations are also met immediately. The Formation Duo is a very good sounding stereo pair, in which a room filling, natural and detailed sound is central. Just like with the Wedge, we hear here the characteristics of the Bowers & Wilkins sound, which actually means that it sounds very transparent, broad and natural. No excessive focus on the layer or the vocals, but an extremely balanced representation. A good balance is found in the combination of low, medium and high, without low dominance or high snow cover. The Duos are full of dynamics that really bring the audio to life. The speakers place instruments and vocals in a wide soundstage in the room, provide crystal clear and tightly placed details and create a relaxed listening experience.
The vocals are clear but at the same time warm and filled with emotion. The Duos keep it sparkling, with a lot of definition and warmth. However, nothing is too hard or too sharp. And even in the low, the speakers are convincing, with a real punch that you feel in your stomach. The tight low tones, supplemented with subtle nuances, make the experience very comfortable and above all complete. Even when the volume is turned up a little further, the Duo stands perfectly. The room is filled with a lively soundstage in which the positioning and subtle details really complete the picture, and it does not really matter if you are exactly on the sweet spot. It is the total experience that the Duo delivers, with flexibility, power and the perfect balance.
Conclusion of Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo
The price of 3,999 euros (excluding the standards for 799 euros) does not make the target group of the Formation Duo very large. Bowers & Wilkins therefore focuses primarily on hi-fi enthusiasts who are looking for a wireless multi-room system but do not want to compromise on audio quality. The set is also interesting for those who have been working with multiroom for a while and still want to go a step higher in terms of sound quality. The Formation Duo is a sublime stereo pair in that Formation line-up and will certainly appeal to the audio enthusiast who wants to draw as few cables as possible. In the area of multiroom audio and active speakers, Bowers & Wilkins hits the nail on the head with this set. You have to love the design, but there is a good chance that you will quickly fall in love with the audio reproduction.
That said there is certainly room for improvement. We would have liked to see a physical connection for a TV, for example, since we can imagine that you would prefer to use this expensive system in the living room as well. That physical connection will unfortunately not come with an update, but luckily the software can be improved with an update (and that will happen this year). The Home app is a bit sparse, making Roon a must. In the future, we prefer to see the app as the central place for operating all your sources.
With Formation, Bowers & Wilkins has a powerful and perfectly working multi-room platform, and this is combined with premium hardware and the convincing audio quality that we are used to from the manufacturer. If some extra attention is paid to the software, then Formation is the multi-room platform for the true music lover, and the Formation Duo is an absolute must in this.